Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" was dismissed by a critic for 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 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."


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 sees need to revive his 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 anonymous, to boot.

"I realize now that we live in an on-line Wild West," he writes in his new introduction. "All civilty 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."

"Rotten Reviews Redux: A Literary Companion," pubs Nov. 22 by Pushcart Press and sells for $18.95.


A second book that arrived today celebrates books, and book-owning, and book loving, and bookshelves. Several dozen book-lovers--mainly authors, but not entirely--were asked to choose one shelf of books that best represents them and write a brief essay about it.

 The design of this book is lovely, with glossy pages and with paintings, rather than photographs, of each contributor's chosen books. Roseann Cash, you'll find, was moved by "The Diary of Anne Frank," "Little House in the Big Woods," and E.B. White's "Here Is New York." What's not to love?

Junot Diaz (you've all heard of him, right?) read voraciously as a child to help improve his own English. "I had come from a family and a place in the Dominican Republic where books were basically medieval--few people had them, and they were very precious," he wrote. "The United States was a country of books."

Francine Prose's shelf contains Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov and Chekhov, along with a few others.

What a beautiful way to get to know a writer: to browse his shelves.

"My Ideal Bookshelf," is edited by Thessaly La Force, with art by Jane Mount. It pubs in mid-November and retails for $24.99.


Older Post

Ten questions (plus one) for poet Nick Flynn.

Newer Post

Zadie Smith packs 'em in and makes 'em think.