Ron Charles on book reviewing
The Washington Post’s Short Stack blog alerted me to this footage of Ron Charles accepting the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Book Reviewing at the National Book Critics’ Circle Awards earlier this month. Aside from serving as a textbook example of how to accept an award, Charles has some salutary things to say about the changing role of the critic in an age of ubiquitous opinion.
More information on Charles and the Nona Balakian Citation is available on Critical Mass, and the Washington Post’s Book World helpfully provides a digest of his reviews and articles for those interested in exploring his writing. And if you want a reason beyond his speech to warm to him, there’s always this wonderful piece about why Pottermania isn’t necessarily a sign of the health of our literary culture.
And then there’s the video:
James, thanks for calling my attention to this, here and at FB — he seems like a very cool sort of dude, and I agree with almost everything he says, although (1) I can’t HEAR everything he says (I do so hope this is the sound quality and not just my ageing ears) and (2) I think he is just a leetle too determinedly downmarket in his ‘never mind the free indirect discourse, waddabout the punters’ approach. It’s a pity that people in general persist in seeing this as a dichotomy — homespun pragmatism v fancy-pants literary theory — when it’s actually, surely, a spectrum. (That said, it’s a shame almost nobody in the room seemed to get his John Donne joke at 1.55.)
I don’t agree with him about Harry Potter, but it would take too long to say why. He’s almost certainly right about the bestseller/echo-chamber effect in general, though.
Yes, thanks James for posting that great (long!) acceptance speech with its words of wisdom about the sea of books readers have to wade through to find something they want to read and therefore need for reviewers to give direction as much as theoretical context/analysis – although isn’t that what (the best) reviewers do anyway? Just that the printed newspaper space on which they do so shrinks every week. Hence book blogs and books on books.
And I completely agree with you Pavlov’s Cat – or disagree with Ron – on Harry Potter. For a start, if he’s reading aloud to his daughter like an automaton whatever he’s reading will be soporific.
Great blog James.
Afraid I come down on the other side of the Harry Potter crap or not debate (endless, derivative, leaden prose, no real magic or danger) but let’s not get into that. Agree with Kerryn’s frustration about the false dichotomy between “homespun pragmatism v fancy-pants literary theory”, but I also think the whole mode of reviewing is being reshaped by the net, as is the idea of the critic, but that’s a whole other conversation . . .