Critical Notes

Roundup: More on Negative Reviews, Maria Semple, Pauls Toutonghi, and More

By Mark Athitakis

The discussion about harsh reviews continues apace: On the heels of Jacob Silverman’s “Against Enthusiasm,” Dwight Garner writes “A Case for Critics Who Are Actually Critical” for the New York Times Magazine, and Laura Miller writes “The Case for Positive Book Reviews” for Salon. Stephen Marche weighs in at Esquire: “The real problem though, of which Silverberg and Garner are both no doubt aware, is that, if you starting writing negative reviews, it's hard to know when to stop. The eternal problem of book-reviewing is that 99.999 percent of books published are shit, and everybody knows it.” (Readers on the NBCC’s Facebook page are also weighing in on William Giraldi’s much-discussed review of two books by Alix Ohlin in the New York Times Book Review.)

Michele Filgate recommends a dozen end-of-summer books for New York’s Vulture blog.

Heller McAlpin reviews Maria Semple’s novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette for

D.G. Myers reviews Pauls Toutonghi’s novel Evel Knievel Days at Commentary.

Jane Ciabattari reviews Victor LaValle’s novel The Devil in Silver for the Boston Globe.

John Freeman reviews The Future Is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Adam Kirsch makes the case for revisiting Gore Vidal’s novel Burr at Bloomberg.

Michael O’Donnell reviews George Orwell’s Diaries for the Wilson Quarterly.

Joseph Peschel reviews Nicholson Baker’s new essay collection, The Way the World Works, for the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Michael Lindgren reviews a pair of music books, Natalie Hopkinson’s Go-Go Live and Elijah Wald’s The Dozens, for the Washington Post, and D. Nurkse’s poetry collection, A Night in Brooklyn, for the L Magazine.

Your reviews and recommendations help seed these roundups: If you’re an NBCC member with a review you’d like considered for inclusion, please email You can also get our attention by using the Twitter hashtag #nbcc, posting on the wall of our Facebook page, or joining our members-only LinkedIn group.