Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Show us what he does and how"

Clip from Ruth Franklin's acceptance speech for the 2012 Roger Shattuck Prize in criticism:  It’s obvious why the reviewer needs the novelist—not just any novelist, but a good novelist, even a great one, to challenge us to rise to his or her level. But the novelist also needs the reviewer: not just as a vehicle for advertisement, but as an enforcer of standards. If we speak only to praise—and my children can vouch that I’ve never been guilty of that—then praise itself becomes cheapened, and ultimately meaningless. Not all books are worth reading; some are dull, some are poorly written, and others can actually have a pernicious effect on our culture. It’s the task of the critic to champion books that deserve to be championed, and to take a stand against those that have the power to harm. And anyone who doesn’t believe that books have the power to harm is not taking them seriously enough.

2 comments:

  1. That's a good and interesting quote, I think though that there are too many reviewers sometimes who just like to show off by making a certain type of clever and nasty commentary on books.

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  2. Definitely.

    Although I think she's trying to claim back the high seriousness that she invokes--Lionel Trilling, Rebecca West.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.