It's a tough time for criticism, literary or otherwise: Though there is no shortage of opinions out there—just look at Twitter—book review sections are shrinking. While a first-time novelist could expect about 90 reviews in the 1950s, that number has shrunk to 20. But there's another problem hampering today's critics: They're simply too nice, writes critic Dwight Garner in the New York Times. Critics willing to be harsh when necessary play an essential role in our society. But these days, we're "drowning" in "yes-saying critics."
There's no need for "petty, ill-tempered Simon Cowell-like put-downs," but to happily praise everyone's work would make us "a zombie nation, where wit and disputation go to die." We need critics "perceptive enough to single out the voices that matter for legitimate praise" but "abusive enough to remind us that not everyone gets, or deserves, a gold star." Let's discuss "ideas, aesthetics, and morality as if these things matter (and they do)," Garner writes. "Our critical faculties are what make us human." Click through for his full column. (Read more critic stories.)