I keep meaning to post my long answer on here. And I keep running out of time.

I don’t know if a reviewer’s job needs to be to “tell me which books are less bad than others” — indeed, to borrow a basic concept from acting and writing classes (which is I grant overused, but instructive still), I prefer a critic who can “show” rather than “tell” — which generally means illumination over rating, analysis, penetration, comparison, and so forth over a rehearsal (here’s the critics’ biggest problem) of the reviewer’s own reactions (excited by, bored by, hooked by) couched in universal language.

Not to say that those reactions don’t inform the critic’s every move — only a dishonest or inhumanly removed reader could do otherwise. But since one person’s hypnotically lyrical narrative style can be another’s obnoxiously purple logorreah, I’m only really interested in some good argument about what the big words in question are setting about doing. Absolutely, I want opinion about whether they’re succesful. But in a sense, it’s the least important part of the review for me — because if I’m interested in what the writer is about, I’m likely to get the book, whether or not the critic thinks they pulled it off.

Life is too short for bad books, but it’s also too short to miss out on the books that people other than myself think are bad because their tastes differ from mine (I heard many abuses of DF Wallace before reading Infinite Jest. Wish I hadn’t waited.) And some of those people have sensibilities otherwise in tune with me would still recommend shit I’d hate (Richard Ford, say) and spurn a writer I love (like C.P. Snow).

De gustibus and all that — mind you, my point is that simply endorsing and dismissing won’t do; look at the fruitlessness of much of Harold Bloom’s stuff when he’s in his A-True-Genius-May-Properly-Evaluate-All-Art mode. An amazing critic and rhetorical artist who frequently dispenses summary judgement without the least attempt to engage the critical faculty of his reader. It’s not criticism — it’s just listmaking (and Bloom may be entitled, but it doesn’t work for me; his verdicts mystify rather than illuminate).

That should make me against Peck, but I’m not, exactly. I do think that when he calls Delillo “stupid — just plain stupid”, he’s either being disingenuous or else he’s throwing the literary equivalent of a conniption fit. It’s fine to say that Don D. isn’t as intelligent or sophisticated as he’s made out to be (I might even be inclined to agree, without really knowing why), but only if you give me some idea of the grounds on which you’re so doing. I’ve read at least two Delillo novels with pleasure (haven’t gotten around to underworld), so I’m an audience in some need of convincing.

In a passage like this, Peck’s just grandstanding: he’s unable to maintain his avowed rhetorical stance while actually delivering critical goods. I suppose it’s entertaining — but while, Kathleen, I don’t really care about whether it is appropriate in “in a piece that’s arguably supposed to tell whether to buy Moody’s latest or not”; I just care whether it’s thoughtful. Some of his points about postmodernism seem to be, but they’re so mixed in with stuff like this that he undermines his own game.

So Peck’s article is a half-success: and I read it with enjoyment, if not edification (does “with” go with “edification?” Probably not. Oh well.) I agree, Mariah, with your statement that it’s good fun in spots but not evidence of reliable judgement — but as I say, I’m not sure I’m as after “judgement” as you are. And Anthony Lane writes some smart and penetrating little essays. I wish Peck had a little of his keenness; because while I laughed at his ranting antics, and appreciated the truths he touched on, I felt he leaned on the rant, and was satisfied to give truth a cursory brush.