The Times Hates “Night,” I Love It
I mentioned that I was excited about The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez and I'm here to report it's just dazzling, impossibly good, I insist you read it. In fact I insist that you not hate me for needing to keep it out from the library even though it's due today because I'm not done yet. Anyway, within, there's an amazing passage about a critic who brilliantly pans everything:
[W]hen I read somewhere what W.H. Auden said--that it is impossible to write a bad review without showing off--I thought how true this was of Val. His knowledge, his wit, his intellectual acuteness and moral authority were always on display, and it did appear to be practically a rule: the worse he made the work under attack sound, the stupider and coarser and more bungling its creator, the cleverer and more dazzling Val himself came across.
The Auden quote is "One cannot review a bad book without showing off." Is this true? Remember that (in)famous Believer essay excoriating "snark"? It is indeed easier to bury a book/movie/person/&c. than it is to praise. And it's more entertaining to read a pan. The best critic can love something or be equivocal about something and still write a compelling review. There was a positve theater review in the New Yorker once that was so beautiful and honest I got a little weepy. I don't remember when this was. Anyway.
This, we can all agree, while entertaining, is probably not the way to go about criticizing. But it is, of course, a hoot.