Should Critics Critique Enthusiastically?: An Update on the New York Times Books Fiasco + Related Real Life Stuff

Today another piece posted by the New York Times made waves, this time by their  Books editorial director Radhika Jones, who had previously issued a weak response on Facebook. But in this follow-up post, she begins by poorly defending their choice of Robert Gottlieb as a writer for their piece on romance, stating that he is “an accomplished critic who has written on dance, music, biography and a wide range of fiction and nonfiction; and also a voracious reader of contemporary romance.” And while he definitely shows some knowledge of what’s out there in the genre, being a “voracious reader” of a genre doesn’t mean he appreciates it.

But while Jones does feature some comments from romance readers, she quickly proves that she does not appreciate these readers. She states, further on: “Our goal is not simply to recommend books or enthuse about them…Our goal is to assess and critique the books on offer. Mr. Gottlieb’s assessments include drawing positive attention to the “robust sex and amusing plotting” in one writer’s novel and noting another’s “preposterous” story line (though he adds that the preposterousness is what allows for the fun).”

But this idea that critique and enthusiasm should never meet is preposterous, and results in alienating your audience. I consider myself a critical thinking person, and I don’t shy away from critiquing bits of the romance novels I find problematic, or just lacking, while still enjoying them. If I can’t find a connection to a text, the reading experience feels soulless and uninvigorating.

By coincidence, I met with my professor for a literary theory course I’m taking, as it’s a requirement for my thesis, to discuss an upcoming project. The topic being “Resistance,” I thought I might find a way to pitch something romance-related. But just as I was explaining that I had no connection to anything in the course that we’ve read, he shut me down by saying that “you don’t have to like something to write about it.” As the conversation concluded, I thought to myself something along the lines of, “But surely Derrida or Freud or Marx were passionate about what they wrote about?”

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