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Literary Critic Admits "Bitterness" Biased His Review

Alexander Nazaryan - peoplewhowrite

Alexander Nazaryan

NY Daily News editor Alexander Nazaryan admits he “snidely savage[d]” the work of debut novelists Keith Gessen and Nathaniel Rich because he was bitter about not finishing his own book. Nazaryan goes on to confess: “I did not like their novels. But my dislike was set aflame by jealousy of young men whose profiles were similar to mine and who had managed to do what I had not.” The stunning admission plays into the secret fear and disdain many writers have of and for literary critics and reviewers; even as it swings from mea culpa to raison d’etre and a call to arms:

The printed word is not ailing because of Kindles or Kardashians but because we haven’t the writers to revive it, those for whom Hemingway’s edict to write “one true sentence” trumps all else. Either they are discouraged or unloved or pushed out of the marketplace by those whose glossy ephemera looks slightly better on the shelf.

I have no idea if I will harpoon my whale, but even if I am not going to be a writer of books, I am always going to be a reader of them. And thus I want great books, books for our own time, written by those who have staked everything on literature, not just a couple of years in Iowa City. If I am not going to write them, at least someone else should.

He ends his post by saying: “…if you hear the demon that Faulkner heard, if the above passage fills you with urgency about your own craft, however imperfect it may yet be, then you and I are brothers in arms.”

I’m not a brother, obviously, but I’m refreshed by his honesty, and as a sister-scribe, I hope he eventually gets his work published. In the meantime, I hope he’s recused himself from reviewing books.

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3 responses to “Literary Critic Admits "Bitterness" Biased His Review

  1. a. blanks ⋅

    I read this on Salon and I’m torn. If he can admit that much in print, I’d prefer he keep reviewing unless he hasn’t really resolved said issues. As an opining passerby of the literary world, “honesty” is a rare taste to be left in my mouth. I’d much rather hear from a struggling but honest “failure” than from the celebrated establishment these days.

    Pulling a bit from your 50 Shades post, in addition to Nazaryan’s sentiment, there seems to be a prevailing idea that good writing must connect, and must connect immediately. I disagree. Profitable writing must connect immediately. Good writing only has to be written. The complication of judging quality of writing by sales is perspective. Our own times are rarely known to us. We live our times and our times are then understood by others privileged with the hindsight of history. How many canonical authors/artists died penniless only to be celebrated generations later? How many NYT bestsellers will really stand the test of time?

    If nothing else, I think Nazaryan helps us consider how divorced the insular worlds of publishing and literary critique may be from what writing is all about.

  2. I love your point that “Good writing only has to be written.” I agree, and I think good writing needs to connect. No matter when it is written — or whether the publishing industry/critics decide to elevate the work — good writing needs to say something authentic about the human condition that transcends time. Like a hometown prophet, the work/writer may not enjoy acclaim in their lifetime, but, at the end of the day, acclaim isn’t really what writing is about. Going back to your point, the writer’s responsibility is to write as best they can. The work, if good, will connect with an audience — immediately, or eventually.

  3. Pingback: Reviewers Disproportionately Reviewed Books by Male Authors in 2012 | people who write

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