about Joyce Carol Oates & so haven't been blogging as I read (it's like biting my tongue--amazing how quickly I got used to writing immediately about what I read, and what self-restraint it requires not to!), but I came across this passage last night that certainly has nothing to do with what I will say there & I can't resist giving it here.
It touches on that question about bad books and bad reviews that I've been thinking about recently, and it's from the introduction to Uncensored: Views & (Re)views, an excellent collection of Oates's recent criticism:
My governing principle as a critic is to call attention solely to books and writers that merit such attention, and to avoid whenever possible reviewing books "negatively" except in those instances in which the "negative" is countered by an admiring consideration of earlier books by the same author. (In assembling this collection, I immediately rejected all "negative" reviews on moral grounds as unworthy of reprint, as, perhaps, they were unworthy of being written. How small-minded we seem to ourselves in retrospect, chiding others! Much better to have passed over such disappointments in silence. Then, as the pile of rejected pieces grew, I began to feel that I was too-primly censoring myself, and eliminating much that might be of interest despite its critical tone. Of the numerous "censored" reviews I retrieved only three, of short story collections by Patricia Highsmith and Richard Yates and a novella by Anita Brookner, all of which have been sufficiently praised elsewhere, in any case.) As our relations with others are essentially ethical encounters, so our relations with books, and with those individuals who have written them, are ethical encounters. Obviously, a critic who "likes everything" is a very bland personality hardly to be trusted, but there might be a respectable category of critic who, disliking something, refrains from making public comment on it. In America, do we need to caution anyone against buying a book?
There you have it. Isn't that an amazing passage?
Joyce Carol Oates is a very special writer to me, I have been reading her for a long time and her writing matters to me in a way that lots of the books I read & like don't. (Also I had a remarkably heartening personal encounter with her at a moment when I was in absolute despair about whether my first novel was ever going to be published, and in the most generous possible way she managed to persuade me that [a] my novel was publishable and [b] sometimes you have to move on from a project. I wish I had the exact words here, it was a most lovely little typed postcard that I put somewhere so safe that I will probably never be able to find it again. Though I feel I have transgressed, even mentioning it, as there is a stringent and thought-provoking little essay at the end of this collection called "Private Writings, Public Betrayals" about what happens when people make public--or even sell, as an act of revenge--the letters of famous writers. But surely this is different....)
All right, I'm just going to quote again my favorite sentence from that passage above, because it also seems to me a good reminder for bloggers in particular: "As our relations with others are essentially ethical encounters, so our relations with books, and with those individuals who have written them, are ethical encounters." Good stuff, eh?