Adventures in Book Reviewing

Is it just me, or does it make little to no sense to have people who openly admit their hatred for an author review said author’s work?

The early reviews of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice have been, at least in the various New York press, similarly negative.  What’s interesting is that they have tended to be equally dismissive of Against the Day. (Kakutani went so far as to describe Against the Day as “pretentious,” but I cannot for the life of me figure out what it is feigning to be other than, well, a Pynchon novel.)  Curiously, I don’t recall this being articulated so clearly and loudly in its reviews.  (Most just said it was, in varying degrees, unreadable — code for, I think, “I didn’t read it all, but wanted the money for writing this review.”   Another code for this same sentiment is: “This is a flawed masterpiece.”)  It is, as Adam said I were discussing just now, as though reviewers are using this shorter novel to more fully express their disdain for being expected to read Pynchon’s more typical (i.e., longer) stuff.   In short, they conclude: “We hate Pynchon when he’s being ambitious, and then we hate him even more when he writes a shorter book that’s more fun.”

15 Responses to “Adventures in Book Reviewing”

  1. Timothy Says:

    I totally agree. And as far I’m concerned, I’ve only seen one review of Pynchon written in the past decade that is actually worth reading:

  2. Hill Says:

    This is as good a place to ask as any, I suppose: where do I start with Pynchon. I’m not afraid of long and/or difficult books. I just want to read the best one first.

  3. Brad Johnson Says:

    I have not read all of his novels — shamefully, neither Vineland nor Mason & Dixon — but I should think Gravity’s Rainbow is still considered his enduring masterpiece.

  4. hugh Says:

    Maybe I am a non-Pynchon type (whatever that means) but I loved Crying of Lot 49 and had no impulse to continue reading beyond the first few pages of Gravity’s Rainbow or Vineland.

  5. Brad Johnson Says:

    The Crying of Lot 49 is definitely a great book. Thematically, it is all Pynchon. I love it. But, it is not really representative of his writing as a whole. I know countless people who feel the same as you, Hugh. I have no problem with people not liking Pynchon. A newspaper or magazine choosing reviewers who clearly dislike Pynchon’s work, however, seems kind of silly to me. Makes for a nice, zingy review — but not particularly helpful.

  6. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I need to reread Gravity’s Rainbow.

  7. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I really need to reread the first ten pages of Gravity’s Rainbow and then give up feeling like an idiot.

  8. Hill Says:

    I’m prepared to do the exact same thing and not feel bad about it. I just need to find a copy.

  9. roger flyer Says:

    I love it! There must be a place for the little boy to shout: The emperor has no clothes on! In all art. film, music, novels, dance. If the critic is an idiot, let no one listen. (I once critiqued T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
    as an undergrad and my professor said: ‘You have chutzpah.’ and I thought he thought I was a brilliant critic! ;))

  10. Adam Kotsko Says:

    There is a place for the little boy so to shout: it’s called Slate.

  11. signonthewindow Says:

    Dirda gave it a warm review in the Post today. Not to mention a helpful section on “how to start reading “Pynchon.”

  12. ben Says:

    The New Yorker review wasn’t negative. Does that count as the New York press?

  13. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I started it yesterday, and I’m enjoying it.

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