Thursday, December 22, 2005

Are Men Necessary? The critical brouhaha.

Ron at Galley Cat has an interesting post on the recent hubbub over Kathryn Harrison's review of Maureen Dowd's Are Men Necessary? Snip: . . . a colleague of mine from the book reviewing world passed along an interesting question: "Should a critic be considered 'conflicted' if the 'conflict' consists solely of the potential subject having said something unpleasant about the critic in the past?" Back to that in a moment; first, a recap. Last month, Editor and Publisher ran a concise summary of the highlights. Chronologically: In 1997, Dowd in a column called “Banks for the Memories” described Harrison's book “The Kiss”—-a controversial memoir of her consensual four-year sexual affair with her own father--as an example of a trendy genre: "Creepy people talking about creepy people." Then, this year, the New York Times Book Review allowed Harrison to review Dowd's new book, Are Men Necessary? Harrison slammed the book, saying, among other things, Dowd's skill as a columnist "does not enable her to produce a book-length exploration of a topic as complex as the relations between the sexes." Arianna Huffington subsequently wrote an editorial accusing the NY Times of violating their own ethical bylaws, and the story exploded into the blogosphere. Now, back to the Galley Cat post. The author's opinion seems best summarized in this sentence: . . . it simply isn't very charitable to suggest that an author is incapable of reviewing another author's work without her perspective being colored by personal vendetta. but read the whole post (linked above) and see what you think. He also raises the nasty issue of blog sniping -- in other words, is a reviewer conflicted if he has been reamed in the author's blog? The writer of the Galley Cat post thinks not. I disagree. I suspect this is something that can only be solved on a case-by-case basis. Some critics might be able to give an unbiased review in this circumstance, but I believe it's human nature to hold a grudge. Rising above that prejudice takes considerable effort. I doubt all reviewers are up to that challenge. Perhaps we should give reviewers the benefit of the doubt and assume professionalism on their part, but I don't think editors should make this assumption lightly. If the review seems a trifle too bile-laced, perhaps the editor should ask questions. I'm curious whether any of this matters. What is worse: to get slammed by the New York Times Book Review, or to get ignored by them? A week or two ago, Maureen Dowd appeared on The Colbert Report. She was funny, beautiful, and played well with Stephen Colbert. They hyped her book (twice, I think?) which raises another question: who gets more viewers/readers -- The Colbert Report, or the New York Times Book Review? I suspect Colbert trumps NYTBR, but that's just a hunch. D. Technorati tags: ,


Blogger mm said...

Are men necessary?

Strictly ornamental.

12/23/2005 05:22:00 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

I don't think there's any such thing as pure objectivity. Can you imagine, well, you being objective about Bush's memoir when he's out of office?

The editor needed to take a second look. On the other hand, bad publicity is still publicity, right?

12/23/2005 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Maureen: you're right . . .

parthenogenesis: A form of reproduction in which an unfertilized egg develops into a new individual, occurring commonly among insects and certain other arthropods.

thelytoky: parthenogenesis in which only males are produced

Robyn: oh, I'd make an object out of him, all right! Point taken. Also, I suspect it's much better to get a bad review from NYTBR than to get no review at all.

12/23/2005 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Oops, I screwed that up.

thelytoky = only females are produced.

arrhenotoky = only males are produced.

The ultimate in a woman's right to choose.

12/23/2005 09:17:00 AM  

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