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Saturday, November 2, 2019

Negative Book Reviews

    The publishing industry, we hear, is in trouble. So why would a sensible writer tell people not to buy a book? If the novel, as we also hear, is moribund or dead, why drive another nail into its sad little coffin? And lately there seems to be a cultural moratorium on saying something "bad" about anyone or anything, unless you're a politician, in which case that's your job.

    There was a time when I wrote negative reviews….Sadly, it's easier to be witty when one is being unkind. Friends would say, "Oh, I just adored your hilarious essay on that celebrity's memoir about her fabulous million-dollar-face-lift." And what would they say when I praised a book? Nothing.

     Even so, I stopped. I began returning books I didn't like to editors. [You returned them?]….But in the last year or so, I've found myself again writing negative reviews--as if, after quitting for three decades, I'd suddenly resumed smoking, or something else I'd forsworn. Once more, it's a question of what gets under my skin, and of trying to understand why. I've begun to think, if something bothers me that much, life is too short not to say so….

Francine Prose, "Do We Really Need Negative Book Reviews?" The New York Times, February 11, 2014 

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