Feb 8, 2014

Criticism: How beautiful it is and how easily it can be broken

I was drawn to the title of a book:  How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken by Daniel Mendelsohn and discovered it was a collection of critical reviews.  Not really my interest, but the first review was for a book I have and was looking forward to reading, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  The review was not an attack but was definitely derogatory, starting off by outlining its success as largely due to being talked about by influential TV personalities.  For a first novel it became “the novel of the year”.  However, the critic than dismantles the innards of this novel and lays out what I feared:  it isn't a deep, personal look at rape and death but a white-wash of "Everything is okay, everyone will be okay."  I don't mind the happy ending so long as there's a depth and a taste and a weight to it, which Mr. Mendelsohn makes quite clear there is not.  
  So I gave away the book.  Indeed, something fragile (my hopes) were broken.
  Strangely, the critic attempts to convince the reader that this is not a critic's intention, in fact it is a love of fragile things that motivates a critic, that “critics are, above all, people who are in love with beautiful things, and who worry that those things will get broken.  What motivates so many of us to write in the first place is, to begin with, a great passion for a subject”...“that we find beautiful; and then a kind of corresponding anxiety about the fragility of that beauty.”  I beg to defer:  Mr. Mendelsohn focuses on flaws in The Lovely Bones, not its positive points, on what isn’t there rather than all the aspects that made so many people love the read.  If you thought it was beautiful, in any regard, why would you throw rocks at it?!

  This is true of any critic.  Have you ever held a bear in your hands, loved it, wanted it, until someone pointed out it's flaws to the point that you no longer adopted the poor Teddy?  
  Anyway, I pleasure-read so little I want just the juiciest morsels.  I think I should stay clear of critics and bury my nose in more gems like Sharp Teeth and Brains.  (Finding them is the tricky part!)  Beautiful things taste delicious!


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