Honest Reviews, Better Literature

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Good literature demands strong criticism, but today’s culture of niceness has limited critics. Lee Klein, writing in 3:AM Magazine, points out that writers’ interest in receiving positive feedback often leads them to forgo standards and slant reviews positively:

Literary citizenship is about buying books, subscribing to lit mags, going to readings. It isn’t about offering superficial, promiscuous support. It isn’t about honesty. It’s not about standing on the side of what’s right when it comes to what matters most. Literature is a tiny cocktail umbrella under which we take refuge from the storm of shit. The first question we literary fundamentalists should ask ourselves is something like this: if we don’t reinforce our tiny cocktail umbrella so it’s as sturdy as can be, how will we keep the shit off our shoulders?

Honesty is not synonymous with meanness, and truthful reviews can still be nice, but good literary citizens should be less concerned about bolstering their own reputations by sugar-coating criticism.


Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at IanMacAllen.com. More from this author →