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Michael Dirda Answers Questions on Reddit

What is the worst book you’ve ever read?

Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic and author Michael Dirda held an epic “Ask Me Anything” interview at Reddit, fielding questions online from readers about self-publishing, Amazon and the worst books he ever reviewed.

At one point, he talked about the worst book he’d ever read. Check it out: “Judith Krantz‘s Dazzle. Even the sex in the book was boilerplate, a totally meretricious work. John Sutherland–a distinguished English authority on the novel and the best seller–once included Dazzle in his list of the 25 worst novels of the century.”

The critic also talked about Amazon reviews: “I find that the amazon comments often are exceptionally shrewd and insightful, so I’m not going to diss them. But you don’t really have any guarantees that what you’re reading wasn’t written out of friendship or spite. Critics for established venues are vetted by editors; they usually demonstrate a certain objectivity; and they come with known backgrounds and specialized knowledge. People who’ve read my reviews know my tastes, know how I approach a book, know my background. I can write with believable authority. It doesn’t mean I’m always right. Ultimately, of course, the writing is what counts: We read certain critics because we like their style, their enthusiasm, their minds. I think of my own work as part of a decades long conversation about books and reading with people I will mainly never meet.”

He shared thoughts on self-publishing: “There are certainly arguments to be made for self-publishing– A teacher of mine wrote a memoir that was brought out by the old vanity press Vantage and I wrote an introduction to it. Gertrude Stein self-published the Plain Edition, etc etc. Still, I basically feel that if you’ve written something that people actually want to read a reputable publisher–small or big, university press or trade house–will want to publish it. I do worry that the avalance of selfpublishing functions a bit like Gresham’s Law–bad money drives out good. But, as you say, publishing is very much in flux and who knows what the industry will look like in another 20 years.”

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