“A species of autobiography”

by Nicholas Laughlin on June 15, 2010

Andre Alexis

André Alexis. Photograph courtesy the CBC

Reviewing is, by its nature, the chronicle of a small community: writer, book, reader. It is, for the brief time it exists, a community of equals. A reader/reviewer who fails to appreciate or understand a book tends to blame the book or the writer. And, in fact, it may well be that the book is ineptly done or that the writer is at fault. But readers are generally blind to their own deficiencies, and reviewers even more so. It’s very, very rare to find a reviewer — whose job, after all, is to convince us that he or she knows whereof he or she speaks — who will even admit the possibility that he or she is the weak member in the community he or she is chronicling.

Well, yes, but what should the reviewer do? Begin any negative review with a mea culpa, with an apology for his or her betrayal of the book under consideration? No, obviously, that would be fatuous. The problem is, rather, in the approach. Our reviews have become, at their worst, about the revelation of the reviewer’s opinion, not about a consideration of the book or an account of the small world that briefly held writer and reviewer in the orbit of a book. Reviews have turned into a species of autobiography, with the book under review being a pretext for personal revelation.

— From an essay by Trinidadian-Canadian writer André Alexis on “The Long Decline” of literary criticism in Canada, published in the latest issue of The Walrus.

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