One-Minute Book Reviews

February 15, 2008

Two, Four, Six, Eight / Now’s the Time to ‘Salivate’! This Week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing Goes to …

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:09 am
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And this week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole goes too …

This book “will leave readers salivating for more.”
From a review of Special Topics in Calamity Physics in the New York Times Book Review, Aug. 13, 2006


Even by the embarrassingly uncritical standards of contemporary literary criticism, the praise for Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Penguin, 528 pp., $15, paperback) went over the top. Many reviewers gushed not just about the novel but about the author’s youth and good looks as though they were writing for Hairdo magazine instead of major newspapers.

This week’s winner took the top honor because it double-faults. It’s unclear and presumptuous. What does “salivating” mean here? I may have defective salivary glands. But I can never quite figure out how to “salivate” for books – even by writers I love — as though I were, say, an unusually literary Weimaraner. If a critic does find him- or herself “salivating,” why not just say that (in the first-person) instead of projecting the response onto others (while hiding behind the third person)?

At least among critics, the bold prophecy of mass salivation for Special Topics in Calamity Physics seems to have gone unfulfilled. Ann Cummins wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that Pessl’s novel rates “that lamest of grades, an ‘I’ for Incomplete.” Donna Rifkind said in the Washington Post that Pessl is a “vivacious writer,” but that “hunkering down for 514 pages of frantic literary exhibitionism turns into a weary business for the reader.” And Peter Dempsey of the Guardian faulted the book for “a page-by-page cascade of dreadful extended metaphors.” “Baldly put,” he said, “Pessl has a tin ear for prose.”

One-Minute Book Reviews welcomes nominations for the Gusher Award. 

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. Ha! After seeing the author’s photo, I doubt that it was the novel they were salivating over.

    Comment by moonbeammcqueen — February 15, 2008 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

  2. And both men and women fell into the trap. I read one review in which a female critic kept saying how jealous she was Pessl’s looks. How, may I ask, will that help those of us who are trying to decide whether to read the novel?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 16, 2008 @ 1:23 am | Reply

  3. When the first reviews came out, one chauvinistic suggested that her looks got her the contract rather than the merit of her prose. I wonder how she accomplished that–did she send in a few glossy pictures with her query letter?

    In terms of salivating–nice pick. “Drooling” might have been a more interesting word had the reviewer been competent enough to have thought of it in a campy sort of way.

    As for the bad reviews, those who say the book is incomplete and/or that the author has a tin ear for prose, obviously don’t grok the novel and need to go away and be quiet.


    Comment by knightofswords — February 16, 2008 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

  4. Malcolm: To answer your question about sending in glossies: Very possible. Or the publisher may have asked to meet with her.

    True story: Before my first book came out, my agent said that Firm X hoped to make an offer but that the people there wanted to meet me first. My agent’s exact words were: “They want to look at you.” That firm did publish the book. I had no idea if I’d have gotten the contract if I’d had two noses or looked like Goldie Hawn in the movie where she wore a fat suit.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 16, 2008 @ 2:27 pm | Reply

  5. After reading your story, I’m discouraged because I look like those hideous prison photographs they show on TV of criminals who–through looks alone–look guilty of everything.

    In your case, you must have made a good impression.


    Comment by knightofswords — February 17, 2008 @ 11:53 am | Reply

  6. On this one, there’s a fat double standard in publishing for the sexes and for different kinds of books. Looks may be much much more important to a female first novelist than to a male author of a book on do-it-yourself Honda repair.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 17, 2008 @ 1:38 pm | Reply

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