with fear & favor

the worst review is no review       blackest marks go to harper's, new
leader, new republic, a.l.a. booklist
, a few newspapers       & most of the
quarterlies (they were busy measuring henry james fingernails)

but there were reviews in most of the usual outlets       not because
the recognitions is a good book       because harcourt, brace made it
appear       at 1st       a major enterprise of a major publisher      har-
court hoped for an easy success but gave up quick when reviews &
sales looked sour      took very little advertising 1

the 55 reviews mostly play it safe      moderation      by moderation, i
seem to mean mediocrity      lack of genuine response      excluding,
as sound statistical method dictates, the critics who didnt happen to
read the book before they reviewed it       there were 4 really favorable
reviews & 1 or 2 strongly unfavorable       all the rest are in a narrow
range of more or less "balanced" opinion—ie, they outrageously under-
rate the book

there were more slightly favorable reviews than slightly unfavorable
ones      now to get technical & show this was unfavorable      a study
by merritt says ½ the major reviews of an average book are noncom-
mittal & the rest split about 12 to 1 favorable 2      he counts faintly
favorable reviews as "favorable" etc       the recognitions      using his
criteria      got at best 2 to 1 favorable 3      the average book doesnt
sell well       therefore a book that gets less than 12 to 1 favorable will
sell very badly

all-unfavorable reviews may seem more effective & maybe could have
cut the sales of the book from a few thousand to a few hundred.
but why take chances it might backfire       the unconscious of the
20thcentury hater has learned that wild slanders arent necessary.
mild underapproval is enough       & no backfire—who fights the face-
less blobs?

noncommittal review means buying a novels a gamble      whod gamble
$7.50 (the hardcover price) on a book that has some good points, &
some bad points, & some good points, & so on till you fall asleep over
the critics dull prose?

that "12 to 1 favorable" is abdication       being noncommittal, the
"balancing" trick, is abdication       "balanced" reviews of a great novel
are indifference (concealed hate) plus tricks      worthless

another abdication when critic abandons pretended interest in whether
a books good       sticks to question, how well will it sell

as a highbrow, the critic doesnt ask crudely how much mazuma a
book will rake in but whether it will "stir up a storm" & such

may well become one of the most controversial novels of this or
many another year (from edward a bloom's review in the providence

certain to achieve some special sort of notoriety. (morse, hartford

Gaddis' New Book Should Cause Furor (harrison smith)

First Novel Sure to Stir Up Storm (emerson price)

   Whatever one's opinion of his work, its great power and genuine
originality are likely to have considerable influence in the future.

the critics just quoted are good guardians of the peace      to keep
"furor" from developing into mass panic, they refrain from making any
firm judgments themselves       (price balances his "power and original-
ity" by implying gaddis is guilty of a bit of counterfeiting, has no
compassion, feels utter contempt for mankind)

heres a complete review      this ones contemptuous      all about sales
potential & not a word about whether the book is good      its "b w":

   The latest entry in the Thomas Wolfe sweepstakes is a big (956
pages) fellow from the respected Harcourt, Brace stable. The
paddock crowd is split on this contender's chances, with the odds
running long, about 7-3.
   This is the jockey's first time out on a major track. The rail-birds
are speculating that he's still carrying too much weight, but they
said that about James Joyce years ago and they said it about Saul
Bellow, up on "Augie March," in last year's running of the Wolfe
race. "Augie" performed well, too.
   Chances are that if Gaddis doesn't bring in this entry he'll do
better in subsequent showings. A talk with the boys in the tack
room ought to convince him that he can do better in shorter
   At $7.50 "The Recognitions" isn't likely to attract much interest
from the line at the $2 window.
   The tack room verdict: Keep the jockey and retire the horse.
yes criminal negligence can be sportive!
1 their only ny times ad dishonestly quoted a review out of context      time
magazine: "U.S. novel writing has a strikingly fresh talent to watch, if not to
cheer."       as quoted: "U.S. novel writing has a strikingly fresh talent to watch"
     this sells books? (Back)

2 very courteous to the advertisers       but has been widely criticized, & i join in,
as indicating a bland affability, a refusal to love or hate that has no relation to
the passion for books      a poor substitute for even the wild moralistic reviews of
the 19th century (leRoy c merritt "the pattern of modern book reviewing" in
reviews in library book selection wayne univ studies #3 detroit 1958      reviews
& ratings taken from book review digest) (Back)

3 book review digest listed 4 favorable, 7 noncommittal, 2 unfavorable reviews of
the recognitions       even using the narrow definition of "noncommittal" id say 2
7 & 4, that is, 2 to 1 unfavorable       the new yorker review eg being obviously
unfavorable, not noncommittal       i rated the other 42 reviews      mostly in
smallcity newspapers not listed in brd       2 to 1 favorable      so maybe the
smallcity reviewers, dumb as they are, did better      could be, smallcity papers
surrender more naively to advertiser-publishers, are more favorable in general.
could be, smallcity reviewer not scared to death to stick his neck out too early
for a controversial book, as of course the cowards on the times & saturday
are—it would demonstrate their unreliability, bordering on crankery, to the
fakers who control the bigtime review racket & its side benefits

also, the ny times review of the recognitions is noncommittal by brd standards
but is actually a clever, evil effort to kill a great book "impartially"      the
saturday reviewer was as unfavorable as he was stupid, which is saying a great
deal       & these 2 probably have more influence than the other 53 combined (Back)