Sunday, September 25, 2005


Second Thoughts

Chistopher Frizzelle in The Stranger reassesses a negative review he gave to a book a few months back:

In his 1826 essay "On the Pleasure of Hating," William Hazlitt writes that "without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. Life would turn to a stagnant pool, were it not ruffled by the jarring interests, the unruly passions of men." I was turned on to Hazlitt's essay by a friend of mine who's a critic, and I was hoping that it was an essay about critics. I was hoping it was an essay about haters. I've been a book critic for a couple years, trashing mostly poetry but also stories and novels, sometimes for stupid reasons but always for reasons that seemed important at the time. I agree with Hazlitt that hating is useful, but lately I've begun to hate the hating I've done, not only for its meanness but also because I've been known to be wrong.

I've been fortunate enough over the last few years to be able to cherry-pick my occasional reviewing work: basically, I review books I like. If I read it and don't like it, and don't feel that its existence endangers anyone or anything, then I usually lapse into -- shall we say -- a thoughtful silence. But that wasn't always the case with my earliest reviewing work, especially when I was a music critic for The All Music Guide to Rock, where I threw my share of... um, rocks. (A sample from a review of The Symphonic Music of Yes: "If you lived in Roger Dean landscape, this would be the music playing in the elevators.")

But my opinion has indeed changed over time about at least some of things I've reviewed. It's not often you get to see a reviewer revisiting a work; in fact, Mark Moskowitz's trip to the original New York Times reviewer of Dow Mossman, to ask him about the book three decades later, still stands out to me as one of the most intriguing bits of the movie Stone Reader. Which makes me think: what if someone devoted a column to re-reviewing a book? That is, asking the original reviewer of book to read over it again, and see what they think of it and their original assessment now?

It would be a curious experiment...

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