Review Pulled

I had posted a much more negative review that I'm entirely comfortable with of Peter Carey's Wrong About Japan.  I have pulled the review and simply noted that I have read the book.

I don't like to post negative reviews for a number of reasons and I had promised myself that if it didn't get at least 4 stars I wasn't going to spend the time to review, etc.  I did in this case for reasons I can't quite articulate and it does a disservice to the writer.

It is enough for everyone to know that for what I felt were good reasons, the book did not appeal to me.  There was nothing particularly wrong with the writing and my reasons for disliking it were entirely subjective and not based on the merits of the work itself.  Therefore, it is unfair, and worse, unkind of me to post anything that could be seen as detraction.  I apologize to all of you and to the author and will, in the future, endeavor to keep any such to myself, noting only when I didn't care for something.  You'll normally see this by seeing an entry in the Read column with no rating or review.  If such an entry occurs you'll know what it means.

Again, apologies for all.  I don't particularly like to be negative in reviews or discouraging because writers have enough going against them without me adding to it.


  1. But Peter Carey doesn't really have much going against him. He's a well-established writer with a reputation, which can surely withstand a negative review or two. If your review actually contained an analysis that helped illuminate Carey's work, even in a negative way, it's more a disservice to readers that you decided to hold back. One could argue that it's also a disservice to Carey, whose work might *need* a particular line of criticism.

    On the other hand, if your response did not really speak to the "merits of the work," you were probably correct to take down the post.

  2. Dear Mr. Green,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I truly appreciate it. And your points are well taken. If one takes a work to task on its merits, if one critiques the language, plot, characters, all of these things, done properly can be fine contributors to an artist's work.

    My problem wasn't with merits but with certain choices the artist had made with regard to what was presented--choices that reflected badly on some of the people in the book. This is an entirely subjective view of things, not the basis for a good critique.

    Moreover, I tend not to want to post things that take an author to task. Far better to be able to praise those good things that I've read. In this particular case I should have regarded the same wisdom and merely added the book to the list I had read for the year and left it at that. My real goal is to encourage people to read the things from which I have derived pleasure, not to discourage them from reading those that I did not enjoy. This is in large part because I recognize my own idiosyncrasies and know that my dislike of something is not indicative of whether the work is good or others will like it. In the recent past I have not cared for Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Bolano, and David Markson. I have what I think are good and sufficient reasons, and know that there is a good chance that returning to these same writers in the future I may find merit there.

    Too long an explanation, I know. But you did me the courtesy of sharing your thoughts, and I really do appreciate that--I owed you the courtesy of whatever explanation I could provide.

    Thank you again!



  3. You know, I'm sorry I didn't see the review before I read it, but I totally understand your point. In fact I have written something along those lines, I think, in my review policy. ( ) I felt a bit wishy-washy writing it but when I read what you've written here I feel that I am not alone in the way I see things. In fact I'm about to publish a little post on reviewing which touches on the idea of negativity. I'm just putting the finishing touches to it. Do you mind if I link to your comment here?

  4. Alas, once again I am persuaded of the need to disagree.

    No author intends to fail, but undoubtedly many do. A negative review attacks neither the effort nor the humanity of an author. Instead it demonstrates - sometimes with an uncomfortably vicious glee - where the author didn't meet the mark. That mark, of course, varies from reviewer to reviewer, but each reader then finds the critic or literary guides that best suits him.

    You write that it is "Far better to be able to praise those good things that I've read" rather than "take an author to task". Why?

    If the critic is to be more than a cheerleader - continually and exclusively praising - then shouldn't there somewhere be indications that reviews are based on certain standards and expectations, rather than on a desire to be nice or avoid offending? And when those standards aren't met, then why not inform the reader?

    If we believe that writing and books matter, then surely the ability to discern and demonstrate that certain books aren't fully realized or fail matters as well. If the critic believes a book deserves to find a readership, or inversely is not worth the time, then that is what should be written. We look to the critic for guidance. As with any guide, omitting pitfalls or dead ends only weakens confidence in its accuracy.

    Rebecca West once wrote a passage attacking the eternally positive critic. I include it below with my assurances that her vehemence is not intended as an attack on you. Rather I hope you'll overlook her forcefulness and see instead the value of a criticism that is willing to be critical.

    "There is now no criticism in England. There is merely a chorus of weak cheers, a piping note of appreciation that is not stilled unless a book is suppressed by the police, a mild kindliness that neither heats to enthusiasm nor reverses to anger. We reviewers combine the gentleness of early Christians with a promiscuous polytheism; we reject not even the most barbarous or most fatuous gods. So great is our amiability that it might proceed from the weakness of malnutrition, were it not that it is almost impossible not to make a living as a journalist. Nor is it due to compulsion from above, for it is not worth an editor's while to veil the bright rage of an entertaining writer for the sake of publishers' advertisements. No economic force compels this vice of amiability. It springs from a faintness of the spirit, from a convention of pleasantness, which, when attacked for the monstrous things it permits to enter the mind of the world, excuses itself by protesting that it is a pity to waste fierceness on things that do not matter."

    I hope you are well.


  5. Dear Steven,

    Apologies for posting again before you've had a chance to reply, but I did want to acknowledge the following statement you had made: "There was nothing particularly wrong with the writing and my reasons for disliking it were entirely subjective and not based on the merits of the work."

    It seems to strike at the heart of your remorse. Yet, if neither subjective nor the opinion of the critic, then I wonder what exactly is a book review? I'm not trying to be cute, but raise the question only because it occurs to me that perhaps we're talking past each other. Maybe we differ only in what we expect from a review.


  6. Dear Jonathan,

    Thank you for writing. I do take your point. However, as I see it, there are a great many critics on the internet and otherwise who are perfectly willing to fill the gap I have made by not posting a negative review. Not everyone holds to the standard I do.

    I choose to do so for a number of reasons, primary among them is that I have noted that often my sense of a work changes with time. What I don't care for today mellows, seasons, and becomes more palatable over time. Had I posted my reviews of the works of Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne and others five or ten years ago they would seem ludicrous to me now. But rarely do I change my opinion regarding a book I like. Obviously it can be replaced by books I like more, but I never fail to continue to recommend it.

    So that is the first part. The second is that I just can't. It isn't so much a choice but an imperative. When I post things like the Carey review I feel worse about myself than I do about the book. Hence the withdrawal.

    Now if I encountered something truly pernicious, misleading, vile, and villainous, I would certainly do my best to warn people off in the most objective possible fashion after stating my own dislike.

    But the short answer--a leopard cannot change its spots. It is within me to notice small faults and to indicate imperfections in otherwise notable works, but it is not to try to grapple with other sorts of structural flaws. I simply choose not to engage a work that way. If I then find a place where someone else has posted praising the work, I might leave a note that indicates my dissatisfaction, more for the hope that I might be enlightened by this other, more positive critic.

    But enough of my motives. Once again, I truly appreciate that you took the time and effort to comment. Thank you. In this case I will stand pat on my decision, but I respect and even agree with the view you've expressed here. But my silent posting without a review is sufficient to let everyone know what I think--continuing to engage at that point is a waste of valuable time that can be better directed at the appreciation of works I like better.

    Thank you again!




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