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As large cultural movements occur, book review culture can’t help but be influenced. In , Lorin Stein, after making due note of Sept. 11, rightly, refers to the ways in which online discourse has forced book reviewing to change its terms. Amazon and Google are killing the book, are killing the newspaper, are . If the Internet has allowed anything, it has allowed this argument to be replicated ad infinitum across it. And I’m looking and hoping for a story that at least begins to let us see where book criticism might go (and if it should go at all).

 judges a book review by its title. “Making death mask” photo courtesy of .

There are other journalistic literary critics—Van Wyck Brooks, Lionel Trilling, Alfred Kazin, Cyril Connolly, Norman Podhoretz, Irving Howe, and so many more—with insights and approaches worth studying. This is just a start. As we look to past book reviewers, we must also look around us. Too few newspapers and magazines employ regular book columnists and reviewers. This is done in the spirit of egalitarianism, but in the digital age, where anonymous, poorly written "customer reviews" sway readers, we need to establish relationships with our literary critics. We need to trust them as "experts" hired and trained by the publications that employ them or self-educated and trained as book bloggers or "amateur" reviewers with websites of their own. In either case, we can get to know the reviewer's tastes and tics and make a more informed decision about the book under review. In the present, mosh-pit of book reviewing, it's nearly impossible to know where the freelance literary critic you're reading is coming from. Including, perhaps, this one.


» » » Back From the Dead: The State of Book Reviewing

Good book reviews are all alike while every bad review is bad in its own way.

Elizabeth Hardwick approached criticism as a creative endeavor, a necessary complement to the world of art. In a 1985 interview published in , she said, "...[I]n reading books and planning to write about them, or maybe just in reading certain books, you begin to see all sorts of not quite expressed things the author may not have been entirely conscious of. It's a sort of creative or 'possessed' reading." In her reviews, Hardwick could be "snippy," but she was also loyal to the text and always dignified. She described book reviewing as "a natural response to the existence in the world of works of art. It is an honorable and even an exalted endeavor. Without it, works of art would appear in a vacuum, as if they had no relation to the minds experiencing them."