Verbatim: A Novel

Notes on an unconventional book

What does it take to write criticism?

Since about 2003 I’ve been writing book reviews, and before and after that longer articles, a few of which would be considered academic, others called popular. If a writer can write criticism about books, positive and negative and neutral, and likes doing it, then that’s a further contribution to dialogue in the republic of letters, though there’s no obligation on anyone to do that. Sometimes in canada we’re pretty dull in our critical writing, so anything that invigorates the conversation is welcome.

Not not everyone thinks like that. And some writers object to criticism. In April of this year, responding to a Big Other piece of mine on his rules for writing, Chad Pelley commented: “Most papers and magazines do such a dry job covering books that it’s nice to hear right from the author on their work or motivations. The reviews, m’eh. Why do I care what some critic I dunno thought? And what’s exciting about reading a review for a book I haven’t read? A guest post is a direct connection to the writer, and the best way to form an opinion on their book, often. For me.”

In the fall of this year it came as a surprise to read, in a publication called Atlantic Books Today that’s available for free at book stores, an article titled “Critiquing the critics” by Pelley, in which he says: “We readers are talking more than you think we are about your articles.” Going from not caring what critics think to being engaged in deep conversations about book reviews is quite a change. The Pelley article has many problems, and earlier this month The Winnipeg Review, for which I’m a contributor, published my response, titled “Atlantic Books Today Gets Prescriptive.” In it is a link to the Pelley piece, so I hope you’ll read both.



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