I’ve written before about Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” and its Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers. She’s the one who makes sure no one stands out as better than anyone else by assigning the appropriate handicap. This doesn’t seem so much like satire in the current environment of political correctness.
I just came across a reaction by Zoë Heller to the proposition posited by Lee Siegel for The New Yorker and Isaac Fitzgerald at BuzzFeed that reviewers should only publish positive book reviews. Siegel and Fitzgerald feel we shouldn’t say anything negative about the poor authors who have worked so hard. Heller makes the case that banning “negativity” is bad for the culture and unfair to authors. I couldn’t agree more. In fact I more than agree.
In my brief career as a freelance journalist, I did some book reviews for the Radcliffe alumni journal, whatever it was called. Only positive remarks was one of the guidelines Okay, I get it, it’s an alumni magazine, essentially a vanity affair. But the public media? Really! Really? Really?!?
A review that points out the strengths and the weaknesses of a work helps us think like grownups, critically, incisively, looking for the best, sloughing off the trivial and debased. Without informed criticism, how could we know where to start in the plethora of new media offerings every day? Of course, to write critically is to open yourself to criticism. I always mistrust laudatory reviews by authors just about to publish a book. I rely on fearless critics like William Logan to hone my own discriminating taste. So here’s to thoughtful criticism. Long may it raise our standards.