Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On book blurbs and deliciously bad reviews

I'm becoming jaded. I've begun to wince when I read publicity blurbs touting new novels. These novels are: lyrical, poignant and pitch-perfect. They are transcendent page-turners. They are, in short, lots of nice adjectives.

It's hard to write a positive book review without a few adjectives, I admit. It's hard to sound totally original when you're making a case for a book that you find brilliant, funny and wise.

It's easier to be original, however, when you're trashing a book. This thought occurred recently as I read Walter Kirn's New York Times review of "Solar" by Ian McEwan. Kirn found the novel "so ingeniously designed, irreproachably high-minded and skillfully brought off -- that it's actually quite bad." He went on: "There's so little wrong with it that there's nothing particularly right about it , either. It's impressive to behold but something of a virtuous pain to read."

Wow. That's an original review. And wouldn't you love to hear McEwan's response?

Call me mean-spirited, but in a world of heartfelt and engaging books, an occasional caustic, lacerating review really peps me up.

My all-time favorite? Dorothy Parker, writing as Constant Reader in The New Yorker. In a 1928 review, Parker found A.A. Milne's "The House at Pooh Corner" too treacly, particularly when she reached the part where Pooh was feeling "hummy.

"And it is that word 'hummy,' my darlings," she wrote, "that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up."