The Rachel Papers

Rachel Cooke: “I’ve written before about the importance of critics. I said, in essence, that they were useful because they know a lot (also, you know who they are, unlike so many faceless bloggers and internet reviewers who hide behind the anonymity the web provides). Soon after, I found my name on a bloggers’ website called, charmingly, ‘shit sandwich’. I was the focus of a lot of anger and frustration; bloggers didn’t like my argument at all, seeing it as a way of getting at them and their amateur criticism. I was fine with that; if you dish it out, you should be able to take it.”

Why do so many pinheads named Rachel work in journalism? In yet another moronic newspaper-published hatchet job on litbloggers (I predict three more assaults before the year is out), Rachel Cooke, who does indeed possess a mouth running as redolent as a shit sandwich, deplores the “unwarranted and inaccurate personal attacks on me” and suggests that bloggers are lesser because they are not “professionals.” She further bemoans “the populist warblings of the blogosphere” and imputes, citing only scant examples, that all blog posts are “untrustworthy, banal, and, worst of all, badly written.” This declaration comes to us after Cooke has “devoted an entire day to book blogs, trying to give them a fair chance.” Yeah, and I can give Beckett’s complete works a “fair chance” by reading them all in one day.

Cooke, perhaps more terrified of what bloggers will say about her than what they communicate on a daily basis, doesn’t give them a fair chance. For unlike a constructive critic, Cooke doesn’t cite anything positive about them. She is content to write a smug and ignorant hit piece while simultaneously portraying herself as a victim. That takes some temerity. (Ironically, a Google Image Search turns up not a single photo of Rachel Cooke, suggesting that she is just as “faceless” as her apparent nemeses.)

This comes to us from a journalist who genuinely believe that Nick Hornby, a shiny happy blowhard loath to commit a single skepticism to paper, is “a good critic, and an experienced one; and because he can write.” Yup, and Keanu Reeves, never mind his thespic limitations, is such a nice guy too.

While I can agree with Cooke’s criticism concerning the mysterious editor’s provenance (are we all content to fall for such hearsay without proof?), reading Cooke’s Pollyanna schtick, one would assume that such a delicate soul wasn’t employed in the rough-and-tumble world of Fleet Street. But is Cooke really as circumspect as she suggests when she calls John Sutherland’s work “rushed and lazy” and cites another unnamed reviewer instead of an example she‘s actually bothered to locate within Sutherland’s work? Is she really such a stupendous thinker, by dint of being paid, when she offers such idiotic rhetoric as “What they wanted wasn’t the right to critique films or books for themselves (thanks to the net, they’ve got that anyway) but for those people who are paid to do so to cease to exist – to shut up.”

This isn’t the case at all. I don’t think any blogger criticizing the mainstream media wants these critics to shut up. I think they are voicing their concern about the current state of newspaper coverage, hoping that it will improve. It’s journalists like Cooke, terrified of seeing their words so swiftly responded to, who have a problem with their “professional” status being challenged by amateur upstarts who may know a thing or two about literature.

Isn’t there room here for all types of critics? Why indeed are we working in a dichotomy? But then I suppose Rachel Cooke is content to eat Jim Crow.

[UPDATE: More responses from the Kenyon Review, Dove greyreader Scribbles, Michael Orthofer and Frank Wilson.]

One Comment

  1. What a shame she stopped by at mine, so many great review sites out there which is what I think she thought she was getting when she snuck in the back door at dgrscribbles and had a snoop around.I could have told her mine makes no pretensions to be literary criticism, is therapy for an NHS frontline worker who would go barmy if she couldn’t just switch off and read and then share thoughts on it all, plus a bit of life thrown in for good measure. Plenty of room for all of us and more.

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