On November 30, 2012, a respected newish literary website posted a piece that rocked the online literary world. The literary Twitter had a hissy fit. Writer types on Facebook momentarily stopped posting baby pics. The author of the piece (a certain Mr. William Giraldi, hereafter referred to as “Critic”) had reinforced the Menckenian name he’s been making for himself lately, ripping everyone a new one this time. The fourth paragraph of his recent piece, for example, includes comments the Critic might call “caustic gems.” He characterizes “our present climate of criticism” spawned by the internet as “a cacophony of gabble impersonating literary comment, palaver and vulgate enough to warp you.” He proceeds to state that “Literature has always had its leeches, except now the Net has given every one of them a bog to wiggle around in.”
Although pictures suggest Critic was born during the Nixon Administration, he then uses the word wastrel before saying that:
“Young or new book readers looking for literary analysis are going to have an increasingly arduous chore of dividing the shit from the serious. Worse, the biddable and ovine will gravitate to the shit because that’s where all the buzzing is. If you’ve ever attempted to read a review on Amazon or on someone’s personal blog, you know it’s identical to seeking relationship advice on the wall of a public restroom.”
I find this mildly offensive as a biddable, ovine leech who once sought relationships on the walls of restrooms. But as a writer/reader it moved me to defend the unwashed literary masses online in a few more than 140 characters (31,000+ characters to be exact).
The Critic first came to my attention in the summer after he’d decapitated, disemboweled, and devoured the contemporary literary fiction equivalent of a little lamb, a bath of blood that caught my eye because everyone seemed so outraged. I sided with him to an extent thanks to lax prose cited by Critic, who’s a fiction editor at a reputable literary journal that once published and even paid for a story of mine. But I didn’t understand why he’d decided to slaughter this particular lamb. The sacrificial lamb’s work wasn’t something I would most likely read, largely because she wasn’t a dead white European male. If the Critic had exhumed and defiled the dead white writer dudes who sit atop my own little Mount Olympus of Lit, no one would have given a shit. Bernhard, Kafka, Proust, Mann, Musil, Sebald, they can fend for themselves. But if you rip a young lady, the internet rides to the rescue. Salon, Facebook, Twitter, bloggers, everyone protects the damsel in distress. But why even rip her work in the first place? That’s what I didn’t get at the time. Aren’t there bigger fauna to fry?
Months pass. Attention turns from contemporary literary shitstorms to Superstorm Sandy and that intermittent maelstrom known as the Presidential Election. But once the dust settled after Thanksgiving and the following week of online bargain hunting interrupted by the receipt of multiple requests for donations from the neediest (n + 1, Poets & Writers, One Story, Tin House, my friends’ literary podcast, Bookfight), Critic grasped either end of the monitor through which he surveys the internet and rattled the online literary world again with a review of a book that collects not-so-nice reviews. Critic now is known for the not-so-nice review that appeared in August, which is surely why the nice, newish lit site based in sunny Southern Cal asked him to write about a collection of not-so-nice reviews, which Critic gets around to in his review, sort of, after ripping everything and everyone online concerned with lit.
(I think it’s important to parenthetically note that if it weren’t for the internet I wouldn’t have read Critic’s review because I wouldn’t have heard about it via a Facebook message from a Full Stop editor and of course the Los Angeles lit site that originally posted the article wouldn’t exist and therefore the contribution you’re reading wouldn’t exist and I, most likely, wouldn’t exist in my current form since at this point for about thirteen years the offline iteration of my life has been entwined with its online iteration. So many friends I’ve made via online connections, my wife I met via the internet, our home we found online, our cats too, not to mention so many books I buy used from booksellers around the country when they’re not available from bookshops in town, and yet in no way do I spend my life online or consider the so-called Net at this point something other than an essential element of life—air, earth, wind, fire, and wifi.)
Online or off, we all know that everyone concerned with lit stuff has wanted to rip everything and everyone at one point. In fact, after sufficient drinks, we’ve all heard friends rip the literary world for cronyism, for self-promotion, for anti-intellectualism, for elitism, for paying more attention to one variety of writerly humanity instead of another variety of writerly humanity (and vice versa, of course), for neglecting to advance the so-called writing career of whoever deserves it more than whoever’s so-called writing career has been advanced, for perpetuating the idea that a hugely popular book or a writer might really actually be worth a look, for all sorts of sins that might only be forgiven if all the complainer’s manuscripts were accepted for publication and subsequently lauded by everyone forever.
There’s a lot of anger out there among writers, largely voiced in private, even among those who publicly seem to “like” a lot of literary-related status updates posted online. There’s a lot of anger in part because never before in the history of humanity have there been so many MFAs, all seeking to publish at a time when the publishing industry attempts to get its groove back after a major systemic revolution. Thanks in part to Microsoft Word, NaNoRiMo, Duotrope, Poets & Writers, Submittable, Submissions Manager, and old-fashioned e-mail, never before in the history of humanity has it been easier to type up a manuscript and submit it to a lit mag or query a literary agent. As a result, never before in the history of humanity have so many people had their hopes for publication squashed by form rejections from agents, journal editors, and small presses. And so, with this flammable reservoir of anger waiting for the right spark, an article that rips the literary world may very well be a welcomed, possibly even a cathartic, read. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for someone to come along and, in flowing, honest, humorous language, call bullshit on its various machinations? But, alas, our friend Critic doesn’t seem to aspire to mass catharsis of this sort. He instead calls bullshit on 1) everyone online loving on their friends’ work like it’s “a play date for mutually reassuring peddlers,” and 2) the angry, anonymous hordes of reviewers, the “masked assassins” blogging about books from their online bogs. It seems a bit hypocritical to call out folks for anonymously doing what he did in the Sunday Book Review. But, hey, kudos to Critic for getting The Times to pay for his takedowns.
Or maybe he calls out the “masked assassins” for not making a name on their takedowns? My first thought when I read Critic’s recent article (on my iPhone via a Facebook link) was it’s a cry for attention, the voice of one man shouting in a vast digital wilderness, shouting in part about incessant circle-jerking poly-promotional praise. He does so not so much to call bullshit on everyone’s attempts to raise everyone up in the eyes of the literary world but to raise himself up by tearing everyone down, especially those also frustrated/angered but who instead choose to heap love and flowers upon every book and writer out there.
I don’t mind too much if Critic’s trying to establish himself as a great black shark in the water off the coast of a literary country no larger than Monaco, a megalomaniacal territory as civil as Somalia. Raising oneself up by tearing everything down is a tricky game, but it can work. It momentarily worked for Dale Peck when he called Rick Moody the worst writer of his generation. And seemingly excessive takedowns of someone and/or everyone get people talking and incite the online appearance of little essays like this one. But is it a good idea to rip “middle-strata” reviewers of books and tweeters and bloggers and general adherents to the Golden Rule in order to advance one’s career as critic and novelist?
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Early in his recent review, Critic notes that we still read Forster’s Aspects of the Novel but not the critical work of some guy I’ve never heard of (Percy Lubbock), mainly because we still read Forster’s novels. Critic’s mission therefore might be to get his novel that came out in July 2011 known by as many people as possible. Instead of heaping excessive praise on everyone so everyone might do unto him what he did unto them, he takes the less-traveled path of the contrarian, a comparatively dark and dangerous road lit only by the Luciferian torch of anticharismatic erudite assertions that he alone proceeds toward Truth. Some might think he’s right. Some might say he’s wrong. Most might agree he doesn’t have to be a dick about it. Meanwhile, Critic might say “all publicity is good publicity, right?”
On Goodreads.com, Critic’s novel has accrued 378 ratings, including 99 reviews, earning an average score of 3.31 on a one- to five-star scale (five stars = “it was amazing”). A statistically significant cohort therefore seems to sort of like Critic’s novel. But “sort of like” doesn’t really cut it, since no writer wants the masses to deem his book semi-adequate.
As you can see in the Goodreads “book data” figure to left, the response among those who read and rated the Critic’s novel varies widely. Perhaps a percentage of these one-star folks are friends with the writer the Critic sacrificed this summer? Turns out, only two of the one-star reviews appeared ten and eleven days after the evisceration, but neither seem motivated by revenge (one doesn’t like how women are portrayed and the other cites James Wood’s famous essay about “Hysterical Realism”).
Critic’s task therefore is to entice more of those 1045 Goodreads users who’ve marked his book “to read” to select “currently reading” and one day leave a trail of admiring text after rating it four or five stars. Critic can’t go back and write a better book but he can eviscerate a cute young Canadian for publishing books with ratings distributions similar to that of his own novel. Or maybe Critic’s homicidal review was inspired by a figurative suicidal instinct? Maybe he turned loathing of his writerly self into loathing of other writers? Surely he dreamed of writing a novel that earned an average rating on Goodreads over 4.0, but when the scores were much lower, he took it out on someone of similar stature with similar ratings online, instead of courageously taking out a behemoth of lit he deemed equally off-putting? Maybe he took out someone of similar stature to show how much better he was than her? To show how he didn’t belong at her level? (His prose isn’t as lax, you know.) And when that tactic didn’t result in a jump in his score, he destroyed the literary world for not giving him the recognition he believes he deserves, and he paid particular emphasis to those out there online who helped produce such a middling score?
* * * *
What I like about Critic is that he’s an idealist. Like some of my favorite misperceived literary misanthropes, he loves the world, but the world so often disappoints him, since the world for Critic is made of lit, and the responses to lit always vary. I’m all for fundamentalism of this sort. In fact, whenever asked my religion, I say I’m a Literary Fundamentalist. I believe in a blessed trinity of life, writer, reader. (Adding critic and review to this trinity creates a satanic pentacle?) I realize that “Literary Fundamentalism” might sound a little extreme, so I try to keep the fun in my fundamentalism (to emphasize this, herein/hereafter, I’ll refer to Literary Fundamentalism as “Lit Fun”), which involves waking before dawn and writing for an hour or more before commuting on foot, often while reading, to an unrelated-to-lit editorial job. I write, read mostly fiction by mostly (if not always) dead white men, and since May 2007 when Tao Lin invited me to join Goodreads via a function on the site, a large part of my Lit Fun has involved writing dense little impressions of the novels I read. Thanks to Goodreads statistics, I know I read between 30 and 50 books a year, mostly novels. If I didn’t work full-time and write what I can when not at work, I’d read 100 books a year, easily, most likely returning to old favorites as much as breaking new ground.
In 2007, when I started at my current editorial job, I took cigarette breaks at first, but soon replaced that habit with quick and comparatively healthier Goodreads sessions. Time spent on Goodreads has been rewarding, not in terms of “pastel” positive reinforcement of my impressions of books, but more so thanks to awareness of what’s out there and what smart readers of serious lit think about what they read. I’m sure Critic would be amazed to discover that not everyone in the world is fighting against us in the war against intelligence. In fact, sites like Goodreads help identify crucial allies, the sort of readers you want at your side when you storm those illusory bastilles of philistinism. Goodreads is the e-apotheosis of casual book talk. It’s unlike a “knitting circle.” Conversations are ongoing, in flux, and open to all, proceeding at the pace of everyone’s reading across thousands of titles. Goodreads, generally, is Facebook for readers, a continually updating stream of opinions, sometimes strong ones, about what a lot of us deem most important in the offline world.
For me, the site’s primary benefits include:
- Awareness of titles otherwise unknown. I currently have 192 books marked “to read.”
- Quantified ratings. I’ve always sort of wanted literature to evolve statistics as undeniable as on-base percentage. I respect the complexity of responses to lit that a number can’t contain, but I don’t mind the numerical scores.
- A plurality of textual responses to all varieties of books, written at all levels. The flippant and/or semi-illiterate “shit” review is far less common than the “serious”-style review replete with, to my mind, excessive plot summary, indented quotation at length, and, indeed, a certain stodginess of tone/syntax.
- A convenient online system to outsource the tracking of the circuitous pathways of one’s reading.
- A top-notch memory helper. Whenever someone “likes” one of my 355 reviews/impressions I’ve written in the past five years, I receive an e-mail alert and a link to my review, which I usually read.
But ultimately Goodreads lets me capture and disperse impressions that occur as I read. I tend to track the sounds I make when reading, the chortles, gasps, growls, and LOLs. I try to figure out why I might not have liked aspects of a book, looking under the hood in a workshoppy way (“uh oh, looks like we got ourselves some POV issues mixed with a serious case of Disembodied Proper Noun Syndrome, especially when it comes to tertiary characters”). For transparency’s sake, I’ve set up a “potential conflict of interest” shelf and add my reviews of books by friends, acquaintances, or former teachers to this “shelf.” I also tend to acknowledge my connection to the writer in the review itself.
I try to get my thoughts onto the site ASAP after finishing a book, immediately thumbing out a sloppy draft via the Goodreads app. Over the next few days, I’ll clean up the review, add to it, edit it, maybe include a quotation or two and links to similar novels. And then I move on, intermittently reading the reviews of my most active friends on the site, real human beings I know only by a name, a picture, a location, a writing style, and what I’ve discerned of their aesthetic. In many ways, these friends with whom I share a literary affinity are less flesh and blood than compendiums of books, like the painting by Arcimboldo, who most likely inspired Archimboldi, the master writer in 2666.
In no way are my Goodreads friends representative of “precisely what you’ll find spattered across the Net and in many a newspaper east to west: unlettered opinions with scarcely more authority than the feral scratching in Cro-Magnon’s diary.” They might not explicitly assert “an aesthetic and moral sensibility wedded to a deep erudition” but they suggest it, and they often do so with some goddamn humor.
There’s Mike, an older gay man from Illinois with a bushy gray goatee who loves everything New Directions publishes. There’s M.J., a twenty-something from Glasgow who writes inventive/playful reviews replete with UK slang, who evangelizes Gilbert Sorrentino and George Perec, who is either a very fast reader or spends his entire time awake with books. (As I write this, I just accepted a friend request from a reader in Albania.) There’s Nathan “N.R.” Gaddis, whose profile picture is an unbecoming head shot of William T. Vollmann, who really loves those long mega-novels (he’s currently 714 pages into McElroy’s Women and Men), who’s devoted to hyping, not recent popular favorites by Jennifer Egan or Chad Harbach, but Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) and everything by Alexander Theroux. (I sometimes think he might actually be Alexander Theroux.) There’s Andrew, a 25-year-old from Seattle who doesn’t assign books a star but whose brief, perfectly phrased, straightforward, humorous, and, yes, erudite reviews always entertain and educate me. And then there are friends from graduate school who only intermittently review books, writer friends made over the years while editing Eyeshot.net since 1999, and writer friends I see at readings in Philadelphia.
Unlike with Facebook or Twitter, I never think about deleting my account. I never think that time could be better spent than browsing books and reviews and so often ordering whatever looks great. (For example, I just ordered Fernando del Paso’s Palinuro de México, which is making its way through people’s “to read” lists now. A maximalist 556-page translation put out by Dalkey Archive in 1996, it only has 73 ratings and 9 reviews but a 4.42 average rating. For comparison, Infinite Jest has 19K+ reviews and a rating of 4.34, while 2666 has 9K+ ratings with a 4.16 average.)
At one point, however, I realized I was adding thousands of words of free content to Goodreads, which they use to sell ads that I, in turn, see. Google “The Magic Mountain,” “The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1,” “Life: A User’s Manual,” “The Map & the Territory,” “Lightning Rods,” “Helen DeWitt The Last Samurai,” “Don DeLillo Libra,” “Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter,” “The Dolphin People,” “The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack” and you’ll see a Goodreads link come up high in the citation list. Click through and you’ll see my reviews among the top (look for my first name and a colorfully bordered negative image photo of a walking reader), promoted thanks to a comparatively higher number of “likes” for that title. Maybe instead of providing free content for Goodreads I could work on my reviews and add reams of indented quotation and plot summary and send them off to places that might want to pay for them? But then I considered the exchange: like everything related to the internet (like everything for that matter), you get what you give it. Energy I’ve put into Goodreads has returned in the form of books Goodreads users indirectly encouraged me to read, like John Williams’ Stoner (average rating, 4.36), George Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual (average rating, 4.28), and Sesshu Foster’s Atomik Aztex (average rating, 3.46), and a few dozen others. I think it’s been a fair exchange. So when Critic generalized and lumped all lit-related online content together as “a cacophony of gabble impersonating literary comment, palaver and vulgate enough to warp you,” I disagreed with enough gusto to devote time writing about it, deciding to present not so much a takedown of Critic’s assertions but to suggest harmonic overtones Critic may have mistaken for clamor. (As always, one man’s cacophony is another man’s Beefheart.)
In his recent 2683-word review, Critic dropped the following names, presented in order of appearance:
E.M. Forster, Percy Lubbock, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Henry James, Mark Schorer, T.S. Eliot, Auden, Yvor Winters, R.P. Blackmur, Conrad Aiken, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, Emerson, Randall Jarrell, Trollope, D.H. Lawrence, Orwell, Pritchett, Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Hardwick, Updike, Vidal, Martin Amis, Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, H.L. Mencken, Malcolm Cowley, Alfred Kazin, Irving Howe, Lewis Mumford, Dwight McDonald, Stanley Edgar Hyman, Wayne Booth, Frank Kermode, Jacques Barzun, Leslie Fiedler, Cynthia Ozick, Denis Donoghue, Andrew Delbanco, Leon Wieseltier, Morris Dickstein, Stanley Edgar Hyman, Bill Henderson, Mary McCarthy, F.R. Leavis, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Matthew Arnold, Jacob Silverman, Anthony Brandt, Whitman, Brontë, Dickens, Bellow, Twain, Marc Humblot, Proust, Maugham, Waugh, Baudelaire, Voltaire, Noel Coward, Wilde, James Gould Cozzens, Steinbeck, Anatole France.
Maybe Critic devotes approximately 5% of his review to name dropping because he’s concerned with authority? He includes all these names because he’s read all their work. He knows more about them than any of my Goodreads friends do, and yet displays of erudition never trump original insight and enthusiasm. It comes off, in fact, as insecure. It’s not so much about citing the obtuse syntax of bygone literary authorities as much as saying what you mean in such a way that someone else cares. Reviews seem best to me when they express perceptions in a way that entertains and edifies readers and thereby maybe encourages them to share the reviewer’s enthusiasm for a novel. There’s no one truth except that there are many truths, of course, of course, and so I’ve always appreciated reviews that emphasize a particular experience of reading a book, that note where a book was read and what else was going on when reading the book. I respect reviewers who acknowledge the interdependence of life and text. Critic however seems to approach literary texts like he’s handing down Supreme Court opinion, like his answer is right because it lists a shitload of critics you’ve never read or even heard of and therefore his opinion carries more weight. But, again, and maybe this is just me: I prefer particular and peculiar expressions of perception way more than I care about critical precedence.
* * * *
Sontag once asserted that “in place of a hermeneutics, we need an erotics of art.” There’s clearly something about Critic’s interpretive aesthetic that turns me and others off. But don’t take it personally, Critic! Serious literary argumentation in general doesn’t exactly light my fire. I’ll do it sometimes, sure, but I’m honestly not so interested in arguing about books, and certainly not interested in arguing about the reviewing of books or arguing about whether it’s worth it to argue about arguing about the reviewing of books, online or not.
Other than reading and writing, what stirs my soup is casual analysis of casually intelligent responses to endlessly various representations and responses to endlessly varied experiences of life. All this isn’t always rosy, of course. Critic however asserts that, beyond the wireless range roamed by uninformed “masked assassins,” the internet has no dark caves where Literary Fundamentalists sit around fires and cast angry/pathetic shadows on the walls as we bitch about undeserving prize-winners and overhyped drivel, where well-educated folks advance opinions dissenting from those who hand out awards and critical stamps of approval. It’s not like I and others on Goodreads always rave. My most “liked” review (117 likes) is a brief flip-off: “Best 30 pages ever. The worst rest.” I’ve also tried to staunch gushing enthusiasm for consecutive Pulitzer winners and a recent National Book Award winner.
I don’t see a reason to stamp ants or sacrifice lambs, but my knives come out when award-winning megafauna who’ve earned more than 30,000 four- and five-star reviews are compared to DeLillo or DFW and yet, when I come to them with high expectations, hoping to find something new to love and learn from, their excellence ultimately seems to me very much deniable. Truth isn’t capitalized, it’s all subjective (yeah, yeah, dude, we’ve all been stoned college freshpeople before) but there’s maybe a moral obligation to fight for a necessarily lowercase and idiosyncratic truth. A proper Literary Fundamentalist appreciates plurality of opinion, the necessity of conflicting truths, the astounding complexity of single human lives when seen in anti-demographic detail, not to mention the infinite complexity of communities composed of astoundingly complicated, oft-contradictory individuals whose time on earth will soon be over no matter what. Critic’s novel may receive mediocre Goodreads ratings in part because his brand of Lit Fun isn’t really all that fun since it seems like the sort that 1) advances false dichotomies (“Young or new book readers looking for literary analysis are going to have an increasingly arduous chore of dividing the shit from the serious”) and 2) doesn’t quite recognize that at this point there’s little difference between the internet and life. Life, expressed as communication, occurs online just as much as in hardback anthologies of 20th Century criticism.
When the internet was newish and I edited a lit site with some traffic and a steady flow of submissions each day, I’d sometimes assert that the internet was like a fish tank. The people with whom I corresponded were more like fish than people. As such, now and then I liked to boil the water and devour the guppies. I wrote performative, hypercritical, often insane rejection letters and posted several volumes of them on the site. In part, I wanted to astound submitters and visitors with something never seen before. But then something happened. It became clear that my life had changed thanks to the energy I’d put into the site. It was real whether online or not, and once I realized this, what so many others understood immediately, I matured. The rejections I sent became less about pleasing myself at another’s expense and more about helping submitters if I thought I could do some good. Maturity raised the game for me. Turns out it takes way more effort to astound with insight and generosity than with self-interested evil.
Critic says “A world with no deservedly antagonistic reviews would be a literary Disneyland: a wretched uniformity of pleasantness. No dissent, no plurality. A place of whitewash and monotony where happiness is the province of denuded minds.” Thanks to Goodreads, this hasn’t been my experience of the literary internet at all. Nor is Goodreads “an easeful substitute for the hellish emotional and psychological confrontation that genuine literary work requires,” an over-the-top assertion that could be argued endlessly. And I bet writing that’s “hellish emotional and psychological confrontation” for a writer makes for not-so-enjoyable reading. Even Faulkner simply called it “anguish and travail.” Kids out there reading this: remember to always keep the fun in your Literary Fundamentalism.
Critic says “The moment we stop fighting about books is the moment they cease to matter. Right or wrong, contemptuous or comical . . . literature is not a play date for mutually reassuring peddlers but rather the highest possible calling in the arts.” All of which sounds very good until it’s investigated a little. Simply put, and with an expletive added for emphasis: books will matter even if critics and reviewers and everyone out there shut the fuck up and otherwise focus on reading and writing their damn books. Reducing everything to either 1) a “Sunday knitting circle” “feel-good community” that “praises one another in pastel colors” or 2) hatchet job literary bloodlust maybe misses the point? It’s never this or that. Hasn’t such thinking led to all sorts of Us vs. Them trouble in the past? Cowboys vs. Indians, Communists vs. Capitalists, North vs. South, Black vs. White, Infidels vs. Crusaders, Red vs. Blue States, Bricks vs. Mortar, Offline vs. Online. Pretty much whenever presented with This versus That (unless it’s Axis vs. Allies or The Dark Side vs. The Force), always opt for “The Other Thing,” which in the present case is that the essential symbiotic interplay of reading and writing and living, sometimes solitary but never always totally alone, should always be primary. All else is noise distracting from silent conversation taking place among books by writers who aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, either because they’ve been dead for decades or otherwise exist in our imaginations, hovering over the books in our hands. Silence won’t make books not matter. Silence, in fact, usually makes it easier to read.
Anyway, I hope we can be confident enough to always maintain an eternal amateurism—maybe one day we’ll even achieve an expert amateurism—thanks to humility in the face of the hundred thousands books we’ll never read. I know my experience reading a book is based on where I read it, when I read, what I’ve read in the past, what I’m working on, and what’s going on in my life, so I can’t assert eternal providence and say what I say is so. And yet, above, I realize I got a little pedantic about Us. vs. Them stuff, dropped the names of major European modernists (and Tao Lin) to add to my authority, and maybe wrote this in some small part to promote the literary iteration of myself. But in general I wrote this to inch toward viability some nascent ideas and join the conversation (if not engage the fight).
Similarly, if someone finds some value in the little impressions I write on Goodreads, very cool. If not, that’s cool too, since they’re really only intended for me to read in the future as a memory refresher, to get a better handle on what I care about when reading and therefore when writing, maybe also they’re for a little group of friends I’ve made over the years on Goodreads, and of course they’re also very much intended for my Sunday knitting circle of Lit Fun friends: Bernhard, Kafka, Musil, Mann, Proust, Faulkner, on and on, all of whom remind me every time I look at the spines of their books on my shelves or reread my reviews of their work that it’s all about trying to write something worthy of the conversation among them, no matter if what I work on is ever published, no matter whether, if published, it one day earns more or less than a 4.0 rating on Goodreads. Rimbaud once insisted “one must be absolutely modern.” Ultimately, the absolutely modern response to Critic’s assertions would surely be an elegant, efficient, and undeniably sage employment of acronyms and hashtags popularized by today’s absolutely modern wastrels—something along the lines of #YOLO #SMH.