Books You Wish You Hadn’t Read and Other Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

Regarding Daphne Merkin’s review of Roddy Doyle’s “Life Without Children:” The Book Review itself is one of my choice options of literary enlightenment. But, rats and wasp nests! I am irritated when one great writer spoils another great writer’s new book by dishing out too much of the story, by not allowing me to be started when coming to a twist: “At the end of the story, just when we think it will leave us in a predictable if not entirely contented place, he suddenly tells his wife—” That is where she should have stopped. Maybe with an ellipsis. Let me discover the twist and be delighted, touched and moved in my own time.

All I want from a reviewer is a sense of the pace, rhythm, characterization and place, and how they are delivered. I want to be enticed by a review, not sated.

Anne Slater
Ardmore, Pa.

To the Editor:

Daphne Merkin’s review begins: “The act of pulling off good awards, one after another, is trickier than it looks.” I’m not sure what she means by “it looks.” But when I read a piece of consistently inspired prose, I never have the notion that the muse dictated and the writer simply functioned as stenographer, any more than I watch a ballet and assume that the dancers, however graceful, are improvising as they go.

The humorist SJ Perelman, asked years ago in an interview for The Paris Review if he felt distrusting the first thing that comes to mind is important in writing humor, replied: “In writing anything, sweetie. The old apothegm that easy writing makes hard reading is as succinct as ever.” Of course, I doubt that anyone can easily define “good sentences.”

A good sentence in Joyce’s “Ulysses” is not the same breed of literary species as a good sentence in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” And although the prose in Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” (which was ghostwritten, but which captures his voice) poses no challenges for most readers in terms of comprehensibility, I would never recommend the book on those grounds. Or on any other grounds, either, except, possibly, as a device to wedge underneath a short table leg to keep the table from wobbling.

David English
Acton, Mass.

To the Editor:

Grant Snider’s illustrated and witty covers in “Recommended Reading” inspired in me another fitting title: “100 Books You’ve Read — but Wish You Hadn’t (and It’s Too Late to Change That).”

I can think of more than a few.

Stephen J. Kudless
Staten Island

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