Reviewing the Book Review

Parul Sehgal at the NYT:

To wander through 125 years of book reviews is to endure assault by adjective. All the fatuous books, the frequently brilliant, the disappointing, the essential. The adjectives one only ever encounters in a review (indelible, risible), the archaic descriptors (sumptuous). So many masterpieces, so many duds — now enjoying quiet anonymity.

What did I find? Those misjudged masterpieces — on Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie”: “It is a book one can very well get along without reading.” The sensitive assessments — consistently by the critic and former editor of the Book Review, John Leonard, an early and forceful champion of writers like Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman and Grace Paley. Fluorescent condescension and stereotype — on N. Scott Momaday’s “House Made of Dawn,” which went on to win the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for fiction: “American Indians do not write novels and poetry as a rule or teach English in top-ranking universities either. But we cannot be patronizing.” Oh, no?

more here.