John Wilson of Books & Culture, the Christian review of books published bi-monthly 1995-2016, talks about book reviewing with FORMA.
Is it harder to control the “gush” for a book you really like or the harshness for a book you think has major problems?
Wilson: Ha! It’s not so much a matter of “controlling” gush (just say no); it’s rather a matter of finding a way to single out a really good book at a time when people are acclaiming “masterpieces” right and left, cheapening the conversation. I don’t often review books that I think are terrible, or that are entirely uncongenial to me, but a reviewer who’s never critical—sometimes sharply so—is letting the side down.
But having said that, I’m reminded of another widespread misconception: that reviews are all about “evaluation,” the reviewer—from his or her lofty perch—saying “5 stars” or “2 stars” or whatever. There’s so much more to it.
John Wilson writes about a couple story anthologies rescued from a library trash heap: Fiction of the Fifties: A Decade of American Writing (1959), edited by Herbert Gold; and Stories from the Sixties (1971), edited by Stanley Elkin. He points out some differences and quotes from their introductory essays, but one thing unites them. “Both of these volumes are haunted by an absence. They are, with a few exceptions, radically secular.” But Wilson recommends one stand out story, which I see is the title of an anthology of its own.
If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can’t.
The strong Christian review magazine Books & Culture has announced it will close the bar and usher everyone out the door over the coming months. The next issue will be the final printed issue, and they will continue to publish online for 2017.
Alan Jacobs shares his thoughts, saying many people esteemed B&C.
“Alex Star, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and now an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, once told me that he read every issue in full. Cullen Murphy, former editor of the Atlantic, told me that John Wilson is the best editor in the business.”
Many years ago, B&C editor John Wilson wrote for the NY Times about evangelicals as they are depicted in literature. “Charmless, ignorant, homophobic and either brazenly hypocritical or obnoxiously sincere, they quote Scripture unctuously and have bad sex.” (Get an excerpt through the link above or read the whole essay here.)
But B&C is closing, and I ask myself what shall I do now? What shall I do? I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
With my hair down, so.
What shall we do to-morrow?
In his podcast today, John Wilson of Books and Culture talks about how much he enjoyed Lars’ latest !!spell-binding!! novel, Hailstone Mountain, and a bit about how he was provoked to read it. The world feels smaller somehow.
If you too are brand new to Lars Walker’s novels, learn more by following this wonderful, insightful, and humility-inspiring blog or through the links below:
(via Kevin Holtsberry)