It's Official: The New York Times is Shitty

The NYTimes is shitty. I have been of this opinion for a while. I completely lost faith last year when Antonya Nelson's latest novel was a pick of the year.

Yet it cannot be reiterrated enough.

In a recent post at Huffington Post, Anis Shivani--who already attacked MFA programs--attacks the NYTimes (of course with a book of criticism coming out in July, this was inevitable) . Instead of bemoaning the recent paywalls, he waves farewell, so long...good riddance to the Book Review. Arguably, the Times not only has bad taste, it's also bad for the state of literature due to it's existential limits. (Assumed in Shivani's argument is the profound criticism is necessary for good literature).


1) Its coverage is limited. ("An enormous range of innovative fiction and poetry issues forth from the nation's vibrant independent presses, yet the Times studiously ignores these books in favor of the few hyped-up books from the major commercial houses centered in New York.")

2) It has limited opinions ("...politically correct liberalism, without any foundation in class analysis or indeed any coherent ideological framework...")

3) It is full Incestous reviews (" Assigning well-known novelists to review the work of other well-known novelists--with obvious connections to each other, in the small, incestuous world of literary publishing--is problematic enough, but assigning writers within particular niches to those within the same niches is even worse.")

4) They're is not joy in reading. ("But the Times's reviews are groomed in the bureaucratic house style, slavish to the standard formula, which is stripped of any excitement in language.")

Overall, Shivani is attacking moderate mainstream media, that stalls the progress of literature and makes a disgrace of the art of literary criticism. Mainstream literature is about big presses (all two of them!), who have enough big money to pretend to make something anything. What of the small presses?, he asks. What about literature outside the mainstream? Punks, radicals, language experimentists? Or, in the case of Jennifer Weiner, where are the women? The Times has clearly been biased (obviously not the first time they have been criticized). It is flawed from the prospective of those who simply love literature, in particular of literary criticism.
"Reviewing escalates in durability and resonance by the degree to which it aspires to the condition of criticism--ideally, the reviewer is a critic who sees the review as serving essentially the same function as his more serious and extended forays; but the Times has utterly severed reviewing from criticism, perfecting a nonsensical prose form that serves no constituency well--not even publishers, who would be better served by more honest criticism."
He furthermore pins down the Times's review formula:
"The formula is this: Say a few harmless (often downright irrelevant) words about the writer, his previous books or his recent successes, say some meaningless things about what a book in the given genre means (reiterating the point of view of the reviewing committee at the Times), then launch into an extended précis of the plot or narrative, with the subtext that, now that the reviewer has adequately summarized the book, the reader need not tackle it at all, and end with a few bland comments about the posture of the review just concluded."
But what else can we expect from a publication that targets the middle class who is just one step above the housewives who listen to Oprah? Literature, on the one hand, is partly a project of capitalism: bookselling is ultimately a popularity contest.  Literary criticism, on the other hand, has always been part of the ivory tower. (This is why you wrote papers in college).

At the end, Shivani argues that the paywall is another nail in the coffin (hate cliches, but right now I am quite tired, so I am just being lazy on purpose) of an already dead publication. The Times doesn't offer any important criticism. But is this what the general reader want--real literary criticism, or do they want the ability to say they read something that was mentioned in a major publicaiton? Is Shivani just preaching to the choir? Or is his vision of the possibilities of the internet something feasible, something important? Is criticism dead, or is it about to be reborn with the help of indie websites? Does criticism even matter anymore? (I've been trying to find a really good book of criticism, if anyone has suggestions...)

Either way if you want to learn how to write a review, Charles Baxter has some tips (clue: you're doing it all wrong).

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