Book Bloggers Still Ruining Everything


I should know better by now than to concern myself with old-school culture pundits moaning about “the blogosphere,” because frankly that battle’s over, but a fellow book blogger sent me a link to a recent conversation between Charles McGrath and Daniel Mendelsohn that included roughly 15 minutes of blog-panic that revealed to me just how little that line of attack has done to substantiate itself in the last half-decade.

I mean, really: McGrath is still trotting out lines like bloggers are a bunch of resentniks who “didn’t have the patience or… the connections to become a reviewer for The New York Times, to hook up with The Atlantic or The New Yorker, [and] all of a sudden they have a pulpit.” And Mendelsohn is privileging his professional criticism because “I’m not just saying what I think—I am saying something to the people who read The New York Review of Books. It’s a public function… It’s not just me sitting in my underwear at three in the morning being pissed off because I didn’t like a movie.” (How, one wonders, would Mendelsohn react if he ever discovered a NYRB contributor wrote his or her essays underwear-shod at 3:00 A.M.?)

Really, guys? Is that the best you can do? That and lamentations that “snark is, I think, the lingua franca of the blogosphere,” and that you’re “concerned about… a kind of critical discourse by people who are rich enough or crazy enough to write for nothing”? Even as the majority of mainstream media outlets have begun to incorporate the rhetoric and infrastructure of blogging into their reportage and their cultural criticism, you’re still trotting out those tired clichés? That’s just sad.


22 September 2010 | theory |

Yiyun Li: A Razor-Sharp V.S. Pritchett Story


Emotional isolation and making the best of what life’s put in front of you are two themes that get a serious workout in Yiyun Li‘s new short story collection, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, from the opening novella, “Kindness,” to the eponyous short story that ends the volume. The stories might seem cold and distant at first, but give them time to sink in—and they’ll probably wind up sticking with you much like the tale told to the narrator of the short story Li’s chosen to write about for Beatrice.

A couple years ago I taught a story by V.S. Pritchett (an under-read master of short stories, whom, in my opinion, should be read along with Chekhov and William Trevor) in a course of reading short stories to seven undergraduates. The story is titled “You Make Your Own Life.” After my opening, there was a moment of silence, and a student raised his hand. “Professor, we know you love sad stories, but this is unbearable! This is too much! Where’s the hope?”

(Off-topic: “where is the hope” seems to be a question asked often of me. Growing up in a different place, my answer is that as long as one can read and write about bleakness, as long as one can understand it, the world is still hopeful; it would become a crueler and bleaker place when hope puts on a costume of deception and propaganda, which happens only too often.)

The story is short—six pages, written in first person. It opens when the narrator, waiting in a small town for a train that was not to come, spots a barbershop and decides to have a haircut. Other than this one impromptu decision, we learn nothing more about the narrator himself for the rest of the story. But what propels a man to enter a barber’s shop when his should be waiting for the train to leave the town? Already it is described as “a dead place,” and “ten miles from this town the skeletons of men killed in a battle eight centuries ago had been dug up on the Downs.”


17 September 2010 | selling shorts |

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