I normally don’t respond to reviews, either positive or negative, but because I’m getting a good deal of email about this:
I reviewed Alan Jacobs (no longer on twitter alas!)’s new book for @WSJ
My review asks 2 questions:
(1) who is the real audience for a defense of great books?
(2) there’s been a lot of defending: might it not be time for a really vigorous attack?https://t.co/FEHxSFgJVC
— Agnes Callard (@AgnesCallard) December 10, 2020
— I’ll make three brief comments.
- My book isn’t a defense of great books, at all; it’s an argument for encountering the past. Only one chapter (Chapter 4) deals with reading the classics as such. Elsewhere in the book I refer to texts that are usually designated as classics or great books, but that designation isn’t relevant to my use of them: what matters to me is that they are old.
- Callard speculates on who my audience might be, but there’s no need for speculation: I say in the Introduction that it’s readers who are in need of a more tranquil mind.
- In her review Callard asks, “Could it be that those of us whose connection with the past is supposed to be rock solid, who are supposed to profess the deepest and most abiding love of great books, are struggling with our own attention problems?” And she suggests I write about that. But I already did, a decade ago. And then again a few years later.
UPDATE: So now, thanks to this review, I am getting emails from people about my “defense of the classics,” my “advocacy for great books,” and my “defense of the literary canon” — none of which are in any way the subject of my book. (I don’t even mention “the literary canon.”) None of these people have read my book, of course; they’re just assuming that a review in the Wall Street Journal couldn’t possibly have misdescribed the content of the book. I think this must be what Rod Dreher feels like when people who have not read a single word of The Benedict Option opine confidently about their agreement or disagreement with its argument, because of some review or (more likely) some tweet they read. I’m now realizing how blessed I have been over the years that most of the negative reviews of my books have responded to what I actually wrote.