Why Being Nice Means Nothing

In all the hot and bothered blather over niceness as an epidemic on par with the bubonic plague, Internet bitchery as a sin which may or may not be equivalent to molesting a small child, and the midlist demolition job compared to a lonely book reviewer belting Eric Carmen’s Rachmaninoff knockoff into the mirror, nobody has paused to consider how tenuous the word “nice” is in the first place.

Believe it or not, there was a time when being called “a nice person” was an insult. “Nice” was originally Old French for “silly” or “foolish.” Here’s Chaucer using “nice” in Troilus and Criseyde:

Quod Pandarus, “Thou hast a full great care
Lest that the churl may fall out of the moon
Why, Lord! I hate of thee the nice fare;

So if you were the type who was overly cautious and taken with needless particularities, you were often condemned for being “nice.” The word originated from the Latin nescius for “ignorant.” By the late 14th century, nice people were fussy or fastidious types: snobs who deliberated over a restaurant menu for twenty minutes. By the turn of the century, a nice person was someone with delicate sensibilities. In the 16th century, a nice person was someone who was very careful or precise. The proverb “more nice than wise” preserves some of these original meanings.

Then in 1769, “nice” altered into something that was agreeable or delightful. In 1830, “nice” involved being kind and thoughtful. And this etymological shift rightly pissed off Fowler, who had this to say in A Dictionary of Modern Usage:

N. has been spoilt, like CLEVER, by its bonnes femmes; it has been too great a favorite with the ladies, who have charmed out of it all of its individuality & converted it into a mere diffuser of vague & mild agreeableness. Everyone who uses it in its more proper senses, which fill most of the space given to it in any dictionary, & avoids the modern one that tends to oust them all, does a real if small service to the language.

In other words, contrary to Michelle Dean’s critical conspiracy theories, “nice,” in the manner that we use it today, originated from the ladies.

“Nice” is a problematic, amorphous, and impermanent word. It could mean something altogether different in a decade. And it certainly doesn’t mean anything now. Rosie O’Donnell was once called “The Queen of Nice” before developing a decidedly belligerent reputation for speaking her mind. In 1962, Lowell Lee Andrews, “the nicest boy in Wolcott,” killed his family. (And why is it that “nice,” more than “kind” or “respectful,” is the default modifier when the next door neighbor is revealed to be a serial killer?)

“God damn it, you’ve got to be nice” sounds porous and gutless next to Kurt Vonnegut’s “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” And it reveals the inherent deceit of nice. If you’re “being nice” to someone, you’re not being honest. You’re humoring a person you don’t want to be with and I don’t think I can trust you. Especially when you’re flattering a person one minute and talking shit about that same person when they leave the room. But if you’re “being kind” to someone, you are legitimately trying to understand where another person is coming from and you are willing to change your mind. You are also willing to persuade the person who is so determined to hate.

I’m not interested in being nice. I’m interested in being kind. I’m interested in having conversations with people who have the confidence to walk down a two-way street built on respect. I’m interested in Emma Straub not because she is nice (although she once patiently listened to one of my five minute soliloquies on the BEA floor), but because she is kind and respectful. She can be trusted because she isn’t as resolutely sanguine as Jacob Silverman has suggested. This is someone who openly condemned Christmas in The New York Times. I didn’t care for Emma Straub’s short story collection and I suppose I’m guilty of “being nice” for not saying anything about it. But I truly had better things to get worked up about. I also disagree with much of Straub’s response to Jacob Silverman’s essay. But I’m pretty sure I could have an adult conversation with her, where we could agree on some points and disagree on others.

I don’t care for the majority of what Lev Grossman writes, but he has been respectful enough to respond to my criticisms in public and in private. Even Sam Tanenhaus had the stones to approach Levi Asher and me on a cold wintry night and enter into a heated but civil face-to-face exchange about The New York Times Book Review. A few years ago, John Freeman and I realized that we were not mortal enemies on the National Book Awards dance floor when I brazenly walked up to him and asked how he was doing. None of this was a matter of “being nice.” It was about being human. It was about keeping an open mind and remaining curious. Is it possible that I will get worked up enough over something that these three people write in the future? Yeah. Probably. I’m hardly a saint and I’m known to speak my mind, but I don’t hate any of these guys. It’s the work that I have had problems with.

I wish I could say munificent things about people like literary blogger Mark Athitakis, who called the cops on me rather than settling our differences over a phone call, or Los Angeles Times writer Carolyn Kellogg, who sent me a remarkably patronizing email when I pointed to flaws in her journalism and has given me the cold shoulder since (I have since learned that this remarkably oversensitive person has behaved with such petty childishness with a number of other people). But I can’t, although if either Athitakis or Kellogg were to write an essay that deeply moved me or were to break a significant news story, I would be the first to sing their hosannas. The idea of not linking or acknowledging good work because you detest the person is antithetical to first-rate intelligence. As the wise Maria Bustillos points out, it’s the immature writer who declares his critic his nemesis for life, but the mature writer who wants to understand why someone would feel that way. Athitakis and Kellogg prefer condemnation rather than consideration. I think it’s a dishonest and craven approach. But you know what? I don’t hate these two either.

People like Athitakis and Kellogg act this way, even engaging in the puerile “you don’t exist in my universe” game, because they want people to “be nice” to them. They seem to believe that any person being “mean” is incapable of being kind. They wish to live in a universe that involves other people proffering lips, prostrating themselves, and smooching posteriors. I think we can all accept that, in an age of Goodreads and Amazon reviews, this is an unreasonable and uninteresting way to live. It is also incompatible with the critic’s present value in American culture, which is far removed from the days of Edmund Wilson, Alfred Kazin, or Mary McCarthy.

Enthusiasm isn’t the problem. I don’t think any one type of writing should be prohibited (although strenuously argued oppositions are always interesting). On the other hand, the mainstream critical landscape has become so polluted with sterile viewpoints because people are so touchy about offending other people. And this means that honest enthusiasm, predicated upon a clear set of virtues and standards even when responding to bad books, is now considered suspect. On the other hand, Jacob Silverman’s hope for “a better literary culture…that’s not so dependent on personal esteem and mutual reinforcement” is remarkably conservative. Why can’t we live in a world that offers respect to Emma Straub’s flowery crowns and a James Wood hit piece? If we weren’t so busy being nice or being liked, we wouldn’t need to worry so much about honest criticism.


You Can’t Be a Good Literary Critic Unless You…

…have moved furniture.

…whistle a happy (or sad!) tune.

…understand what it is to be poor.

…understand what it is to be rich.

…love some kind of animal. In my world, dogs more than cats, but there’s no hard and fast rule.

…have a vice. Several, in fact.

…admit you’re wrong, know you will probably be wrong, accept that you’re wrong.

…have a loving relationship with a human other than yourself. Actually, make sure you love and (especially!) respect yourself, first, because otherwise you’re hardly in a position to love and respect anyone else, are you.

…cast off any lingering or slow-building bitterness. It shows, and it sucks.

…accept your words and judgment come with responsibility but that responsibility doesn’t mean being timid or pulling your punches.

…have a passport.

…read widely. Sure, you can review within a narrow range of books, but those narrow range of books need context, from highbrow to gleeful trash to everything in between.

…write something other than book reviews or criticism. Otherwise you’ll get stale and bored.

…still have your inner six-year-old.

…accept that lists like this are a crock of bullshit.

…laugh at stupid jokes and cry when shit upsets you. Otherwise known as, if you have emotions, feel ‘em.

…understand your being a literary critic has a (very short) time window. And that the very idea of making a living at this will cause heaps of laughter, mostly within your own head.

…take a fucking risk every now and then.

…live. Because let’s face it, being a good literary critic involves the same thing as being a good, well, anything. And if you don’t live, what the hell is the point?


Edward Docx: A Slug Defending His Gated Community

On December 12, 2010, The Guardian published a pretentious essay by an amental snob named Edward Docx. Docx foolishly suggested that “genre writers cannot claim to have anything.” He accused Lee Child of “ersatz machismo bullshit” even as Docx himself could not see the fecal specks sprouting throughout his own ineptly argued assault on genre. He wasted his first two paragraphs blabbing on about the plebs on the train and, like a petulant infant longing to grow into a long-winded David Cameron, bitched about not having space to provide “a series of extracts…to illustrate the happy, rich and textured difference.”

Yes, it’s class warfare, my friends. But here’s the thing. Docx isn’t on the working man’s side. His essay reads like some corpulent slug defending his gated community with a Magpul PDR and then slithering away because he doesn’t know how to release the safety. It’s the kind of unfit approach that invites ridicule rather than confidence, alienation rather than mobilization. For if you’re going to claim yourself a champion of the people (or, to use Docx’s inept populist metaphor, a half-hearted burger eater), shouldn’t you be paying attention to what they’re reading? If you wish to demonstrate why Stieg Larsson is such a shitty writer, shouldn’t you have the guts to quote him at length? After all, your argument is airtight, isn’t it? The writer is dead and he can’t respond, right? Win win!

Alas, Docx can’t be bothered. He identifies “the most tedious acronym-packed exchange” that he has ever read, but he fails to comprehend that what Docx considers “tedious” might be the kind of wonky info banter that is going to get a journalist like Blomkvist rock hard. He quotes from a very early part of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (page 24 in my copy) and gives us no full indication that he has read the whole book. This makes Docx not only an illiterate, but an inept bully foolish enough to support his claim through deductive induction — a logical fallacy that hasn’t worked ever since newspapers had the good sense of opening up their articles to public comment. Because Docx says that genre is lesser, and Docx fancies himself an authority, then it must be true! No need to provide airtight examples of Swedish silliness. Docx also tries to quote a few passages from Dan Brown to make his case. But wait a minute, that’s a logical fallacy! What about Larsson? That guy you just shit talked in your previous paragraphs? Shouldn’t you be taking him down? Oh dear, secundum quid! If only Docx had the space, he’d demolish your genre! He’d *gasp* have an argument!

Well, not really. It becomes abundantly clear that Docx doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about when he attempts to quote others. In a feeble attempt at wit, Docx deliberately misquotes Isaac D’Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature (the full quote: “Whatever is felicitously expressed risks being worse expressed: it is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us”). But D’Israeli was writing rather sensibly about how well-read writers are those comprehending the wit of other men. Does Docx comprehend D’Israeli? To employ a populist reference that Docx might frown upon, you make the call. For Docx misses the vital sentence that came before the business about being “gratified with mediocrity”:

It seems, however, agreed, that no one would quote if he could think; and it is not imagined that the well-read may quote from the delicacy of their taste, and the fulness of their knowledge.

And here’s what came after:

We quote, to save proving what has been demonstrated, referring to where the proofs may be found. We quote to screen ourselves from the odium of doubtful opinion, which the world would not willingly accept from ourselves; and we may quote from the curiosity which only a quotation itself can give, when in our own words it would be divested of that tint of ancient phrase, that detail of narrative, and that naivete which we have for ever lost, and which we like to recollect once had an existence.

So if Docx wishes to uphold worthy literature, why is he unable to provide a corresponding set of virtues other than a measly list of literary names? According to my word count feature on OpenOffice, this doddering dunce had 1,770 words to stake his claim. All that space and he couldn’t be bothered to provide a single passage? Talk about long-winded. It’s safe to say that Docx is no D’israeli. I think it’s also safe to say that Docx has utterly mangled D’isreali’s great sentiment.

So why bring the argument up in the first place? Why make such a spectacle of yourself? Why do this when you tacitly admit that “there is also much theatricality to the debate?” Sarah Weinman has a few answers. Certainly I can understand the Guardian‘s need for attention in this vanquished media economy. But I’d like to think that some editor over there was having a good laugh at Docx’s expense.

You see, Docx is the kind of humorless elitist who observes people reading books on a train and actually sees this as a bad thing. Rather alarming that ordinary Joes don’t seem to share Docx’s refined instinct for spending their increasingly valuable leisure time reading a 900 page Russian epic. How dare the rabble sully literature by having a good time! In this essay, Docx vomits so many half-digested meals out of his mouth that one detects an uptight gourmand who showed up to an orgy wearing a chastity belt. The man is incapable of understanding that when people flock to Stieg Larsson, they may very well move on to other authors beyond the missionary position. The very “literary” authors Docx desires them to read. And he’s incapable of finding anything positive in this apparent predicament. Which makes him more of a pinpricked sourpuss than a viper for the people.

Here is a man who berates a blue-collar worker for having to put down a Larsson volume. He writes: “And when, finally, I arrived at the buffet car, I was greeted with a sigh and a how-dare-you raise of the eyebrows. Why? Because in order to effectively conjure my cup of lactescent silt into existence, the barrista in question would have to put down his… Stieg Larsson.” Now if it had been me, I would have viewed this exchange as a rather comic moment. Maybe an opportunity to ask the barista why he liked Larsson and recommend a few names in response that might help him find a way to wider reading pastures. That is, if he didn’t want to go back to his volume. In which case, I would have offered a generous tip for blabbing on for five minutes. But for Docx, the barista represents a foolish opportunity to cling to class assumptions that haven’t been in place since the 1880s. You insolent reader! Fix me my latte now, you unthinking peon! And this makes Docx not unlike Charles Pooter, the hapless protagonist of Diary of a Nobody, who demands some respect from a blue-collar “monkey of seventeen.” The laborer replies: “All right, go on demanding!”

Of course, Docx can go on demanding all he wants. It isn’t even noon Eastern Standard Time, and I can see that the man has already been thoroughly ridiculed on Twitter. But if Docx gets his money quote, I get mine. And if we assume that dictating taste represents a fleeting freedom, I think Nietszsche best sums up why Edward Docx is such a small and pathetic man:

People demand freedom only when they have no power. Once power is obtained, a preponderance thereof is the next thing to be coveted; if this is not achieved (owing to the fact that one is still too weak for it), then “justice,” i.e., “equality of power” become the objects of desire.

[UPDATE: This post has been corrected. An earlier version of this article incorrectly observed that Docx had not cited Larsson. This was not true. Docx did quote a passage, but his argument remains so pisspoor that Docx’s “takedown” still doesn’t hold water. Nevertheless, I apologize for my error and express my gratitude to Nico for pointing this out to me.]


NYPL: James Wood & Daniel Mendelsohn

I observed the following on the subway home on Wednesday night (at approximately 10:30 PM):

  • A burly man reading a science fiction novel (spaceship on cover, title and author occluded)
  • A middle-aged woman studying her Playbill
  • A man in his forties doing the New York Times crossword
  • Two additional people (man and woman) studying Playbills
  • A woman reading US
  • A man, approximately 30, reading a wedding magazine (with his bride-to-be reading over his shoulder)
  • A twentysomething reading Metro
  • An MTA worker reading a John Scalzi mass-market paperback
  • A man, approximately 40, reading Newsweek
  • A thirtysomething man reading the Voice
  • A guy who was roughly 30 reading the Daily News with iPod earbuds hooked into his head
  • A woman reading US News & World Report
  • A woman in her 40s reading The Economist (side note: she wore bright golden heels and fiercely turned the pages of her magazine)
  • A bald man in his early 30s, his lower lip upturned into serious intent, reading a Star Wars hardcover
  • A woman in her mid-twenties reading an unidentified mass market paperback
  • A man in his late forties with a strange beret reading The Onion (strangely, he did not laugh once)
  • A twentysomething woman writing in her notebook, her legs folded up, taking up two seats
  • A man with dreads reading an issue of Better Homes and Gardens
  • Approximately 54 people who were not reading, with 24 of them talking with each other, two of them making out like libidinous bandits, and 10 dozing off. This left about 18 people who weren’t reading at all, staring into space or otherwise just waiting for their respective stops. (Additionally, one very attractive woman in her late twenties, observing that I was taking notes, gave me a big smile and unfastened one of the top buttons of her blouse. I presume that she did this because she didn’t have any reading material. I blushed and moved to the other end of the car.)

So here we have 19 people reading on a late evening. Not a bad number at all. And while this data is empirical, this is a bit better than the jejune empiricism rattled off by Daniel Mendelsohn at the New York Public Library earlier in the evening.

“You never see people reading books, magazines, and newspapers on the subway,” said Mendelsohn. He offered this claim because he personally never saw anyone reading on New Jersey Transit. Which led me to contemplate just how frequently Mr. Mendelsohn used the subway and how he arrived at this conclusion. Cavalier instinct, one presumes. What one wants to see, one conjectures further. Whatever the motivations, this was just one of many foolish sentences uttered by Mendelsohn before a crowd. Despite the sold-out audience, the house seemed stacked against the idea that people weren’t reading. And it was a telling sign that even moderator Pico Iyer had to confess to the audience, “You’re almost suggesting with your presence that the book has a future.”

Mendelsohn was there with Iyer and James Wood to answer the question, “Does the common reader exist in our world of spitting screens?” But the words “common reader” — meaning that type of reader I observed on the subway — never came up again during the discussion. As such, the conversation was something of a missed opportunity, with the usual prattle about blogs and literary posterity subbing in for crackling literary discourse.

Iyer lobbed a number of semi-thoughtful softballs to these two noted book critics. He observed that “broken” was in the title of both Mendelsohn and Wood’s books and asked Wood if he wrote about any subjects other than literature. The answer was no. Wood noted that while, for example, he knew about music, he felt unqualified in some way to write about music, and that his energies were now focused exclusively on books. He quoted Kierkegaard: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” He noted that sometimes he could choose books for review and sometimes the books were chosen for him. Talking about his most recent book, How Fiction Works, he pointed out that when he was 20, he wanted a writerly text that served as a general guide to the world. And aside from Kundera’s three critical works on the novel and the more dated E.M. Forster volume, Aspects of the Novel, he couldn’t think of another contemporary book that solved this problem, that provided “the help that one needs.” “One needs company,” observed Wood. But that evening, he did find cheery comrades in Iyer and Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn then said that he wished he had a conscious plan for what he did, but he didn’t. He entered book reviewing because of his training as a classicist. Indeed, “training” was one of Mendelsohn’s key crutch words that evening. He observed that a good critic needed to look at everything that surrounded a book. “You don’t just read Homer and not look at Bronze Age implements,” he said. “You can’t focus on Euripedes and not know about the Peloponnesian War.” As a testament to his proclaimed powers of context, he pointed out how he had played the 9/11 card when writing about Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.

But if a real critic requires scope, why then did Mendelsohn speak in such an uninformed way about the blogosphere? When Wood and Mendelsohn were asked about how the critical community had changed in the past 40 years, Mendelsohn said that the critics of yesteryear “never had any competition. There wasn’t 30 million people with laptops telling us what they think of Moby Dick.” Mendelsohn, with the finest elitist hauteur that 2004 had to offer, bemoaned the idea of not knowing who to trust. “Now for the first time, anyone can publish.” And while he was careful to delineate that the Internet is a printing press, neither good or bad, he certainly had it in for blogs, declaring that there was no authority and no responsibility. “Why have a thing that’s wrong buzzing for 30 million?”

In fairness to Mendelsohn, I actually do agree with him that we’ve now reached a point where the blogosphere should strive for accuracy. This very issue was indeed a talking point when I interviewed Markos Moulitsas for The Bat Segundo Show. But if Mendelsohn desires scope in criticism, why then was he not so content to practice what he preached? He kept tossing around this random “30 million” number, as if every blog received a mass audience.

“It’s like me opening a blog on brain surgery,” said Mendelsohn. He didn’t believe that what he styled opinions were true criticism. “You can’t just say anything about anything,” boomed Mendelsohn, who then declared that he wouldn’t dream of publishing without rigorous training.

Let us ponder the delicious irony of that last sentiment. Here is Mendelsohn, a man who is trained in Classics, deigning to put forth an opinion on technology. And if Mendelsohn is trained in Classics, does this not then disqualify him from writing about contemporary literature, theater, or Oliver Stone? After all, he is not trained in these subjects. If he is to remain, by his own definition, an authentic critic, should he not then shut his trap when it comes to blogs? Or on any other subject that he is not “trained” in? If by his own admission, he should not write about brain surgery, then surely he should not gab about blogs. But Mendelsohn did point out that he had bought an Amazon Kindle for a relative and suggested, perhaps jocularly, “I guarantee in 100 years, that’s what he’ll be reading on.”

When a question came late in the evening from the audience about whether the critic could truly judge a novel that its author understood better than the critic, both Mendelsohn and Wood agreed that this was a moot point. Said Mendelsohn, “If a critic can’t judge [a film] because he’s not the filmmaker, then how can the audience?” By this measure, if a “trained” critic understands a book as much as an “untrained” critic (a blogger, for example), then should the questions of qualifications even be an issue? Does a critic really even need to be trained? Should not the criticism itself be the thing that matters?

Wood offered some resistance to blogs, but confined his gripes to comments. “There, I think the rule is sanctioned ignorance,” said Wood. And while he outlined a generalized pattern of how people react to a review that I felt fallacious, the difference between Wood and Mendelsohn is that the former was willing to give the format a chance and try to understand it, while the latter was happy to nuke the site from orbit like an uninformed cretin.

There were some notable differences between the two men about criticism. Wood pointed out that when reviews for his novel, The Book Against God, had come out, “I was relatively untouched by them.” He did, however, point out that he took it a bit personally when people read him wrong. He said, “I think you can’t be a critic unless you’re very, very curious,” although he suggested that he lacked that curiosity. He cited Alex Ross as a prime example of a good curious critic. He also observed, “If I’m a slightly sweeter critic than I used to be, it’s because I live with a novelist.”

Mendelsohn expressed reservations with the idea that critics are considered “a slightly lower level of life.” “I think it’s insulting if you’re worried about the feelings of the author. The feelings you should be worried about are in literature.” Wood responded to Mendelsohn, “I may feel it more acutely than you do, the hurt feelings of the author,” but he said, “In principle, this is not one’s concern.” But Wood did point to Mary McCarthy’s review of Dorothy Valcarcel’s The Man Who Loved Women, pointing out, “It’s so blithely disdainful in the end.” Weighing the review against Valcarcel’s agonies of producing this book offered a textbook example of what to consider as a critic. Wood also pointed to Hans Keller’s review of Anton Karas’s theme to The Third Man. Keller initially hated the theme, but found it hard to get out of his head. Keller declared, “As soon as I hate something, I ask myself why I like it so much.”

Mendelsohn noted that he only wrote about things that were interesting to him. “Critics write because they love their subject. They don’t care about people.” And yet despite “not caring,” he also pointed out, “I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I’m going to put one over on someone.'”

On the subject of literary posterity, Mendelsohn noted that one of Euripides’s well-received plays during his time, Orestes, isn’t read by anyone anymore, “except people like me.” Wood demonstrated slightly more insight into the subject by observing what Andrew Delbanco had observed in his Melville biography: There’s only one reference in the whole of Henry James to Melville, and that’s as a name on a list of Putnam writers.

Wood suggested that the present time was a ripe one for criticism, pointing out that there were numerous outlets for long-form criticism, that when Ian McEwan’s Saturday came out, there were a number of 3,000 to 4,000 word considerations of the novel. But he did not address recent newspaper cutbacks, nor did he consider how multiple reviews of the same book took away precious column inches from other books.

Close to the end of the conversation, Wood noted of the evening’s talk, “Here we have chats easily parodied by Monty Python.” He was also careful to point out that he was not in the best position to judge the state of reading because he was surrounded by literature grad students at Harvard who were excited about reading and writing. He attempted rather clumsily to offer a baseball metaphor, but won a few points from the audience for trying.

Regrettably, Iyer, who truly tiptoed more than he needed to, did not bring up a very important question for these two gentlemen: namely, their preferences for realism and modernism at the expense of genre and postmodernism. Iyer did allude that he had been waiting ten years to talk Pynchon with James Wood, but why didn’t he last night? DFW did come up, phrased through a clumsy question from the audience about whether the suicide represented a “literary gesture.” But the question’s poor framing prevented both critics from answering with any perspicacity.

The conversation suggested to me that Wood had more nuanced thoughts about criticism than Mendelsohn did, but that both men might be better served by expanding their repertoire.

Solving the Literary Critical Crisis

Nigel Beale points to some startlingly reactionary remarks from Salon’s “Internet Killed the Critical Star” article. Now that I’ve read this “discussion” a second time, Nigel is right. Why would anyone go to the trouble of reading a literary critic if there is “no intention of ever opening books they tout?” Is Miller really so recalcitrant a reader that she’s incapable of picking up a book that James Wood has liked and deciding for herself whether it’s any good? Is she seriously suggesting that there isn’t a single work of fiction overlapping her tastes and Wood’s tastes? This strikes me as a sad, incurious, and mononuclear existence. Perhaps Miller prefers a supplemental relationship with literature, as opposed to something that involves the book itself!

Here is my solution to the literary critical “crisis”: To ensure that those practicing literary criticism still maintain some passion for books, I think that all literary critics should be asked what they read for fun. Not a list of the greatest books. Just the last thing they read for fun. If the literary critic cannot name a single book that made them laugh, filled them with joy, or otherwise caused them to get excited over the last year, then the guilty literary critic should be banned from writing for any newspaper or periodical for a six-month period until they can truly embrace a love for literature. This should weed out the dullards and the dimwits and the humorless individuals who transform the promising pastures of literary criticism into soporific fallow.