"BAD PAPER: The Bursting of the Fiction Bubble"

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March 6, 2010

How Corruption Works

James Wood's Favorite Books Are the Ones His Editor Also Happened to Edit

Posted by Mark Asch on Fri, Mar 5, 2010 at 4:36 PM
As we reported earlier, the new editor of the Paris Review will be the impeccably credentialed Farrar, Strauss and Giroux editor Lorin Stein; news items on his appointment mention, by way of introduction, that his recent high-profile credits include collaborations with Richard Price on Lush Life, Lydia Davis on many of the stories recently included in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, and James Wood on How Fiction Works.

Two of the most generous reviews Wood has written during his time as a critic at the New Yorker were of Richard Price's Lush Life, and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis.

Publishing is of course an incredibly incestuous business—if you eliminated all conflicts of interest not even amateur Amazon reviewers would be left standing—nobody's arguing that Price and Davis aren't terrific. Or, for that matter, that Wood's reviews of their books aren't illuminating and admirably specific in their analysis and praise—we're better off having them.

Still, to the best of my knowledge nobody has yet pointed out that the book critic for the New Yorker shares an editor with some of the authors he's advocated for. This fact seems worth mentioning—it's better publicized than unacknowledged, for a number of reasons having to do with us being honest about what criticism is for and how it's possible to practice it.

(He also shares a publisher with Rivka Galchen and John Wray, whose recent novels he also liked.)


Tony Christini said...

We're better off having better reviews of more vital books.

Edmond Caldwell said...

Yeah -- I love the cynicism of that third paragraph: Of course, Asch knowingly assures us, this kind of thing goes on at all levels, from Amazon reviews to the industry's commanding heights, and of course Wood's taste in authors and the quality of his reviews are not in question, and we're all "better off" having them etc etc etc etc.

That is the sound of someone covering his ass.

Frances Madeson said...

"Absolute corruption corrupts absolutely."
--I think Andy Worthington said that recently but please forgive me world wide web if I've got the attribution wrong. The sentiment however was too apt to pass by.

Steven Augustine said...

Frances, that was, in fact, CDS Barry who said that!

Meanwhile: how surprised are we that a "cultural" enterprise (and its embodying web of encrusted affinities) that wouldn't *exist* without money as an incentive, is, in the end, a pretentious con? Next stop on our tour: The Met...

Shelley said...

I'm arguing that Price isn't terrific. (I suspect Davis isn't either but have only read a little of her stuff so not sure.)

Edmond Caldwell said...

I agree with you on Price. I like Davis but she's not a writer in Wood's usual idiom, and it shows in his review of her work, which strains, for lack of anything more interesting to say, to straitjacket her as an autobiographical writer.

gottlieb said...

Corruption is not aberration, it is the rule. If we were really an advanced society we would have festivals of corruption rather than pretending to banish it while internally all squealing with masochistic delight at every report of excess.

In so saying, I would like the corroborate the august Mr. Augustine's attribution of "absolute corruption corrupts absolutely" to myself. To the best of my knowledge, for the record, I first mentioned it to him on the corner of Grünewaldstr. and Hauptstrasse in Berlin. Subsequently, and, with a modicum of success, I inserted in a panel presentation I gave at transmediale this month. If anyone is interested , it is in the context of an assertion of the persistent materiality of digital images. The text is reproduced here. cheers!

NigelBeale said...

Hard not to like someone who writes a story like this:

Almost Over: What's the Word?

He says,
"When I first met you
I didn't think you would turn out to be so

(The End)

Frances Madeson said...

They're shutttering ten branch libraries in NYC. Stop making sense!