Joseph Epstein

In his 1928 essay “The Critic Who Does Not Exist,” Edmund Wilson asked a question that was pleading to be asked: “How is it possible for our reviewing to remain so puerile?” He then offered this typically Wilsonian observation: “When a new book of American poetry or a novel or other work of belles lettres appears, one gets the impression that it is simply given to almost any well-intentioned (but not even necessarily literate) person who happens to present himself; and this person then describes in a review his emotions upon reading the book.”

If that was true in 1928, glance around to see how much truer it is now. The average reviewer’s idea o ...