Private: Snark’s in the eye of the beholder

Most readers will remember that last year’s debut issue of The Believer magazine included an article decrying “snark” in book reviewing. Now Typo Magazine and a reader named Matt allege that snarkiness has surfaced in the pages of The Believer itself.

I don’t know enough about the body of work at stake here to have an opinion on the article that’s causing the current furor, but it seems to me that the dispute underscores the problem with the original anti-snark manifesto: even assuming* snarkiness in book reviews should be prohibited, there’s no bright line between snark and valid criticism. The “I know it when I see it” approach doesn’t work for the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on obscenity. It’s not going to work for book reviewing, either.

* Purely for the sake of argument.