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"This book fills a much needed gap in literature"
January 23, 2014 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Buzzfeed may think that if you can't say anything nice you'd better say nothing, but Kathleen Geier knows better. Sometimes a good old fashioned hatchet job is not just preferable, but necessary. She lists a baker's dozen of the best negative reviews to prove her point. Featuring all your old favourites, including Matt Taibbi flattening Tom Friedman, Katha Pollitt demolishing Katie Roiphe's victim blaming book on date rape, Molly Ivins vs Camille Paglia and of course the New York Times carpet bombing flavortown.
posted by MartinWisse (45 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'll give Kathleen Geier this much: treating Katie Roiphe as the Guy Fieri of gender politics is straight-up genius.
posted by R. Schlock at 1:35 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


"The well-meaning staff seems to realize that this is not a real restaurant."

still slays me
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:36 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


"I think BuzzFeed made a terrible decision — a decision that appears to have more to do with its e-commerce business model (if a book review is positive, readers are far more likely to click through to Amazon to buy a book) than with its intellectual integrity."

I like Buzzfeed and all, but has it ever pretended to have intellectual integrity?
posted by jeather at 1:39 PM on January 23


Pete Wells also ripped up "The Bistro at Villard Michel Richard" last week. It was amazing:
if everything had been on the level of the roasted chicken, the rustic bean soup and the salmon fillet on a bed of lentils energized with balsamic vinegar, Villard Michel Richard would easily qualify as an average hotel restaurant. But many other dishes vaulted across the gap that separates average from awful.

Think of everything that’s great about fried chicken. Now take it all away. In its place, right between dried-out strands of gray meat and a shell of fried bread crumbs, imagine a gummy white paste about a quarter-inch deep. This unidentifiable paste coats your mouth until you can’t perceive textures or flavors. It is like edible Novocain.

What Villard Michel Richard’s $28 fried chicken does to Southern cooking, its $40 veal cheek blanquette does to French. A classic blanquette is a gentle, reassuring white stew of sublimely tender veal. In this version, the veal cheeks had the dense, rubbery consistency of overcooked liver. Slithering around the meat was a terrifying sauce the color of jarred turkey gravy mixed with cigar ashes. If soldiers had killed Escoffier’s family in front of him and then forced him to make dinner, this is what he would have cooked.

Yes, Villard Michel Richard is, in fact, an awful hotel restaurant.

posted by zarq at 1:40 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Also... there are at least 4 or 5 reviews I haven't seen before in her post. And I love Molly Ivins' column. Thanks so much for posting this!
posted by zarq at 1:41 PM on January 23


You want to know how to tell we live in a capricious uncaring universe?
Molly Ivins is dead and Camille Paglia is still alive.



There is one area in which I think Paglia and I would agree that politically correct feminism has produced a noticeable inequity. Nowadays, when a woman behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable fashion, we say, “Poor dear, it’s probably PMS.” Whereas, if a man behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable fashion, we say, “What an asshole.” Let me leap to correct this unfairness by saying of Paglia: Sheesh, what an asshole.
posted by edgeways at 1:42 PM on January 23 [26 favorites]


Molly Ivins is dead and Camille Paglia is still alive.

Really, though? Can you call this living?
posted by R. Schlock at 1:46 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Like others, I felt compelled to mention I miss the hell out of Molly Ivins.
posted by yerfatma at 1:47 PM on January 23 [15 favorites]


Really, though? Can you call this living?

She is animated, and making money by engaging in professional grade trolling, I imagine she is having the time of her life.
posted by edgeways at 1:51 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Good good reviews give you a sense of what the thing is and insight into what art is all about.
Bad good reviews give you a sense of what the thing is.
Good bad reviews give you a sense of what the thing is and insight into what art is all about.
Bad bad reviews give you nothing.

Aim high. But if you ain't gonna aim high, aim straight down at the devil.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:53 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


Ugh the Roiphe one I can't even make it through. Reprehensible stuff (by Roiphe, not the reviewer).
posted by Mister_A at 1:54 PM on January 23


Exactly. Paglia's a troll. She has admitted on more than one occasion that she revels in that role, and especially loves attacking "feminists" (which she defines in stereotyped terms, rather than anything approaching reality) while metaphorically claiming she's a one-eyed queen in a kingdom of the blind.

It's a tired schtick, but I suppose it pays her bills.
posted by zarq at 1:54 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


You want to know how to tell we live in a capricious uncaring universe?
Molly Ivins is dead and Camille Paglia is still alive.


Or, as the linked article puts it, "Tragically, Ivins is no longer with us — and yet Paglia lives. The universe is the opposite of just."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:56 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


One of my favorite books of ever is Roger Ebert's "Your Movie Sucks" . It's basically a best-of compilation of all his 1, 2 and zero star reviews. And they are all fantastic.
posted by hellojed at 2:01 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


The attribution for it is pretty questionable, but I can't help loving "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."
posted by graymouser at 2:06 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Camille Paglia is still alive.

Huh. I just realized that if you'd said she'd been dead for five or six years I'd have had no reason to doubt your word. That's a pretty precipitous drop from cultural relevance. There was a time when, love her or hate her, you kinda had to have an opinion about Paglia.
posted by yoink at 2:08 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


zarq: "Pete Wells also ripped up "The Bistro at Villard Michel Richard" last week. It was amazing

Thread.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:09 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Whiny Ferguson threatened to sue the LRB for libel — a punk move if ever there was one. Fortunately, he didn’t follow through.

Well, fortunate for Mishra. The rest of us would have gotten a huge kick out of Ferguson humiliating himself some more.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 2:11 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Katha Pollitt is an amazing writer -- I remember a debate she had on Slate that changed my mind about divorce laws.

Although she was helped considerably by her debate partner getting caught in a blatant lie and generally being an ass.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 2:16 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I like the work Geier has been doing at the Monthly, and even though this is off her usual beat, it's a great collection. The historical review burns (Eliot, Twain, etc) are an absolute delight.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:36 PM on January 23


What I always remember about Paglia is reading about how she was complaining about trans people (especially trans men) and she was saying that trans men were just doing it for the male privilege and people shouldn't really have easy access to transitioning because then pow, gender all over the place, and then she was like "well of course, if people had been able to transition freely when I was young, I would have absolutely done the same thing". [I paraphrase.] Since then I have not been able to hate her quite as much, because I choose to believe that she has been horribly twisted by not being able to live her gender as she would have liked.

On the other hand, she is living proof that just because you are a gender/sexual minority does not mean you are protected from becoming a contrarian asshole, which I suppose proves some kind of point about universal human nature, so much good in the worst of us, so much bad in the best of us, etc.
posted by Frowner at 2:36 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Whiny Ferguson threatened to sue the LRB for libel — a punk move if ever there was one. Fortunately, he didn’t follow through.

Well, fortunate for Mishra. The rest of us would have gotten a huge kick out of Ferguson humiliating himself some more.


I very much doubt it would have been unfortunate for Mishra. Libel would have been close to impossible to prove, Mishra would defend himself publicly by justifying every bad thing he said about Ferguson, and so Mishra's stock could only stay relatively high. Even when the review is atrocious and the writer or artist responds quietly and just on pure factual inaccuracy, I can't think of a time when responding directly to a review has ever worked out for anyone but the reviewer. It's been many years, but I still remember a few of Ebert's counterpunches.
The movie created a spot of controversy last February. According to a story by Larry Carroll of MTV News, Rob Schneider took offense when Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times listed this year's Best Picture Nominees and wrote that they were "ignored, unloved and turned down flat by most of the same studios that ... bankroll hundreds of sequels, including a follow-up to 'Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo,' a film that was sadly overlooked at Oscar time because apparently nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic."

Schneider retaliated by attacking Goldstein in full-page ads in Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. In an open letter to Goldstein, Schneider wrote: "Well, Mr. Goldstein, I decided to do some research to find out what awards you have won. I went online and found that you have won nothing. Absolutely nothing. No journalistic awards of any kind ... Maybe you didn't win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven't invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who's Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers."

Reading this, I was about to observe that Schneider can dish it out but he can't take it. Then I found he's not so good at dishing it out, either. I went online and found that Patrick Goldstein has won a National Headliner Award, a Los Angeles Press Club Award, a RockCritics.com award, and the Publicists' Guild award for lifetime achievement.

Schneider was nominated for a 2000 Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor, but lost to Jar-Jar Binks.

But Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain that Columbia financed "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" while passing on the opportunity to participate in "Million Dollar Baby," "Ray," "The Aviator," "Sideways" and "Finding Neverland." As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.
posted by Errant at 2:39 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]


Errant> I very much doubt it would have been unfortunate for Mishra. Libel would have been close to impossible to prove, Mishra would defend himself publicly by justifying every bad thing he said about Ferguson, and so Mishra's stock could only stay relatively high. Even when the review is atrocious and the writer or artist responds quietly and just on pure factual inaccuracy, I can't think of a time when responding directly to a review has ever worked out for anyone but the reviewer.

Sure, but even a slam-dunk libel defense would require a tremendous amount of time and effort (but, assuming that Ferguson sued in the U.K., not money) on Mishra's part. And (U.K. libel experts jump in here if I'm wrong) if the court found in favor of Ferguson on even one point, then Mishra would be unable to recoup his legal fees.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 2:46 PM on January 23


Bit of a bait and switch here. The piece bills itself as a celebration of "tearing deserving targets a new one" but delivers more "boosting people I like and agree with". In keeping with a broader range, I'd have welcomed a few more less lefty pieces, maybe from Florence King or perhaps Joseph Epstein?

(BTW, King's take on James Gould Cozzens is pretty savage in its own right. So too - William F. Buckley's.)
posted by IndigoJones at 3:13 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I'd presume that the LRB would have assisted in Mishra's defense, though, since finding even one count of libel would be far more damaging to the publication than to the writer. I do take your point though, and it seems obvious to me that the best-case scenario for Mishra would have been for Ferguson to file a libel suit and then drop it relatively quickly, for maximum exposure and minimum expense, which I think was the scenario I was envisioning. The idea of that libel suit actually progressing through the courts seems utterly absurd, so I don't think I got that far in my imagination.
posted by Errant at 3:26 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Washington Monthly is a left-leaning if not liberal publication, and she specifically points out that it's dealing with what she refers to as "unwelcome cultural or political trends," so there's no bait-and-switch. And as charming as he could be with a pen, Buckley espoused some fairly unwelcome ("loathsome" would be more accurate IMO) trends of his own, gussied up in what I'm sure he believed was a sharp wit, which did nothing to hide the horribleness of what he was saying. His later recanting of such was absent of that style, and his attempts to distance himself almost always lacked the venom he directed at the original victims.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:28 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Friedman is a person who not only speaks in malapropisms, he also hears malapropisms.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:43 PM on January 23


When I was at UT Austin, Camille Paglia (who was wildly unpopular there) had a speaking engagement on campus. The rumor or information -- don't remember which -- started floating before her talk that she was getting paid some exorbitant amount of money for the appearance. During the Q&A someone actually asked her what she was getting paid by the university, and wouldn't that money be better served by providing an education. Paglia responded with "Shut up, you little bitch," and a mass walkout ensued.

Good times.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:10 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


the nytimes/guy fieri thing is legendary. it will be taught in history books when books are no longer something that physically exist. and the restaurant will somehow still be open
posted by ninjew at 4:12 PM on January 23


Washington Monthly is a left-leaning if not liberal publication, and she specifically points out that it's dealing with what she refers to as "unwelcome cultural or political trends," so there's no bait-and-switch.

It's left-leaning is as may be, but more than I knew before I well into the list, and so what? "Unwelcome cultural or political trends" need not be strictly partisan, which is why I noted that Cozzens gets if from both far left MacDonald and far right Florence King and WFB. Wouldn't have taken much work to find a few such things, maybe surprise her readers for a change.

(I'd add that having no links to so many must-reads and subscription walls to others makes for a pretty dispiriting internet experience.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:00 PM on January 23


The Friedman piece is brilliant.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:33 PM on January 23


Garrison Keillor's skewering of Bernard-Henri Levy in a 2006 New York Times book review remains a personal favorite.

On the Road Avec M. Lévy
posted by Auden at 5:44 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Here is a classic of the genre: Edmund Wilson's review of Nabokov's translation of Eugene Onegin. Nabokov's reply is here.

Another good one is Richard Posner's takedown of not only the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes, but Sherlock Holmes himself.
posted by Bokmakierie at 5:52 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


I've always loved DFW's takedown of Updike (or at least late-period Updike).
posted by Frobenius Twist at 7:22 PM on January 23


My very favorite movie review.

Star Wars Episode III:Revenge of the Sith as seen through the eyes of Anthony Lane.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:45 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed reading Mishra's takedown of Niall Ferguson. That guy has always rubbed me the wrong way.
posted by flippant at 10:33 PM on January 23


This brutal DFW review of a Tracy Austin memoir is basically a complete existential deconstruction of her personally and the entire concept of sports memoirs in general.
posted by empath at 11:13 PM on January 23


Molly Ivins was a national treasure. I often link her dissection of Paglia when the latter's name is mentioned.

Speaking of national treasures, Ebert also had a book called "I Hated, Hated, Hated this movie" that also collected his best negative reviews. I dug how he'd give at least a half star to a movie he perceived as well meaning, no matter how inept; he reserved zero stars for the truly offensive.
posted by Gelatin at 3:07 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Interesting...

... according to Dwight Macdonald , who thrashed John Gould Cozzens' novel By Love Possessed in a 1950s review (#2 in Geier's list, the FPP-link)...

... none other than Jessamyn West thought it was a "Rich, Wise, Major Novel of Love"!! (p. 37)
posted by ipsative at 10:16 AM on January 24


“Mad Dog Time” should be cut into free ukulele picks for the poor."
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:23 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Worst Book I Ever Read from the Unbearables.

From the description:

"Seventy-seven contributors from New York City's downtown bohemian beat offer the most searing, scandalous and scurrilous denunciations of fellow wri8ters ever to appear in print!"
posted by vitabellosi at 4:57 PM on January 24


Thomas Friedman Clogged My Toilet
posted by homunculus at 8:58 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Renata Adler on Pauline Kael.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 2:07 PM on January 25


For me the all-time great evisceration was Charlie Brooker saying of Jeremy Pivin's acting in Mr. Selfridge, "He performs the role with all the subtlety of a pantomime dame desperately trying to attract attention from the window of a burning building."
posted by ob1quixote at 7:28 AM on January 27


Thomas Friedman Visited Silicon Valley and Is Wrong About Everything
posted by homunculus at 3:38 PM on February 17


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