Recently Lev Grossman explained how he chooses books to review. "I review books," he proclaimed, "if they do something I’ve never seen done before; or if I fall in love with them; or if they shock me or piss me off or otherwise won’t leave me alone; if they alter the way my brain works; if I can’t stop thinking about them; if for whatever reason I absolutely have to tell people about them."
Scott Esposito appropriately enough questions how candid Grossman is being, pointing out that his sinecure at Time necessarily constrains Grossman to "a very limited range of choices." As Scott reminds us, "in most cases he’s functioning as an adjunct of a publisher’s marketing department, essentially adding whatever institutional and personal authority he has to the marketing push for a book that has almost certainly been acclaimed 10 times over by 'reviewers' that are similarly empowered."
Perhaps Scott is correct in thinking that "Grossman is an honest, decent guy" who sincerely believes he is applying his stated criteria, but you don't have to assume that he has willingly sold out to the masters of marketing and publicity to conclude that he doesn't really do much for the cause of contemporary literature in his book reviewing practices. It's surely true that his choice of "top ten" fiction for 2011 is mainstream and predictable (the few lesser-known titles still fall safely within the boundaries of establishment acceptability in form and theme), but this is probably just as much the result of a mainstream, predictable critical sensibility on Grossman's part as it is obeying the dictates of capitalist overlords. (Although we shouldn't forget that those overlords depend on the sensibilities of someone like Grossman to perpetuate themselves.) CONTINUE