The art of criticism

Terry Teachout reminds us that debates about the proper tenor of literary reviews are nothing new. He quotes Cyril Connolly’s advice to would-be critics, from The Condemned Playground, published in 1945:

What advice, then, would I give to someone forced—for no one could be willing—to become a reviewer? Firstly, never praise; praise dates you. In reviewing a book you like, write for the author; in reviewing any other, write for the public. Read the books you review, but you should need only to skim a page to settle if they are worth reviewing. Never touch novels written by your friends. Remember that the object of the critic is to revenge himself on the creator, and his method must depend on whether the book is good or bad, whether he dare condemn it himself or must lie quiet and let it blow over….

More good Connolly advice: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self.”


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