Things You Should Not Admit

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So Malcolm Jones, the book critic of Newsweek, candidly admitted that he hadn’t finished Vikram Chandra’s 928 page novel Sacred Games. If he were simply reading for pleasure, this wouldn’t be a problem, but he happened to have the temerity to write a review about a book he hadn’t finished. No, no, no. This is simply a case of basic professionalism: Book Reviewers have a contract with book review readers that they will read (in entirety) a work. Why? Because I don’t care what the first one hundred pages are like, I actually want to know impressions from the whole of the novel. Many novels don’t hold up well in part – it takes their entirety to create a world and emotionally move a reader. Perhaps the daunting length of 928 pages made people sympathize with Jones, but the issue might be clearer with an analogy to film. I don’t read any movie reviews where the reviewers walked out 10 minutes into the film, and after studying with Kenneth Turan (LA Times movie reviewer) I know he views plenty of movies that do not deserve his remaining hour and fifty minutes. Yet he has the discipline to stay because it’s his job. He sees gems and crap and stays for both and tells his readers what is what. That’s his job, and Jones should either step up to the bar or start reading only for pleasure, where he would have the option to opt out of a book.

For more reading, check out the Literary Saloon, which gives a partial defense, or Ed’s rant, who gives Jones no leeway.

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  1. I have to agree. A novel is indeed often impossible to judge before its finished. Even though it would be doubtful that this review would ever have been positive, no matter how well it ended, this has got to be one of the worst crimes a reviewer could commit. Its like a professional football player admitting he didn’t even try to catch a pass – even if its true, don’t say it.