Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A good man, Truman Capote

Ha! Truman Capote backs me up:
Most of all, I believe in hardening yourself against opinion. I’ve had, and continue to receive, my full share of abuse, some of it extremely personal, but it doesn’t faze me any more. I can read the most outrageous libel about myself and never skip a pulse-beat. And in this connection there is one piece of advice I strongly urge: Never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never. Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don’t put them on paper.
Obviously this doesn't apply to needing to correct a factual error, but for any other circumstance where a writer wants to argue with a review of their writing, I'd say it's spot-on.

I do somewhat disagree with the rest of what he had to say, as I've had authors thank me for my criticism after the fact and tell me they'd keep it in mind for future efforts (usually about general things like "Why are all the female characters in all your books little more than plot points?" rather than specific issues with a particular work) and I don't think I'm one of the more perceptive, eloquent, or knowledgeable reviewers out there. I agree, though, that a lot of what passes for reviewing is little more than "prissy carpings and condescensions". Another recent post at Critical Mass suggested limiting reviews to 1000 or even (shock!) 800 words, because if we have to read blowhards, at least then we wouldn't have to read them at length. I skimmed that post because it was too long and the author sounded like a blowhard, which is to say I agree with his thesis, if not his defense. Even better, let's fire the blowhards--the only people that Critical Mass has yet to blame for the recent demise of several newspaper review sections are the reviewers themselves, which I think is a grievous oversight--and hire people who write thoughtful reviews and know how to express themselves succinctly and with grace.

At any rate, props to Capote's interviewer for asking directly whether reviews are useful. It's a good question and I think it should always be kept in mind when reviewing.

(Incidentally, I didn't know "faze" was in use in 1957. I take this opportunity to thumb my nose at anyone who spells it "phase".)