January 21, 2007

Joe Queenan has had it with reviewers calling things "astonishing."

Yeah! I agree. If you picture it literally, a reader astonished by a book looks mentally unstable. Maybe if he found he was a character in it, it would be astonishing.

Queenan's high-profile mocking of "astonishing" should put the word off limits. Now, reviewers will have to think of another word for -- let's face it -- good. You can't just say "good" or "really good." You can't use "amazing" or (especially) "awesome." Too teenagery. "Great" got ruined quite a while ago. I think "great" got fatally overused by people who had their vocabulary severely diminished by marijuana. (It was the only word of praise you could think of other than "wow," back in the days before the discovery of "awesome.") "Grand" -- I think -- was dead from overuse half a century ago -- along with "swell." "Terrific" is just too casual, despite its root in terror. I guess there was a time when saying a book was terrific would call up a mental picture of a reader who seemed ridiculously mentally unstable... unless, of course, the book was about him.

So get out your thesauri, reviewers. You pathetic praise-slatherers.


Sissy Willis said...

Thatcherian . . . Just ask the astonishing Hillary!

But don't call her Hillary! It's Hillary RODHAM Clinton again. Have you noticed?

Tim said...

It is surprising the Times agreed to publish Queenan's complaint, as most of its reviewers are clearly his target.

Maybe they're getting ready to lay some off, just as at Time Magazine is in the process of laying off some of its "Person(s) of the Year."

David said...

"Thought provoking" should qualify for mindless blather with maximum appeal to pseudo-intellectuals.

Let's face it, book reviews are the rhetorical equivalent of electic paddles to the chest of a dying patient: CLEAR! Readable!

Hamsun56 said...

"Not bad" is good enough for me.

Pogo said...

Book reviews are too much like movie trailers, often surpassing in excitement the actual subject. I'm looking for something people will still read in ten years.

P.S. Queenan's books are themselves damn good. He's funny as hell, smart, and acerbic. I wasn't completely thrilled with his most recent work, but it's like Tiger Woods on a bad week; you know he'll come back stronger. [In his review of the movie "Alive" he shouted, "Eat Vincent Spano first!"]

His book on Dan Quayle (Imperial Caddy: The Rise of Dan Quayle in America and the Decline and Fall of Practically Everything Else) is actually less of a hit job on the man than you'd think. Anyway, he's worth a read himself.

Anonymous said...

To my dismay, I've noticed I've been declaring good things "fabulous" lately.

No one seems to mind, but it strikes me as a bit arch and campy. Oh, well.

For straight-up praise, I think "excellent" is a good choice.

As a sometime-reviewer of various media, I can say that book reviews are the hardest to write (or perhaps my book review editors were the most demanding). But that's no excuse. Queenan's diatribe was not only amusing but justified.

Palladian said...


Roger Sweeny said...

"Great" may have been severely diminished by marijuana but it was killed by teachers overly concerned with "self-esteem."

"Brianna, what's 1 + 1?"


"Great. That's really close."

Anonymous said...

Coming soon...flabbergasting!

Todd said...

This was an admirable, excellent, exceptional, first-rate, gnarly, gratifying, neato, prime, sterling, stupendous, and wonderful post. Also propitious and salubrious. In no way disagreeable, improper, unwholesome, or unkind.

Todd said...


David53 said...


I like it. It evokes a rich mental image. It's scrumcilious!