Monday, April 09, 2007

A Face for Lit Crit

Alex Kuczynski, the multi-surgically enhanced author of Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession With Cosmetic Surgery, wrote about A Model Summer, the debut novel by model Paulina Porizkova in yesterday's NYTBR.

Ms K comes out with claws blazing:
...Porizkova makes her own contribution to a literary sub-sub-genre, books by supermodels. Most of these get bad reviews, either because they’re truly awful, like Naomi Campbell’s “Swan,” which won Seventeen magazine’s Super-Cheesy Award, or — call me a conspiracy theorist — because jealous book critics aren’t tall and gorgeous, so they try to wield their puny amount of power to establish some sort of moral order.
GalleyCat rightly calls her out and adds a challenge:
Setting aside how this wounds me personally, I have to take that (much like Gawker did) as a challenge to the book reviewing community, many of whom are quite fabulous (although I have no idea how tall anybody is, really)... Who else do you know, especially outside New York City, that puts the lie to Kuczynski's jocularly cruel generalization?
I wouldn't characterize Ms K's generalization as "jocularly cruel." I would call it self-revelatory. Maybe she tries to establish some sort of order with her writing--notice I don't call it a "review" (more about that later)--but I would call it a pecking order, not a moral one. She comes off as the jealous one, proof that all life is high school.

I would never call myself gorgeous, though I still look OK if the lights aren't too bright. However, I am tall (6 feet in flats). I'm always the tallest woman at the National Book Critics Circle meetings. In fact, I'm often the tallest woman everywhere I go. (I stay away from sporting events, so I'm never around any female basketball players.) I'll bet I'm taller than Alex Kuczynski.

But guess what? An author's looks and height don't matter when I'm reading a book for review. Before I write, I don't look at the press kit and author headshot, if there even is one (not usual with galleys). And how can you tell height from a headshot anyway?

Beyond all this, what really struck me about Kuczynski's piece is that it's a book report (and a catty one at that), not a book review. After 850 words, most of them spent on plot recitation, I had no idea of whether Porizkova's book was well written or worth reading. A poor model indeed.


judy said...

Thanks for reminding me that all of life is high school. I'd almost forgotten.

And how is that arm/hand of yours doing these days?

Bella Stander said...

Ridiculous, isn't it? We all need a reminder every now and then, though the NYT Book Review is the last place I expected to find one.

The arm's been bothersome; I find out in a couple of days whether I have to go for surgery #3.