Friends, I really wanted to read Better Living Through Criticism by A. O. Scott so I could respond to it and contribute something to the discussion described in its subtitle: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth. But I wasn’t able to get past page 7.
Page 7 is where Scott—one of the film critics at The New York Times—serves up yet another helping of the blandly acceptable word salad that characterizes this book: “Every culture, every class and tribe and coterie, every period in history has developed its own canons of craft and invention.” Great, thanks. What?
This is a book in which the author—borrowing the humor of, like, Dave Barry’s grandpa, or something—actually interviews himself, writing both the Qs and As, and amuses himself with responses such as: “Well, no, actually. I mean yes.”
Skip around in this book and you’ll find a middle-aged white man getting all rhapsodic about John Keats and Bob Dylan and the Louvre in order to explain how much he loved Pixar’s Ratatouille.
For some reason I have this vision of A. O. Scott drifting into a thrift store and lecturing a small crowd of people: “The great thing about sweaters, you see, is they have these holes. Four of them, in fact. And if you line them up just right, you can squeeze inside the holes and use the sweater to cover your torso. Like this—see? Aren’t sweaters the best?”
Imagine if Pauline Kael suffered a severe concussion in mid-sentence and kept on talking. That’s A. O. Scott’s book. And that, by the way, is an example of criticism. I love criticism. I didn’t need 250 pages to explain it.
So I apologize for not reading the whole book, you guys. The one thing I’ll say for it is you’ll experience better living the moment you put it down.
Brian Hurley is Books Editor at The Rumpus and an editor at Fiction Advocate.