Who’s the Real Bitch?

Rake points to this Birkets column and the potential conflict of interest. Birkets, as we all know, was the last man pummeled by Dale Peck.

No one’s entirely sure how the fight went. Because frankly the house wasn’t full.

But given Birkets’ new offering, we hereby revise our initial assessment of Birkets and demote him.



  1. Dude, first Minority Report, now this. I’m worried about us … I thought Sven was spot on in nearly every paragraph. Would love to know what prompts this reaction.

  2. Number one: Given that he was in Peck’s crosshairs at the end, he was more personally invested in this debate — hardly an objective position to be in to write about the state of book reviews. This makes him just as culpable to rage, as the climate he rails against.

    Number two: What’s wrong with a little bit of snark? Seriously. While Birkets does cite some solid examples of digression (which seems to me decidedly different from snark), the idea of a book review being transformed into a sweltering and humorless essay appalls me. Snark or sarcasm, so long as a review isn’t entirely composed of it, isn’t necessarily bad. It’s more of a texture than anything else.

    Number three: Almost any person interested in books is bound to go a little crazy. It’s a natural reaction — much like a baseball fan fomenting at a ballpark. The very important question here is how far a reviewer should go in expressing this. Dale Peck has, to my taste, represented something just beyond the threshold. On one hand, his Moody piece was motivated by emotion. But he did at least try to justify how he felt. Not successfully enough, but it was a step in the right direction.

    Do I want to see a review climate that capitulates completely to this? No. But I’m bothered by the idea that reviewing is an either/or climate.

    My feeling is that direct examples and context is the best policy for any argument. But I’d also like to see book reviews that are more playful and inviting. A little bit of reductio ad absurdum never hurt anyone. 🙂


    There are numerous reasons to read Sven Birkerts’ essay Critical Condition over at Bookforum. First off, for the three of you who haven’t followed the evolution of the whole Snark debate, he provides a clear timeline that hits all the

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