The Oregonian is apparently not going to print my letter regarding their ever-diminishing standards for book reviews (They didn’t publish my previous one either). They needn’t be so touchy; after all, they’re right in line with national trends. But what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t rant and rave, so here it is:
The Oregonian seems determined to make its own contribution to the national decline in book reviewing, despite its status as paper of record for a town of bibliophiles who deserve better. Marc Mohan’s review of Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke displays the part-time reviewer’s typically anxious need to play Guess the Author’s Intentions instead of taking the book on its own terms. Baker’s manifold history of the pre-WWII public conversation offers dozens of competing perspectives, all of which could enlarge any thoughtful reader’s understanding of events. But Mohan frets about the lack of an “explicit authorial voice” and clings to the single-page Afterword, in which Baker briefly accounts for his own views, as proof of the book’s failure. Mohan even goes so far as to label Baker’s narrative style “dangerous,” a reckless charge that has no place in respectable reviewing. In the marketplace of ideas, only ignorance is dangerous.