I ask myself that sometimes. Storytime: My dad, who mostly reads tech manuals and was a Toronto Sun subscriber (picture: painted), for many years didn’t really understand me publishing poems, but he DID understand me publishing in Reader’s Digest or The Globe. It felt like “real” writing to him. So he’d read everything I published there. He bought my books, for sure, but I doubt he’s ever read one. Anyway, he used to phone me up after reading a review in the Globe and say, “Oh, yep, read your article there. Good work” but never went much beyond that. After the novelty wore off, one I day called and said, “Oh, did you see my review in the Globe on Saturday?” (yes, children, there used to be a books section back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) and he said, “Yeah… I tried to read it, but I stopped when I came to the word “intertextuality”….” Well, that got me thinking: what the frig are we trying to do with a newspaper review? I mean, yes, it’s a moot point now as the newspaper reviews die out, but who are we writing to? To that point, I had been writing to other writers and critics. After that I started doing a hybrid form that included more bones thrown to anyone who DIDN’T do a BA in English lit. I compare books now like I would CDs… If you like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, you’ll like this… Are you a fan of Radiohead? Rush out and buy this. Etc. (Obv with book comparators, not albums.) This guy takes a more intellectual approach to why reviews are worthwhile. Meh. Tomato, tomahto.
Rumaan Alam: To be a critic is not just to discharge your own enthusiasm for reading. It’s to do some other thing. What is that other thing?
Charles Finch: For me, books evoke a feeling first, and then you have to try to feel lucidly in words. When I read Ali Smith’s most recent book, it stirred up all these interesting and strange feelings in me. Then, as a critic, I had to go back and look at where I put an exclamation point in the margin, and I have to try to cobble together something lucid and intelligent and rational about that. That’s the art of criticism to me: trying to explain emotions, which, in a way, all art forms are trying to do through different means.