Magazine August 27, 2018, Issue

Cold and Caring Critic

William Giraldi
American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring, by William Giraldi (Liveright, 336 pp., $30)

Sixty years ago, Oscar Cargill, a scholar of Henry James and Thomas Wolfe, wrote about the personality and role of the critic. Critics should be “brave” and “generous”; they should be “willing to labor to entertain.” They should, at all costs, avoid “reviewmanship,” the practice “of writing a prescribed number of words for a review without ever saying anything that could possibly offend the publisher-advertiser of the book reviewed.” It is a fine art, in that the critic says “nothing” but is adept at “sprinkling one or two bright phrases which may be dexterously lifted from that context for later

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