Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Love-Hate of Critics

By Paul...

How do you explain it when intelligent, well-read critics violently disagree over the literary value of a book. Today’s case in point, “Thirteen Moons,” by Charles Frazier, author of the mega-seller “Cold Mountain.”

In Sunday’s Washington Post, distinguished reviewer Jonathan Yardley describes Frazier’s writing as “incredibly long-winded, sentimental [and] soporific.”

In today’s Los Angeles times, Michael Blake (“Dances with Wolves”) proclaims: “‘Thirteen Moons' is rare in many ways and occupies a literary plane of such height that reviewing it is not really salient.”

So why bother? But wait, it gets better...

Yardley: “Reading Frazier is like sitting by the cracker barrel for hour after hour and listening to an amiable but impossibly gassy guy who talks real slow, says ‘I reckon’ a whole lot and never shuts up. His novels have little structure and not much in the way of plot.”

Blake: “‘Thirteen Moons’ will provide the immense satisfaction of talking a literary journey of magnitude. Whether on a plane, in an office or curled in a window seat, readers who absorb Will’s story will find their own lives enriched.”

Wow. I’m happy when a reviewer says one of my books will kill some time when you’re stuck at the Denver airport in a snowstorm.

Yardley: “‘Thirteen Moons’ is going to be putting a whole bunch of people to sleep.”

Blake: ‘Thirteen Moons’ has the power to inspire great performances from succeeding generations of writers.”

At least you know where these guys stand. I once had meeting with a Hollywood producer to discuss a spec script I’d written. “Like it, don’t love it,” the producer said. Which, now that I think about it, means he hated it.

Jackie Rocks, Connelly Redux

All the Naked Authors share Jacqueline’s joy in winning the historical fiction Macavity Award for “Pardonable Lies.”

Congrats to Michael Connelly who won best novel category with “The Lincoln Lawyer.” As the losers always say at the Academy Awards, it was an honor just to be nominated. (Then they go home and kick the valet). “The Lincoln Lawyer” is my favorite of Connelly’s books, but then I’m a sucker for a shady mouthpiece who needs redemption. Mike also took home the Shamus award.

A big hand clap, too, for Louise Ure, whose “Forcing Amaryllis”
won the Shamus for best first P.I. novel. I seldom use the word “shamus” in conversation because I don’t know if it’s pronounced “shay-mus” or “shah-mus.” I asked Lee Goldberg, who was nominated for “The Man with the Iron-On Badge,” and also bested by the lawyer who works out of his Lincoln. Lee thinks the word rhymes with Shabbos. On the other hand, if you’ve seen the musical, “City of Angels,” you might remember the song, “You’re Nothing without me, when the fictional P.I. sings to his creator: “Hey, I’m a famous shay-mus, And most people don’t know your name.”


My mother, Sally Levine, age 89, would like to personally thank Thorndike Press, which just purchased rights to publish a hardcover, LARGE PRINT edition of “Kill All the Lawyers.”

By Paul, son of Sally & Stan


  1. Thanks for the shout out, Paul. I'm still grinning ear to ear, although my mother, upon hearing the news, said "You got a Shameless Award? And you're proud of this?"

  2. “‘Thirteen Moons' is rare in many ways and occupies a literary plane of such height that reviewing it is not really salient.”

    To which we can only assume he was thinking, "but I'm getting paid for it, so here goes."

    Not often do you hear a book reviewer say, "I'm preaching to the choir, you don't give a damn what I think, and I'm just an unpaid shill for the book publisher, who desperately wants the free ink, but can't pay me for it, so I'm doing this for free or minimum wage for the newspaper and the free book."

    Of course, since my book reviewing gig died recently I can say that sometimes you do feel like that and hell, it's just my opinion anyway. And now I'll have to actually go out and BUY Paul's books instead of getting them for free, but I'm really thankful I'll never ever be tempted again to read a book by Iris Johansen.

    Mark Terry

  3. SHAMUS:
    Pronunciation: 'shä-m&s, 'shA-
    Etymology: perhaps from Yiddish shames shammes; from a jocular comparison of the duties of a sexton and those of a store detective.

  4. from Jacqueline

    Hey Paul, 'bout time one of us weighed in with a few comments on reviewers, and kudos to you for being the one, brave soul that you are. It makes me want to rush out and buy Thirteen Moons immediately (which I had planned to do anyway).

    And thank you for the mention about the Macavity, you dear person, you.

    I've always pronounced Shamus as "Shay-mus." Shamus might sound like two killer whales at Sea World. But many congrats to Louise - well done!!

  5. There was a very interesting exchange of e mails among the authors who contributed to the ITW's "Thriller" anthology after it received nothing but rave reviews--and was then absolutely panned by the NY Times. The upshot was that the only thing to get upset about is if you are not deemed worthy of a review, good or bad. I learned this early in my career. A critic once apologized to me second hand (a mutual friend conveyed the apology) because a horrible reivew appeared in the paper. The critic had actually given me a good and bad review. The editor, however, wanted to use the clever headline: "Please Pardon this Novel" -- so she cut out everything positive the reviewer had to say about the book and turned it into a hatchet job. How's that for journalistic integrity?

  6. Congrats to Louise and Our Jacqueline!

    Paul, those reviews have compelled to run out and buy Thirteen Moons--and then not read it.

  7. May I add my congratulations to Louise and Jackie? Lovely and wonderful tributes to two lovely and wonderful writers - who are - I'm pleased to say - lovely and wonderful ladies.

  8. Isn't Patty's interview with Elizabeth George ironically on point with this posting
    "....there seem to be a lot of one-time wonders out there who get published because they have a groovy high concept that has Hollywood written all over it and Massive Sales written all over it as well."
    Charles Fraizer's “Cold Mountain,” may indeed be a "one hit wonder." Certainly his publishers must think otherwise---- given his hefty advance for “Thirteen Moons.”
    Is he, to quote Elizabeth: "at best sophomoric and at worst ghastly?" ( some of the inherent qualities of being a wunderkind du jour) I guess it's a matter of whose review you believe....or your own taste......a lot of sizzle but little steak?
    BTW: Was he even nominated for one of those gee-I'm-such-a-brilliant-writer awards??
    No matter, he now has a boatload of $$....

    Ah......just to be nominated........
    Fortunately, I don't have the problem of being on a short list and walking away with zilch.......good thing,too;I've no valet to kick.

    Congrats to Jackie [she who must still be on the LA Times Best Seller List] and Louise.

  9. Come on, when the guy gets the largest advance in the history of publishing ($8 M), you just know the crits are going to have a field day.

    Frazier lives up mountain from me (I live at the bottom of the big rock), and will be reading and signing at my indie bookstore next week. It should be quite the scene.

    I'll be blogging it!