Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" was dismissed by the New York Times when it first came out. "His characters are as shallow as the saucers in which they stack their daily emotions," the newspaper's review, from 1926, said. The New Yorker had no love for Walker Percy's "The Moviegoer." "Mr. Percy's prose needs oil and a good checkup," someone wrote in that magazine in 1961. And John Updike's now-classic "Rabbit, Run," was panned in the Chicago Tribune by a critic who called it a "grim little story" that adds up to nothing. "The author fails to convince us that his puppets are interesting," the reviewer sneered.
These, and other mocking, insulting or just highly critical reviews -- amusing given the hindsight of literary history -- were collected 25 years ago in a cheeky little book called "Rotten Reviews," compiled by Bill Henderson, editor of the Pushcart Prize series.
Now Henderson has revived the book, with a new introduction explaining that he was inspired by the Internet (even though he doesn't own a computer), where negative and snarky reviews flourish -- and are usually posted anonymously.
"I realize now that we live in an online Wild West," he writes. "All civility gone. Empathy, balance, decency, knowledge, out the window. Everybody a blogger. Everybody an instant critic."
Henderson believes writers deserve better. "These books had taken the authors years to compose, sometimes a lifetime," he wrote. "And so to have them dismissed so casually, well ... it just wasn't fair." This little collection might just be payback.