Strangely enough, another misrepresentation, made passingly, stuck worse in my craw. Wood complained of the book’s protagonist: “We never see him thinking an abstract thought, or reading a book … or thinking about God and the meaning of life, or growing up in any of the conventional mental ways of the teenage Bildungsroman.” Now this, friends, is how you send an author scurrying back to his own pages, to be certain he isn’t going mad. I wasn’t. My huffy, bruised, two-page letter to Wood detailed the fifteen or twenty most obvious, most unmissable instances of my primary character’s reading: Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Lewis Carroll, Tolkien, Robert Heinlein, Mad magazine, as well as endless scenes of looking at comic books. Never mind the obsessive parsing of LP liner notes, or first-person narration which included moments like: “I read Peter Guralnick and Charlie Gillett and Greg Shaw…” That my novel took as one of its key subjects the seduction, and risk, of reading the lives around you as if they were an epic cartoon or frieze, not something in which you were yourself implicated, I couldn’t demand Wood observe. But not reading? This enraged me.
Jonathan Lethem on being reviewed by James Wood. Lethem is going to get hammered for writing this — He’s showing his insecurities, he’s indulging his petty resentments, doesn’t he know that this only makes the critics want to trash him? — but I think he’s doing the right thing. Wood is a tremendously insightful critic, and a major stylist, but here is a case in which he says things that are manifestly not true in an attempt to discredit someone’s book. Those of us who write reviews are not obliged to like anything, and we can be as fiercely critical as we believe necessary, but we have an obligation to get our facts right. Wood really should apologize to Lethem and issue a correction, but that obviously isn’t going to happen.