October 21, 2007


Kit Stolz

Amen. I reached the end of the review and could not for the life of me figure out whether she liked the book, far less whether I would like the book, or if it would be worth reading. What's the point of a review like that?


Unduly overlooked in this condemnation is Schillinger's citation of Bradbury's "Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed," a particularly interesting connection not only because of the common theme involving alien tongues, but because Schillinger imputes that Perrotta writes with Bradbury's deceptively simple approach in mind. (Further, Bradbury has regularly included Christian themes in his work.) Granted, the Pamuk comparison is a bit of a stretch, and I will agree with you about some of the cliches. (However, both my Dictionary of Cliches and the helpful website Cliche Finder fail to turn up any reference to "secret to spring" or "bent on ridding the community.")

I find Schillinger's reviews, for the most part, engaging reads because of her sincere enthusiasm and her sometimes unusual associations. Given that most of the NYTBR is written by bitter and condescending hacks who wouldn't know enthusiasm even on Free Ice Cream Day, Schillinger is a welcome panacea and I can't help but ponder whether your hostility here, which doesn't analyze the review in any other way BUT the syntax, is motivated by something else.

Schillinger has also been a regular contributor for some time. To demand her return to the Style section (and that would be singular, not plural) after several years of contribution is to overlook this obvious point. Why go after Schillinger now out of the blue? If you're going to take her to task and insist on her ejection, dinging her on her prose for merely one of the 200+ reviews she's contributed to the Review doesn't cut the mustard in my book.


Sorry, Ed, but I have criticized her in the past as well - go back and look, it's there in the archives. This is merely the most recent and prominent offense, so whatever motive you think you see is illusory.

And if you accept, as I do, that cliches are dead or worn language, constantly used or easy phrases, then the ommission from your two preferred sources doesn't somehow exempt them. The discerning eye, I think, will consider both those phrases cliches and not require some external source to validate that.

I do think that, given the regularity and extreme personal viciousness with which you go after book reviewers (and I say nothing personal about Schillinger here, I merely fault the quality of her writing, whereas you fall back yet again on your favorite insult of "hacks") makes it a little hard for me to swallow your stance here.

Finally, I stand corrected on Style. It's clearly a section you pay more attention to that I.


And, oh, I can only assume your use of the cliche "cut the mustard" is intended as ironic.


"Evading the issue" is your logical fallacy here. Your failure to address the Bradbury exemplar that I offered provides indisputable evidence as to where you stand. You apparently prefer not to abide by the consideration of what might be within Ms. Schillinger's review. I cite sources to point out that you are perceiving more cliches than are reasonably warranted -- although you appear thankfully capable of perceiving rudimentary irony -- and that the assault on Ms. Schillinger is based exclusively on her syntax and not on what she has offered for thought. If you have a problem with her as a reviewer, then by all means flesh it out in complete and thoughtful form. Food for thought, particularly of the contrarian variety, is welcome, provided that it is reasonable. But singling out one review, and only a component of the review in question, fails to account for the considerable work that Ms. Schillinger has put out there. (I have, as it so happens, searched your archive and can only find one quibble with Ms. Schillinger.)

I'll say nothing of your suggestion that "extreme personal viciousness" is my own motivation for examining how book critics practice their craft, except to point out that I have, whenever possible, provided specific examples to support what I perceive as specific indiscretions. My own takes are not borne out of malice towards the parties in question, but out of a concern for the written word, and I presume that your own post here reflects the same.

As to my use of the singular "Style," it was easily confirmed by a ten second glance at the Sunday newspaper -- or, alternatively, the nytimes.com website -- where "Style" is clearly titled. That you would prefer to sling inferences about my tastes, when I am merely rectifying your indolence, suggests that this post is indeed borne of resentment -- both with the New York Times and, for whatever reason, towards me. And it is equally clear that you have no desire to have a fair and reasonable discussion for thoughts you put out into the litblogosphere. Which suggests that there may indeed be a kernel of truth to what Gessen and company have said about you. Of course, I'm happy to have this perception corrected.


Ed, when you can account properly and publicly for your ongoing obsession with John Freeman, that's the day you can feel free to lecture me about my treatment of critics. And I'm sure Rachel Donadio, Sam Tanenhaus (and many others) can attest they've never felt malice from you. Please, Ed. This is absurd.


Actually, I recently praised Freeman for his Frankfurt reports. Malice, my ass. You still aren't addressing my argument, which is specifically about what you have set down here. Evade the issue all you want, but it still fails to get at why Liesl Schillinger is the most contemptible thing to happen to the NYTBR since, presumably, its tabloid format. If you have a reasonable explanation, I'm happy to parse it.


Ed, I am not "evading" anything. I think, as I have before, that your so-called argument is idiotic and not worth pursuing. In your construction, I am apparently not permitted to dislike a critic for the crime of bad writing. OK. Suit yourself. The better question might be why you - who lobs the word "hack" with such ill-advised freedom - don't consider this writing sample hackery, other than your professed admiration of Schillinger. That's your problem, Ed, and it always has been: your idea that someone MUST respond to your question simply because you've asked it. And, by the way, Gessen was talking about you, too.


If we're going to take this thread into the boggy marshes [intended, hehe] of "logical fallacy," then we'd better do so consistently: that Schillinger has contributed "200+ reviews" to the NYT is, of course, little more than a variation of an ad populum appeal--i.e., so many reviews, so many readers, how could Schillinger possibly be inept?--and does very little, by itself, to establish the inherent quality of her work as a reviewer.

And while I, personally, appreciate Ed's passion on this, I nonetheless have to side with Mark, as the disjointed nature of many Schillinger pieces is anything but a "welcome panacea." The Perrotta review, in particular, suffers from far more than fatigued syntax, although there is certainly that. After a clunky lead-in--little more, in fact, than a compressed snyopsis of the work at hand--we then segue to a banal "Perrotta's greatest hits" paragraph (a common maneuver, this, but still not particularly illuminating here) ostensibly to establish an arc for the review, before then returning--surprise--to a more extended book-report format.

Most frustrating, as a reader, is the unfulfilled expectation that Schillinger is working around to a more meaningful analysis (or even an interesting digression), as when she begins a paragraph more generally (and promisingly)--"In Perrotta’s fearful new world, religion injects uncomfortable ironies into lives that have already yawed off-kilter."--only then instead to provide specific examples of said observation without teasing out any sort of further exegesis (and let's not even get started on the Bradbury "allusion").

Indeed, as an earlier poster noted, the review ends awkwardly and abruptly, before Schillinger has provided the slightest indication of, ultimately, whether or not she thinks the book "works," which, unless one comes to a review solely to be wowed by the erudition/prose/ineptitude of the reviewer herself, is a necessary take-away for most readers.

This is not to posit, of course, that a "successful" review is little more than a clear-cut thumbs-up or -down; but it is to suggest that then when a reviewer effectively abdicates judgement to the point that one cannot even discern if the critic deems the book itself worthwhile, then the review has certainly become etiolated beyond any real use. Except, I guess, of adding to the tally of times that one's work has appeared in the NYT.

Cheers, Bongo-Shaftesbury


What puzzles me is that you value Perrotta above Kinsella. I've always lumped them together in the morass of chick-or-lad delayed-coming-of-age lit.

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