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Is Our New National Literary Culture Left-Wing?

“If the [National Book Critics Circle] has now been anointed chief arbiter/champion of ‘literary culture,’ I think we have something to worry about,” writes Erika Dreifus in response to the Association of American Publishers‘s recent tribute to the NBCC. “I find the hypocrisy of the oft-repeated claims that the [Critical Mass] blog ‘does not represent’ the NBCC’s positions juxtaposed with the current celebration of that blog as one of the NBCC’s [and president John Freeman's] ‘achievements’ distressing (if not altogether surprising).” It’s a good point—after all, it seems somewhat of a stretch to give the NBCC an award for creating Critical Mass when the blog’s own mission statement describes its contributors as “independent members of the NBCC Board of Directors” (emphasis mine). But let’s set aside the semantic question in favor of a rather meatier issue: That “it’s our blog, but it’s not really our blog” stance, which the Circle’s board of directors has consistently invoked to distance itself from any post on Critical Mass that sparks controversy, strikes Dreifus as particularly disingenuous when it comes to Freeman’s use of the blog to espouse viewpoints of a political rather than a literary nature.

She cites Freeman’s repeated postings on the Palestinian question, which include repeated attention to the reviews of Jimmy Carter‘s book on the subject, as well as an interview with Carter of dubious literary significance, and even scorn for pro-Israeli advocacy groups. Dreifus says it was posts like that prompted her to resign from the NBCC last fall, as “I didn’t want to continue supporting such a blog with my membership dues.” Freeman’s advocacy extends further than her specific objections, however; he created a notable controversy among his fellow book reviewers earlier this year when he publicly repudiated an NBCC award finalist, slamming Bruce Bawer‘s While Europe Slept as “Islamaphobia” in a comment on another director’s post.

Do posts like those Critical Mass excessively political? That depends on how much you feel such issues are connected to “commentary on literary criticism, publishing, writing, and all things NBCC related.” After all, as we discussed just last month, maybe book reviewing as a ‘shadow op-ed’ section doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Unless, that is, you believe “fostering a national literary culture” shouldn’t come with a political agenda, that America’s diminished enthusiasm for reading is a problem that transcends party lines.

Oh, wait, I forgot: when it comes to reading’s at-risk status, Freeman totally blames the Republicans.

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