Monday, March 28, 2005

Paul Fussell

My earlier post on online ratings led me to revisit Paul Fussell's brilliant essay, 'Being Reviewed,' in his collection The Boy Scout Handbook and Other Observations. His wonderful description of the 'Author's Big Mistake' (an angry letter in retaliation for a bad review) reminded me why this book is never far from my side:


He has sent out his book for acclamation. Encountering contempt instead, he has instantly taken pen in hand to right this great wrong. ... Sputtering away, the veins of their foreheads standing out, these little compositions generally deliver the most naked view of the author's wounded vanity. And never with subtlety, for they are conceived in fury and scribbled in haste. ... Rage propels him out to the mailbox, and for the next few weeks rage causes him to tap his foot and with knitted brows to make sudden little sideways movements of his head, incomprehensible to his friends ... . Finally there arrives a copy of the offending periodical, and in it is the author's letter of complaint. Only now it doesn't look the way it looked in the author's typewriter. It's not been altered at all by the editor, or even shortened. But now it reads as if some puling adolescent, cut from the high-school basketball team, has published a letter about how good he really is, and written it not very well. All the author's sarcastic rebuttals now seem both too broad and too lame, inviting the reader to regard him as an even greater ass and loser than before.


(Also of interest is The Onion's story, 'I Can't Believe You Blew My Perfect Feedback Rating.')

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