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Inside the Critics' Circle Reviews

Inside the Critics' Circle by Phillipa K. Chong

Inside the Critics' Circle

Book Reviewing in Uncertain Times

Phillipa K. Chong

2.25 out of 5

3 reviews

Category: Non-fiction
Imprint: Princeton University Press
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 14 Jan 2020
ISBN: 9780691167466
2 stars out of 5
Sam Leith
6 Mar 2020

"ordinary readers (ie the consumers of the newspaper reviews that are her subject matter) will find her book pretty indigestible"

Chong rightly points out that newspaper books pages are thinning out under financial pressure on old media – but that doesn’t apply any obvious institutional pressure on individual reviews. If anything, the quasi-competition from “democratic” reviews on Amazon or Goodreads will tend to inspire print critics to be more rather than less rigorous. You can still find tough reviews if you care to seek them; and cautious flannel has always been with us. We keep on keeping on. And the best still have teeth.


3 stars out of 5
1 Mar 2020

"it does at times feel as though one is reading a car manual that begins with an injunction to unlock the door"

Throughout this worthy book, Chong is just a little bit too reasonable to be taken seriously. In the same way that she can’t quite bring herself to name back-slapping and score-settling for what they are, she skirts over the many tricks of the reviewer’s trade. There is no mention, for instance, of the plagiarism (particularly plagiarism of the dust jacket) without which the literary pages of some newspapers would barely exist. And for all Chong’s gloom and doom, the fact remains that many more people read a review of a new release than will ever read the book itself.

2 stars out of 5
Peter Conrad
26 Jan 2020

" If a book is bad it’s bad and if it’s merely an exercise in academic pseudo-intellection it’s even worse"

I may be a shallow fellow, but I’ve never worried about what Chong clumsily describes as the “lack of groupness” among reviewers. Who cares that no certificates of “accreditation” enrol us in “the institution of literary criticism” or that we “inhabit nonprofessional spaces”? I also hadn’t realised that I was supposed to function as a “market intermediary” or – with luck – as a “cultural consecrator”. And none of the eight successive Observer literary editors for whom I have worked ever ordered contributors to “enact their duties”, which would have sounded unusually bossy.