Welcome to Secrets of the Book Critics, in which books journalists from around the US and beyond share their thoughts on beloved classics, overlooked recent gems, misconceptions about the industry, and the changing nature of literary criticism in the age of social media. Each week we’ll spotlight a critic, bringing you behind the curtain of publications both national and regional, large and small.
This week we spoke to New Republic culture writer Josephine Livingstone.
Book Marks: What classic book would you love to have reviewed when it was first published?
Josephine Livingstone: I’d love to have been around when certain texts that I tend to make pompous declarations about were first written. Like, The Canterbury Tales. I say all sorts of things about what the Tales are “about” and I’d quite like to know what I’m dead wrong on. And I’d be curious to see what I’d have come up with if I weren’t leaning on so many past scholars.
BM: What unheralded book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
JL: Ismail Kadare is in a funny spot, because everybody knows he’s a genius but not everybody has the time to actually read all the books coming out in English. There are just too many of them. But A Girl in Exile: Requiem for Linda B. was an absolute corker
BM: What is the greatest misconception about book critics and criticism?
JL: That it’s a horrible trial all the time? Reading and writing is fun and I like it.
BM: How has book criticism changed in the age of social media?
JL: A tough one. I’m not really sure, since I already had a Twitter when I wrote my first review, in early 2013. Publishing is very gossipy and Twitter is good for that. Once I subtweeted about feeling almost sorry for a writer who got too big an advance for a mediocre book I’d just read an ARC of. That was fun. Nobody knows who I meant! And they never will, ha.
BM: What critic working today do you most enjoy reading?
JL: Hannah Rosefield and Laur M. Jackson.
Josephine Livingstone is the culture staff writer at the New Republic. @Jo_Livingstone.