By September 24, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

Weeklings: Author-Critic Creatures, Milton in the Headlines, a Supposed Stigma, the Present Tense, and Too-Easy Reading

On the Guardian‘s Books Blog, Lesley McDowell writes about writers who are reviewers, and reviewers who are writers–and, honestly, I would have no idea what one of those looks like:

It’s a strange hybrid, this author-critic creature. I can’t think of another art form where the “practitioner” and the critic overlap like this. Where are the dancers who are also dance critics? Where are the playwrights who also write theatre reviews? Where are musicians who critique bands? Only in literature does this overlap occur, although writers, it would seem, would prefer to believe that it doesn’t. Writers would prefer to believe that critics are separate, and that their separation means they’re the enemy, and out to get them.

The New York Times resists the urge to use the word Kafkaesque in the headline of a story about the legal status of the great writer’s papers . . . but only just (“Kafka’s Last Trial,” by Elif Batuman).

And, speaking of headlines, “Did John Milton write filthy, innuendo-laden rhyme?” Probably not, but I had to read the story, too.

In the Wall Street Journal, Joanne Kaufman writes about the supposed “Stigma of Paperback Originals.”

But a stigma lingers. The belief that a paperback original, however worthy, will be given short shrift by reviewers tells part of the story. “Critics pay more attention to hardcovers even if they say they don’t,” said one agent who requested anonymity.

We do? We generally read them in paperback, as ARCs or uncorrected proofs, and, I must confess, rarely does my eye stray to the bibliographic details how how the book will be eventually published. Then again, I may be an exceptionally dim-eyed critic.

Laura Miller examines the latest crisis in the world of letters: young writers are writing in present tense–and they’re doing it RIGHT NOW (“The Fierce Fight over the Present Tense,” Salon). An associate editor in our Books for Youth department assures me (I won’t say “has assured”) that “present tense is a full-on scourge in YA.” 

Why bother reading at all, asks James Collins (“The Plot Escapes Me,” NYT), when you can’t remember what you’ve read? The answer may enlighten you–if you can remember it.

“I totally believe that you are a different person for having read that book,” Wolf replied. “I say that as a neuroscientist and an old literature major.”

Finally, in Wired (“The Frontal Cortex“), Jonah Lehrer makes a compelling case that we really don’t want to make reading too easy, after all–and we’re looking at you, e-readers.

This suggests that the act of reading observes a gradient of awareness. Familiar sentences printed in Helvetica and rendered on lucid e-ink screens are read quickly and effortlessly. Meanwhile, unusual sentences with complex clauses and smudged ink tend to require more conscious effort, which leads to more activation in the dorsal pathway. All the extra work – the slight cognitive frisson of having to decipher the words – wakes us up.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

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