January 31, 2005


Jimmy Beck

I'm still trying to get my brain around this whole "comics can be literature" thing. I mean, that's just crazy talk.


Mark, I think your takedown would have had more teeth if you'd actually managed to shoehorn in an example of what Moody does right, rather than just trail off at the end there.

I had hoped that Beatrix's reviews of the reviewers would be constructive. But picking out awkward sentences that an editor should have caught is essentially taking pot-shots, not rendering a critique. You're a better reader than that.

One of the great things about the blogosphere is there are no restrictive word counts or column inches--I wish you'd taken the time and space to stretch out more.


Howdy Cinetrix. Thanks for stopping in and for weighing in, too.

I always appreciate commentary and encourage dispute, so I'm glad you've stepped in and gone for it. But it shouldn't surprise you that, in this case, I disagree with you, in a few places.

First off, I don't see how an example of what Moody does right would give anything more teeth. The post wasn't about what he did right, it's about what he did not just wrong, but ridiculously wrong. Sorry but I don't see your logic here.

Which brings me to the bigger point - blaming the editor? Come on, where's the responsibility? Of all the examples I noted only one can possibly be attributed to editing (and we don't really know for sure). The others are all pretty clear cases - to me, at least - of shallow thinking. And I don't think we should expect editors to catch that sort of thing.

I was scarcely cherry-picking a handful of awkward constructions (which, I maintain, Moody should have know better than to commit to paper anyway); the examples represent almost the first half of the review in its entirety. Hardly an out-of-context representation.

You've clearly read the whole review. Do you genuinely feel it's a strong piece of criticism? And that Moody's generalizations are correct and appropriate? Obviously, reasonable people can disagree, but I am curious.


I just wish this wasn't the penultimate paragraph of your review:

Once he sets aside the masturbatory introductory antics, he actually has some useful and interesting things to say.... But the discerning reader has long since turned the page.

Similarly, seeing the construction "Rick Moody is the worst anything of his generation" at this point is enough to make this discerning reader turn the page.


Personally, I'm sick of those "comics can be literature" reviews. Just review the damn thing like it IS literature. Instead, every damn time someone reviews a comic in a mainstream publication we get these damn wasted introductions.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to Epilectic.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


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    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
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