News Announcement: The Centennial Review

A few words have to be shared before we continue with our regularly scheduled programming.

Recently, while doing a bit of general maintenance on the site, updating links and forwarding reviews, I was struck by curiosity and decided to take stock of how many reviews have been posted. After scrolling through the content and piecing together content for various outlets, I found – to my stunned surprise – I have somehow managed to write enough book reviews that the next one will reach the coveted milestone of 100.

Yes, ever since learning my craft at the Daily Cardinal student newspaper and serving as a freelancer for before dismal management led me to strike out on my own, 100 books have been reviewed in detail either by themselves or in joint articles. Also note, this isn’t even counting other writings like my Cardinal literature columns, the Text-to-Screen series and other random articles printed under the essay umbrella. And to make it a hat trick of achievements – after a double-check on the months of articles posted – come next month TLOTE will have been online for two full years, not missing a month since founding.

How the hell did I do that?

In any case, while I don’t plan to devote a lot of time to retrospectives and anniversary specials, I did want to take a moment for two things. First of all, I do feel something special should be done for the anniversary, reviewing a title or author close to my heart.

Coincidentally, the book already queued up for review fits the latter. “The Abyss of Human Illusion,” the last book by postmodern author Gilbert Sorrentino, whose “A Strange Commonplace” I reviewed back in 2006 and who also happens to be my favorite author no one else has heard of. So even without the honor of centennial title it’s a review that’s getting a lot of attention from its writer, and one I hope showcases the vast gulf he’s crossed since his first review of “Liverpool Fantasy” as a naïve freshman.

And looking back over that gulf leads me to the second point of this post. I make a lot of half-serious jokes to friends of mine about how my site’s audience is slimmer than a Popsicle-stick model of an anorexic supermodel, but session stats prove that the site does get some traffic and occasionally a comment or compliment that switches my expression up to beaming. When my busy non-writing life overwhelms me (which is often) I sometimes debate packing this in for something that results in an actual paycheck, but I always push ahead for love of the craft – and always get a positive reaction from those paying attention.

So, with the occasion in mind, I wanted to thank those who have helped me take these efforts as far as I have. Thanks first and foremost to my contributors/Cardinal daughters Anna and Carrie, who have brought two new perspectives and commentary I’d have never been able to offer or have even considered; to my varied editors at the Cardinal who gave me suggestions, pushed my boundaries and gave me the page space to review for an audience; all authors and publishing houses who have trusted my opinion and reach enough to send or offer to send advance copies; and to everyone who’s taken even a moment to read and reference my thoughts on literature. This website takes a lot of reading on my part to keep functioning, and the fact that it is read itself means more than I can express.

And as a closing note that both transitions to our 100th review and also shows how much more I have to learn, please share my consideration of this quote from Mr. Sorrentino on literary criticism. When I finally manage to understand what he’s saying here (I think I do but I’m half-certain I’m wrong), maybe I’ll cross another big divide.

“The professional literary critic finds himself in a curious, even awkward position. The rationale for his writing is that it serves to explicate or illuminate the texts of others; it is useful. What a fine ambiguity arises when we read that critic who is most gifted, most serious in sense of his vocation. His writing, as it strives toward the most precise and unique subtleties of revelation in the writing under review, begins, oddly, to detach itself from its cause, and to float free of it. It begins to move, that is, toward the literature that it purports to be ‘talking about.’ It as if it wants to be literature too, as if it cannot countenance its function as that of the useful but wishes to approach the condition of the useless. What is most perverse about this phenomenon is that the best criticism is by definition the most useful: it is somehow that which it would prefer not to be. And that criticism that is useless, fashionable, a compilation of gossip, opinion and causerie, criticism, that is, that speaks of everything but the work before it, pretends to be absolutely utilitarian. So we are left with this dilemma: useful criticism would like to be, indeed, strives to be, useless; and useless criticism seems superbly, aggressively useful.”

– Gilbert Sorrentino, “Something Said,” February 1984


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