August 13, 2003

Interesting interview of "My Life in Heavy Metal" author Steve Almond. [via bookslut]

an excerpt:

I wanted to talk about this piece you wrote for Poets & Writers about book reviews.

"It got an incredible amount of response."

It also came out around the same time as The Believer manifesto, so it got lumped in with that.

"I read The Believer's manifesto and it was much better researched than my blathering. They were expressing what a lot of authors had been feeling for a long time, that there's this critical culture that is not doing its job. The job of the critical culture is to talk about the pleasures and disappointments one might experience with a particular piece of literature. And, for that matter, to talk about the larger issues that works of literature raise, and I think that The New York Times Book Review definitely tries to do the latter, but often it's at the expense of me not getting a sense of what this writer is up to emotionally, of what language they're using to reach this end. Don't get me started. Some people read that article and thought, "Oh boy. Bitter. Taking a shot at critical culture." But they don't get it. The best critics are fucking essential. In some sense, that's what they want, a rigorous critical culture to examine their work in a meaningful way.

"I don't care if people want to take apart Saul Bellow's novels to figure out who he is, biography versus canon, okay, Saul Bellow. Great. Pick it apart. But when you have a book from a relatively new writer, what's the point of making anything but their work the issue. What they did, whether they went to school. What an absurd premise. It's like they're saying we can't just write about literature and the emotions expressed in literature, we need some sort of hook or angle that will appeal to our readers. Fuck off on that. Find beautiful books to advocate for. Why do you want to read a bad review, so you don't buy a bad book? Save yourself a little money? It makes sense if it's Stephen King or Tom Clancy, but why not just find the books that deserve to be praised and direct people to them? Maybe that's too Pollyanna-ish.

"We've got an anemic literary culture in this country, and we've got to find a way to make people understand how important literature is. That task sounds gushy, but I really think it's the job of literature to awaken mercy in people. It's deeply disappointing to me when people have pissing matches. Who the fuck cares about that bullshit? It's so People Magazine. Frey wrote a great book, Eggers wrote a great book, just let them go out there and write beautiful books. Who needs this literary feuding?"

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