• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I’m Rubber and You’re Glue

Michiko Kakutani ripped Jonathan Lethem a new one in her review today of his new novel, Chronic City. She is, of course, famous for this kind of attack but it’s been a while and I was growing old and getting fat reading about luminous this and numinous that. These are, by far, her two favorite words. I hate those words. Moving right along. She called the novel, in case you missed it,  “tedious,” “overstuffed,” “a lot of pompous hot air,” “insipid,” “plasticky puppets,” “lame and unsatisfying.”

I’m not particularly interested in her taste, agenda, what have you. What I want to know is how Lethem’s feeling. Does this mean another ten years in therapy or is he able to shrug it off, so many books behind him, his literary stature seemingly secure. I’m writing because when I read a review this rabid, I get scared. And I think about what it is to put yourself on the line as a writer. It’s easy to forget about the vulnerability involved when it looks like a published writer has it made what with publications, teaching positions, awards and so forth. When one of my clients gets a bad review, I want to say, hey, c’mon, my kid deserved a B+. That wasn’t fair! Then we spend lots of time talking about how fucked up the review was, how wrong, how the reviewer had an agenda, how it doesn’t  make a difference in the overall scheme of things. And sometimes I say, don’t forget, tomorrow that newspaper will be used to pick up dog shit. (Though, of course, most people use plastic baggies.)

Well, Michiko just sold at least one book for Mr. Lethem. I’ve never read him and now I’m totally intrigued. It’s like when my mother says she hates a movie; I rush out to see it the next chance I get.

6 Responses

  1. Most of us writers have developed a very thick skin after years of rejection, so a bad review only means somebody at least read the book. We just hope that we make enough for at least one therapy session.
    I heard Jonathan Lethem read his work way back when he was first published – the guy has class;- Kakutani, not so much.
    Yeah, funny how innane reviews makes you just want to read the book.

  2. My book has a bad review on Amazon.com that is a GEM of the genre – over-reactive, nasty, and very personal. I read it aloud at all my book events and writer’s workshops: not that I’m inviting more of the same, but because it just goes to show you how easy it is to make people furious at you, if you “put yourself out there”. Also, my attacker’s ire is so over the top that it’s funny, which thrills me down to my passive-aggressive soul.

    “Lyrical” is the word I hate to read in a review, esp. of visual arts. Damn it: just say it’s PRETTY and take the consequences.

    I wasn’t going to read the Lethem book anyway –high-falutin’ fiction’s not my thing — but he’ll still be all over NPR, same as ever.

  3. Over at the Washington Post, Ron Charles was similarly un-enthralled with Lethem’s latest: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/13/AR2009101302994.html

    Personal Note: My books are intended for readers 9-14, so my favorite bad review was the one from SLJ in 2004 that ripped me for “silliness” and being “too casual” in my writing style. Ha! Of course, this is also the book’s featured review on Amazon. Drat!

  4. “Limn” is another of Michiko’s favorite words. A literary blogger counted her uses of it until the list grew long and he grew bored. A commenter on the blog, however, pointed out that she uses “dazzling” twice as much.


  5. People… Shhhh…. Kakutani is leader of the book mafia. Zip it.

  6. Start with “Gun, With Occasional Music.” Really brilliant, and I couldn’t stand Fortress of Solitude.

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