McLemee on growing up with critical aspirations

Early last month, critic Scott McLemee received an award for excellence in reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle. His smart and funny acceptance speech began:

In the ordinary course of things, people do not grow up thinking that they would like to publish book reviews someday. But I did. No doubt I was always a peculiar child, nose so long buried in the Encyclopedia Britannica that the semicolons were transferred through the skin, by osmosis. (My copyeditors are still tweezing them out.) There, in the pages of the Britannica, I got to know Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, Thomas Macaulay, Saint-Beuve, and so on. So it seemed only natural to think of reviewing as one of those things the really interesting sort of adult did, off in the happy distance.

This possibly somewhat warped perspective was intensified by an adolescence spent in a very small East Texas town where, each week, following the communal religious celebration known as high school football, the primary form of teenage diversion involved driving up and down the brick-paved main street in your car or truck, over and over, for hours, as if to defeat boredom by challenging it to a duel.


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