The Reviewer’s Agony

“Only those who have reviewed, year in and year out, know how truly abominable most fiction is. And we can’t remove ourselves from the pain. Ordinary readers can skip, or read every third word, or quit in the middle. We can’t. We must read carefully, with our sensitivities at full operation and our critical-historical apparatus always in high gear—or we may miss that subtle satire which disguises itself as cliché, that first novel whose beginning, alas, was never revised, that gem of a quiet story obscured in a loud, flashy collection, that experiment in form which could be mistaken for sloppiness, that appealing tale partly marred by (but also made possible by) naiveté, that complicated situation that only pays off near the end of the book. Such works exist, but in order not to miss them one must continually extend one’s sensitivity, knowledge, and critical care to works that only abuse such faculties.” – Joanna Russ, The Country You Have Never Seen: Essays and Reviews (2007)

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