Laura Miller Watch

Inarguably, Laura Miller is the most ridiculous book reviewer be found in print today. More pompous than Harold Bloom, more mystifying than even Harriet Klausner, more passive-aggressive than Dale Peck, and more general than even Janet Maslin. As an ongoing service to our readers, we institute the Laura Miller Watch, in a better effort to understand how this humorless “critic” works.

SOURCE: On Beauty by Zadie Smith (Salon, October 1, 2005)

SENTENCE: “Academic cultural critics — who get a few taps on the snout in Zadie Smith’s new novel — often say that works of art can only be fully understood in their historical context.”

ANALYSIS: Besides being a criminally dull lede, this sentence points out the obvious. Besides, academic cultural critics do indeed play lacrosse and attend costume parties from time to time. The question here is whether Miller gets out much.

SENTENCE: “It’s the kind of book that reminds you of why you read novels to begin with.”

ANALYSIS: Miller can’t even be bothered with a batty metaphor, such as “It’s the kind of book that reminds you that literature does retain the power to soil one’s pants” or “It’s the kind of pleasure that will have you eschewing sex, ice cream and go-go boots until you get to the end; hence, setting a dangerous precedent in the spare time department.” Has Miller learned nothing from cinematic one-sheets?

SENTENCE: “Howard is more or less the novel’s central character, so it’s an extraordinary and significant aspect of “On Beauty” that Smith has given him ideas she doesn’t endorse.”

ANALYSIS: More or less? Some shadow of a doubt? And Miller’s strange notion that authors “rarely endorse” ideas they oppose suggests a highly literal-minded person. Sometimes, a cigar is more than a cigar.

SENTENCE: “Although this is a comic novel and, at least in part, satirical, it’s unlike any other satire I’ve read in that it’s completely free of contempt.”

ANALYSIS: John P. Marquand? Jonathan Ames? Any satirist with a Jonathan permutation for that matter?

SENTENCE: “The ideological battles between Howard and Monty (who in the course of the novel comes to work at Howard’s university) may sound, in this polemical age, like the meat of the matter, but they’re only a foil.”

ANALYSIS: These ideological battles. They’re people, yes? It’s only a foil. And if Miller wants to resort to cliches, she may as well use “heart” instead of “meat.” One of the disadvantages of being your own editor is that you’re allowed to make such jejune mistakes. (Any blogger knows this.)

SENTENCE: “All of the above are greater or lesser examples in a catalog of human folly, but none are depicted without compassion and a certain measure of delight in their vibrant particularity and underlying universality.”

ANALYSIS: Cluttered clauses. Incoherence. More nouns to keep track of than names at a cocktail party. Who’s the copy editor over there? Is there a copy editor over there?


  1. Hi Ed,

    I just came across this post. You can tear apart Laura Miller all you want–it’s a free country–but suggesting she’s inferior to Harriet Klausner is a patent absurdity, as I’m sure you know. So is the “inarguable” proposition that she’s the “most ridiculous book reviewer [to] be found in print today.” Come on, Ed. If you’re sincere about that, you can’t be reading too many book reviews.

    All best,

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