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Sunday, October 28, 2012

What JK Rowlings and Tom Wolfe Have in Common

They are both standard bearers of their names. Rowlings is an industry. A billionaire who made her money from a kid wizard as you know. And now she has written a "serious novel' . Tom Wolfe is Tom Wolfe and as the father of new journalism and his white suits and hat represents the novelist as character or at least  cultural totem. And he too has written a new novel and they were both reviewed in the NYT Book Review. And the standard bearers get their due.

Wolfe's new book was not liked by the reviewer. I am not going to go into dissecting the review but when he started talking about Wolfe as if he was dead...."he will be remembered" and wound up saying what he respesented then we know this is one of those lifetime achievement reviews. And Tom Wolfe does deserve one certainly. But of course as a standard bearer of your own name you will not get an honest review. You will get respect.

And JK. Rowlings. Well, the reviewer didn't like her book either and almost said so. The deficiencies were pointed out and she basically said you really cant go from kids fiction to adult ficiton using the same style if not technique. But then the "height of her creative powers." The lauding of Harry Potter as something more than just great YA novels and how she could use her gifts. Anyway, maybe not daming with faint praise but certainly lauding with deference.

And so you come away from both reviews  not quite sure whether to buy the book or run from it. They are big names. They are cultural figures. Wolfe for being probably the last remaining novelist with a personality at a time when novelists have all but disappeared.  Rowlings for making an unbelievable amount of money for a kids books that parents read as well. And those movies...those movies. And I suppose that makes her a cultural totem as well. Sort of the Donald Trump of books.

And so you are left with the sneaking suspicion that neither book is very good. And that if you are going to read it because the authors are who they are then that is probably ok too. Fame has perks. And even Hemingway put out some bad books that many people picked up just because of his name. The majority after he was dead and people published for this very reason.

But reviews for people at this level are more of a salute I would think. The book can't be that bad and if it was would the reviewer really tell us? In a funny way, a bad review says that someone is taking you seriously enough to hold you to a different standard. Maybe a higher standard.

Therein lies the irony of making it.

Books by William Hazelgrove