The sad truth about the book world is that it doesn’t need more yes-saying novelists and certainly no more yes-saying critics. We are drowning in them. What we need more of, now that newspaper book sections are shrinking and vanishing like glaciers, are excellent and authoritative and punishing critics — perceptive enough to single out the voices that matter for legitimate praise, abusive enough to remind us that not everyone gets, or deserves, a gold star.
There seem to be a lot of similarities between the current state of book and film criticism, at least going by Garner’s “Riff.” This next bit, though, points to a stark difference:
The novelist Reynolds Price, who died last year, paused to note the sorry status of book sections in his 2009 memoir, “Ardent Spirits.” When he was starting out in the 1950s, he wrote, a first novel in America received about 90 individual reviews; now a decent first novel is lucky to get 20. Most of those will be amiable squirts of plot description topped, like a lemon slice on a Diet Coke, with the dread weasel-word “compelling.”
Today there is a seemingly endless stream of film criticism coming from all angles. I don’t know how large or influential the online book criticism world is, but the online film criticism one ever-growing. Of course, the description of reviews as plot-description plus sprinkled compliments makes up the bulk of those reviews. We all need to be more punishing. My favorite critics are.