Against excessive praise
In this past Sunday’s Times Book Review, Joe Queenan addresses himself to the problem of unjustifiably enthusiastic reviews. Perhaps not exactly a problem around here so much of the time (though not even I am immune). But nevertheless, it’s a timely discussion given the most recent flare-up of joyful noisers. Money quote (just replace all the literary references to ones from gospel music and you’ll be fine):
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Just as authors dread being labeled “a poor man’s Francine du Plessix Gray” or “Satan’s errand boy,” many authors live in fear of praise that is discomfitingly intimate or jarringly visceral. I for one would never want one of my books referred to as “a big dish of Beluga caviar” sailing in “on a sparkling bed of rice, with a mother-of-pearl spoon,” as one of Alice Munro’s once was. There’s a macabre chumminess to this kind of writing, suggesting that the reviewer may actually be daydreaming about the author in graphic cetacean terms. If I were Munro, I’d add a couple of locks to the door. Deadbolts, in fact.