An elitist criticises the state of criticism

Via Arts & Letters Daily, I discovered a blog written by board members of the National Book Critics Circle. They have a guest post: Morris Dickstein on the Critical Landscape Today. I like some of the points he makes, and I too lament the falling-away of book reviews in major newspapers. I can’t help thinking it’s a very bad sign for the state of reading in America. But Dickstein betrays a basic elitism that I really can’t agree with:

But book reviews, to be of any value, demand a trained sensibility and real critical expertise; they need to furnish more than rough-hewn consumer guidance and the colorful peeves of the man in the street.

This kind of thinking, in any field, ends up producing reviews (and elevating creations) that speak only to a small coterie of insiders. Hardly the stuff that will save reviews in newspapers, which need to be aimed at a popular audience.

In praise of editors

You’ll need to watch an ad to get a one-day pass if you don’t already subscribe to Salon, but this essay made my day: Let us now praise editors

I’ve also worked with writers who have reacted to my gentle suggestion that one of their precious, ungrammatical commas might perhaps be removed as if I’d insisted that Maria Callas perform “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” as the final aria in Bellini’s “Norma.”


I’ve had a month of not always knowing if I’m coming or going. It started off the second week of May with a visit to Fry Communications, which prints and mails UU World, to meet our account rep, see the magazine on the press, and get a tour. Fry is located in Mechanicsburg, Pa., so I flew to Philadelphia, had a lovely visit with my friend Barbara and dinner at Vortex House, then drove west. The press visit started early and went right up until I had to start back to the airport.

As interesting as the press tour was (and yes, I guess I really have become a thorough magazine editor, because I did think it was fascinating), the best thing about the trip was the countryside. It’s nothing like what I grew up with, but from my first visit to Philadelphia I loved the countryside of SE Pa. The rolling hills and plentiful open space and vistas raise my spirit. There’s a lot of hayfields and cattle, which supply two odors from childhood that somehow make me feel like all is right with the world. And mechanicsburg is a small city. All in all, it renewed my disattisfaction with living in a city.

The weekend of that week was the biannual Lavender Country and Folk Dance (LCFD) dance camp. It was at a new place for us, a YMCA camp in Connecticut. That was the weekend there was so much rain and flooding in Mass. It was pretty wet at the camp, but not terrible. It was on a lake, lots of trees, very picturesque. I didn’t do a whole lot of dancing, but there was a fantastic hambo workshop where I really got the woman’s role down–not with everyone I danced with, but with three of the guys especially. I also finished a good book while there. Very satisfying weekend.

The I went back to Pa. (by car) to facilitate the Quaker Workers Gathering the following week. It was held at Kirkridge, an ecumenical retreat center in the Poconos. I had had mixed feelings after having accepted the invitation, but it was a good experience. And the participants liked it, too, so that turned out well.

And then the next week I was at a two-day Certified ScrumMaster training. (You may now say “sir” when you address me.) Scrum is a management method used in software development, but my colleagues and I will be giving it a try with magazine production. (We started our first sprint on June 1.)

Then the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair was a must-do on Memorial Day weekend, combined with a visit in Amherst with my friends Jan and Ken. I tried (briefly) a spinning wheel at the fair, but ended up buying two more drop spindles (so I can have more than one spinning project at a time, of course!), some raw fleece (because I’m curious to see how it spins. I’ve felted raw fleece and loved it.), some laceweight yarn, and a locker-hook rug kit (because you can never have too many hobbies).

Jan and I also went to the National Yiddish Book Center (ייִדישע ביכער-צענטראַלע), where I bought a great yiddish alef-bays poster and several books. (Sonja and I have agreed to learn yiddish together.)

For those keeping score, that adds up to the coming week being my first full week in the office in a month!