David Calling

Take the Inverse of the Times

One of those spats that from time to time give the literary world the appearance of animation has just occurred. Alain de Botton has published a book on the subject of work, and someone dismissed this book in the loftiest manner in a review in the New York Times. So lofty was this reviewer that he has enraged Alain de Botton enough to write a response. He cursed the reviewer with the words, “I will hate you until the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make.”
Now Alain de Botton is quite a friend of mine, and I know him to be mild-mannered, modest, and full of humor. He is also formidably intelligent and wide-ranging. Needless to say, the New York Times reviewer is totally unknown, ignorant, and uses this column as an opportunity to preen himself, like most of those who write for that paper. And that is why Alain ought not to have lost his temper, but be grateful for this bad review, because it must mean that he has written a good book.
In old Soviet days, the reader of Pravda was obliged to interpret things by simply reversing whatever the paper was saying about them as it was only reporting the party line. So it is with the New York Times book reviews. An apparatchik in charge of that section equally makes sure to cleave to the party line, which in this case involves 100-percent political correctness plus worship of popular culture. Any good or original book is certain to be ignored there, side-lined, or given to some wretch for a hatchet job. Speaking for myself, I take it that the snubbing or boycotting my books have received in the New York Times over the years is evidence that I must be on the right lines, and praise there would make me anxious that I hadn’t thought through what I was writing. Now when Mark Steyn published his wonderfully rumbustious book America Alone, it was on the New York Times bestseller list for six months but never got a review there nonetheless. Let’s all buy Alain’s new book, and get it too on their bestseller list, for another loud laugh at the small-mindedness of these comrades.  

David Pryce-Jones — David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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