Over at The Walrus, they’ve published an article-length whinge by André Alexis about how everything in book reviewing just sucks. Here is the seventh sentence in that whinge:
“The Toronto Star’s book section is small, ineptly edited, and not worth reading.”
I sometimes get accused of cynicism, and I suppose it has something to do with the fact that when I read that sentence, before I even made my way to “not worth reading” a little voice inside me said, “Boy, somebody at the Star must have ripped the fish guts out of André Alexis’ last book.” And indeed it is so: here’s the 2008 Star review by Alex Good calling a book by Alexis “terminally bureaucratic in design and effect.” By now I had dusted off my Mr. Investigator hat and was wondering whether my discovery might help me decode, say, Alexis’ eighth sentence. Let’s give it a shot. Here goes:
“And when I say ineptly edited, I mean that the current book editor, in allowing personal attacks and collegiate vitriol to stand as ‘book reviews, ‘has directly contributed to the irrelevance of the two measly pages the Star now puts out, dutifully, Sunday after Sunday.”
Onward. “If I had to blame one Canadian writer for this state of affairs,” Alexis writes, “I’d blame novelist and critic John Metcalf.” If you’re like me, the question that comes to mind is, “I wonder whether Alex Good and John Metcalf are associates.” Bingo again! Good, the fustigator of terminally bureaucratic novels, is a frequent guest in the pages of Canadian Notes and Queries, a tiny but notoriously fierce literary journal which Metcalf “edits.” (He’s more of a guiding spirit. A guy named Daniel Wells is “publisher,” and runs the enterprise day-to-day. I’m not related to Dan Wells and have never met Metcalf, but I like their fighting attitude. They published a wonderfully snide Andy Lamey review a decade ago and dropped an immense stink bomb two years ago over a Jane Urquhart anthology of short stories, which I covered here.)
So, still with Mr. Investigator hats on, we conclude that the next issue of CNQ is likely to be a good sight more interesting than, say, the current issue of The Walrus. Bingo again! Not only has the illustrator Seth art-directed the magazine’s redesign, but there, as predicted, is a magisterial rebuttal to Alexis, in the form of an imaginary rejection letter, penned by yet another no-relation, Zach Wells. If you just like to watch smart people fight, the articles by Alexis and (the third) Wells are worth reading.
UPATE: Yikes. I put some extra reading in the comments but IntenseDebate blocked it because I put links in. So it doesn’t only happen to you guys. Here’s what I wrote.
Extra reading, if anyone out there actually wants to stick with the subject of the original post:
The Walrus Blog offers an admirable survey of reaction to the original André Alexis article: http://www.walrusmagazine.com/blogs/2010/07/06/th…
At the National Post, the formidable Jeet Heer ponders the mystery of John Metcalf: http://arts.nationalpost.com/2010/07/03/john-metc…
Annnnd…. over at CNQ, a Steven W. Beattie essay (warning: salty language) that sums up the articles of that group’s indictment against Canadian Literature as currently practiced and celebrated:
And a grand bit of curmudgeonly grumbling from John Metcalf himself: