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When a book reviewer gets caught skimming a book

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by Double Down, Oct 7, 2012.

  1. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Dennis Lehane's latest book, Live By Night, is out this week. It's the second installment of a trilogy about an Irish family of cops and gangsters. The first one -- The Given Day -- is a great book, and it has a lot of great set pieces about baseball (specifically Babe Ruth) woven into the narrative.

    So anyway, Lehane (who was a writer on The Wire, and if you're not familiar, wrote Mystic River and Gone Baby, Gone) decided he needed to respond to a review in the Boston Globe today. And I'd say he has a fairly legitimate beef. This is what he wrote on his Facebook page.

    In 18 years, I've never responded to a critic. But in the review of LIVE BY NIGHT in this Sunday's Boston Globe, the critic leveled a charge of racism at me for the crime of creating a character who is a "Magical Negro" named Turner John. This would be fair, I guess, if only Turner John were actually black. Instead, he's, um, white. He's also a man who puts two mob goons in the hospital, an act which, were he black in 1932 Tampa, would be an immediate death sentence. Again, if he were, in fact, African American. But he's not. However, he is poor, runs moonshine and women, and speaks in dialect, character traits that led the reviewer to assume he was African American which is, ironically, a pretty racist assumption.

    I don't take issue with someone's right to criticize my work--go for it; just spell my name right and show a picture of the book or a nice graphic and I’m down with it--but I don't think it's cool to be called out as a racist by someone who was clearly too lazy to read the actual text with any sort of care, and someone who just as clearly needs to examine her own racist baggage. So while I’d love to just blow this off and Bobby-McFerrin my way into not worrying and being happy, I’ve spent far too many hours of my life writing about the divisions of class and race in this country to take this kind of repugnant BS lying down.

    Here's the review:


    Thanks to all of you who’ve supported my work and had fun with my tweets. And it’s been a blast meeting some of you during the tour. Keep introducing yourself at signings.
  2. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

    Hope to pick up this one soon - Lehane may be my favorite writer working.
  3. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Man, reviewers are falling all over themselves to shit on this book, aren't they?

    I'm still looking forward to it. "The Given Day" is among my favorite novels ever. Re-read it earlier this year and loved it all over again.
  4. Riptide

    Riptide Well-Known Member

    I'll read anything Lehane writes. He got off to a red-hot start with "A Drink Before the War" (1994) and "Darkness, Take My Hand" (1996), and everything that follows has been just as good.
  5. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    I still need to read "The Given Day" and the new one. Love Lehane, but the period pieces don't interest me as much as the modern stuff (like the Kinsey/Gennaro series).

    I can't imagine how frustrating stuff like that must be for a novelist. I can't remember who it was, but there was a writer who was angry at the NY Times a few months ago because it was clear the reviewer barely paid attention to his book, and couldn't even tell the characters apart. The critic complained that a character's actions didn't fit something he did earlier in the book, and it was a different character. Weak.
  6. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    Lehane is one of the best writers working... I will pick up A Given Day based on the recommendations here...
  7. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    I actually listened to the unabridged edition of "The Given Day" as an audiobook back when I was driving a lot back and forth to work (45 mins one way) and it was really great. It's read by Michael Boatman, who was on China Beach and Spin City. He's really amazing. Literally one of the best audiobook guys I've ever heard. He somehow mastered all the Irish accents, the Babe Ruth stuff, the different black dialects, and the subtle distinctions between class. The book is long, so if you don't have time to delve into a big read but do find yourself with some time in the car or on the treadmill, the audiobook is very good.
  8. Killick

    Killick Well-Known Member

    Good for DL. I've seen plenty of book reviews decrying plot holes that were easily explained - sometimes explicitly described in print - and wondered if the reviewer skipped 20 pages at a time in their reading.
  9. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    I bet this happens a lot. I have frankly found that a great deal of reviews that cite specific passages from a book cite passages from the first 50-100 pages, if that. Hopefully, it's meant as spoiler prevention, but the cynic in me suspects otherwise.
  10. KJIM

    KJIM Well-Known Member

    In general, how much time does a book reviewer have to complete an assignment?

    I'd imagine there would have to be a certain amount of "skimming" if a reviewer was, say, handed the assignment a week out.

    Do reviewer generally have longer than that? I just can't imagine having to thoroughly read a book and do whatever else reviewer do in a short window.

    Chick lit maybe. But DL? I couldn't do that, especially if I had other assignments.
  11. Beaker

    Beaker Active Member

    Love Lehane, especially The Given Day, and can't wait to get my hands on Live By Night.
  12. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    If there are logistical issues, then they should be addressed and corrected. It is preposterous that someone would write a review without reading the entire work. I know that some rock critics have been caught with their pants down, too - I seem to recall the Black Crowes calling out a critic a couple years back for reviewing an album he could not yet have possessed in its entirety. I think an apology was actually issued.
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