Everyone’s A Critic


So sue me. I read a Pemberley book. I swore I never would, but my intrepid husband got me P.D. James’s new book, Death Comes to Pemberley, for Christmas. I love Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy? Drool, drool, drool). I also enjoy P.D. James mysteries (no drooling there). I decided to give the book a try and liked it. P.D. James does a great job of imitating Jane Austen’s writing style and characterization, and the story was sufficiently compelling. It was no Darcy and Elizabeth bodice-ripper or some badly written pseudo-romance. The book was actually pretty good.

I should know never to do this, but I looked at reviews on Goodreads before I started the book. A guy had given Death Comes to Pemberley one star and had spent a good thousand words writing about how much he loathed the book. My first thought was, “Who has time to do something like that?” My second thought was, “Who does that guy think he is?” P.D. James is a legend in detective fiction. She has written numerous Adam Dalgliesh mysteries and the book The Children of Men that was made into a wonderful movie with Clive Owen. How does some Joe Schmoe off of the street think he has the right to trash a living legend?

Follow me into the time machine, and let’s go back to Conway High School in Conway, Arkansas, 1992. I am in Mrs. Boudreaux’s 10th-grade English class, and I have just read This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I really disliked the book. I thought the characters were shallow, and I thought the structure was really loose. Therefore, in a now legendary book report, I wrote my opinion. I received a “C,” and a stern Mrs. Boudreax told my mother at parent/teacher conferences that I had the nerve to “trash a classic.”

Maybe I’m no better than the douchy guy who spent an hour of his life writing a 1,000-word review of Death Comes to Pemberley. However, I will say a couple of things in my defense. First, I was writing an assigned book report, not spending my own free time trashing other people’s work. Second, I stand by my opinion. I still hate This Side of Paradise. I adore The Great Gatsby, though, if that makes up for my arrogance regarding Fitzgerald’s first novel. And folks, I was in high school. I wasn’t an adult with too much free time on my hands.

Why do so many people take so much joy from tearing other people down? I am thinking now of a music and theater critic from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette named Eric Harrison. I used to read his reviews of Arkansas Symphony concerts and wanted to throw overripe tomatoes at the guy. All he had were shallow and terrible things to say about the symphony. Sure, the French horns may have boffed a note now and then, but is that really something that you have to comment on every time you write a review? Was there anything good about the performance, Mr. Harrison? Do you even like classical music?

I think Roger Ebert is a good example of a great critic (so does everyone else in the world). For one thing, Roger Ebert loves movies. He isn’t too cynical to let himself be transported by a story into an emotional realm or a place of wonder. On the other hand, he famously is not afraid to say, “Your movie sucks.” To me, his criticism has relevance because of his vast knowledge of his subject matter and also because of his unfailing ability to balance the positive with the negative. Also, Roger Ebert is a fantastic writer on a multitude of subjects. If you haven’t yet, then you should take the time to visit his blog.

Thanks to the Internet, everyone’s a critic these days. I just wish that people would take the time to build up some credibility in their subject area before criticizing living legends like P.D. James. I also wish that many people in this world would find something better to do than to trash other people during their free time. Of course, this is written by a girl who had no qualms about listing her worst books of 2011…

I refuse to read any other Pemberley books, so don’t even try to persuade me. But if you say something bad about P.D. James, I may have to deck you.

3 thoughts on “Everyone’s A Critic

  1. Maya says:

    The first time I read Jane Austen, I loathed and despised her, probably around, yep, 10th grade or so. I now realize that I was wrong (and wanted to read the P. D. James book, too, actually) so I’ll make a pitch for letting your 10th grade self off the hook. On the ohter hand, if someone asks you your opinion, nay, makes your grade contingent upon receiving it, well then they can’t really complain, can they? I think Mrs. Boudreaux is really to blame here.

    By the way, I love Gatsby, but never came around on Henry James. Some things never get better – and I’m a girl who loves Melville, no less.

  2. I completely agree about Roger Ebert- even if I disagree with his opinion about a movie, I highly respect what he has to say because he is (usually) really balanced and fair. And, yes, a beautiful writer. I could spend all day reading his Great Movies essays.

    Our high school selves tend to be arrogant and- in my case, anyway- usually ill-informed. It is what it is. Kind of a rite of passage.

    However, once we get beyond our high school selves, we don’t get such a free pass. In the “everyone’s a critic” era where anyone can hide behind anonymity, we should learn to be gracious. This is probably hypocritical coming from someone who trashed “Twilight” in a recent blog entry, but at least I had real reasons for what I wrote. Much internet “criticism” never gets beyond juvenile snarkiness or people falling in love with their own “clever” one-liners. Criticism is meant to be supported.

    Love this post! And I’m really glad you liked the P.D. James book! Glad it was worthy of a Christmas present!

  3. Love what you say about critics! One of the most important things you note is that critic must love the area/field they analyze – as Ebert does – being knowledgable is mandated, but that passion or love is necessary to truly see the highs and lows of something..like the guy in AR you wanted to hit with tomatoes- he’s technical, but not inspired. (Not sure schools/ businesses are nurturing that these days, so it’ll may only worse) There’s a difference between being clever and being intelligent / smart. Enjoyed the post

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