Katherine Mansfield on book reviewing

Mansfield-236x300Sam Sacks at Open Letters Monthly:

It would be a stretch to suggest that Mansfield was writing them for the ages (she certainly felt that way about her fiction), but from her very first column she’s frank about the terrible ephemerality of most fiction, and the trap both reviewers and readers can fall into by hitching themselves to a brand new novel’s rapidly dying star. The books in question here are Hope Trueblood, by Patience Worth, The House of Courage, by Mrs. Victor Rickard, and The Tunnel, by Dorothy Richardson, but before she will discuss them, Mansfield openly wonders why anyone should bother with new novels at all:

Public Opinion, garrulous, lying old nurse that she is, cries: ‘Yes! Great books, immortal books are being born every minute, each one more lusty than the last. Let him who is without sin among you cast the first criticism.’ It would be a superb, thrilling world if this were true! Or even if the moderate number of them were anything but little puppets, little make-believes, playthings on strings with the same stare and the same sawdust filling, just unlike enough to keep the attention distracted, but all like enough to do nothing more profound. After all, in these lean years of plenty how could it be otherwise? Not even the most hardened reader, at the rate books are written and read nowadays, could stand up against so many attacks upon his mind and heart, if it were. Reading, for the great majority—for the reading public—is not a passion but a pastime, and writing, for the vast number of modern authors, is a pastime and not a passion.

more here.