25 October 2003

A nasty review of a nasty bookreviewer today. Dale Peck is even less liked in the publishing community than Michiko Kakutani. Peck's main virtue is not his prose style or poison pen—there are half a dozen reviewers whose styles are more prolix or pens more venomous than his—but the honesty of his reactions. Sometimes that honesty betrays a lack of sophistication in literary manners and taste bound to values similar to those of Henry James, such as his trashing of Gaddis. But at least he has something to say that cannot easily be anticipated by the publishing community. The tone can; but the substance is at least unique to Peck.

   The pseudoprofile of Peck seems more calculated to find personal flaws in Peck than engage with the substantive problems with his reviews. Having opinions on books is a good thing; making them defensible is another. James Atlas does not succeed in making defensible his portrait of Peck any more than Peck often succeeds in making defensible his excoriation of contemporary authors. Pointing out that the emperor has no clothes is a valuable service, but if one makes the claim too often without justification it will not be believed when it is true. There is an insight in there for the publishing community (and recording and TV/movie communities as well), but it is one that only those who already share it will recognize.