In the Guardian’s theblogbooks, Molly Flatt has some interesting thoughts on how hard it is to “praise interestingly”–and why reviewers seem more likely to go for the funny put-down than balanced praise (“Criticism’s vocabulary of cruelty“):
Despite our native savagery, surely there is nothing quite so pleasing as a balanced, sensitive and generous review that manages to capture the spirit of a beloved book? Maybe the problem is that the texts that really touch us engage our emotions and our passions, so that in describing them we must also reveal something of ourselves, whereas a clever slating distances us through self-consciously crafted irony and wit. And the language of praise is more difficult to wield; bile flows more easily than the milk of kindness. Admiring adjectives often seem too gushing, too pretentious or too fey; difficult to deploy without sounding like an Amazon spammer or a school book report. The vocabulary of cruelty is, on the other hand, deliciously diverse.
One editor will only publish words he’s willing to say to an author’s face–a rule that, if widely adopted, would have an astonishing effect on discourse on the increasingly fractious, increasingly faceless World Wide Web.