Where's the Line Between Constructive Criticism and Meanness?

A negative New York Times book review has caused a fiery reaction on Twitter. William Giraldi's review of Inside and Signs and Wonders, two fiction stories by Alix Ohlin, includes these criticisms:

  • "Alix Ohlin's sophomore effort yawningly announces itself as 'Inside,' a forgettable moniker that suggests everything and so means nothing."
  • "Meet the four principal, cliché-­strangled Canadians whom Ohlin flies around like kites in a waning zephyr..."
  • "Ohlin's language betrays an appalling lack of register - language that limps onto the page proudly indifferent to pitch or vigor."
  • "William Gass once called this breed of abysmal writing 'the uselessly precise fact' - it's what you doodle when you need to fill a page but have nothing important to say. What then passes for wisdom in this novel? Nonsense clichés..."

Giraldi sums up his review: "Every mind lives or dies by its ideas; every book lives or dies by its language."

Although Giraldi got some support on Twitter, several tweeters found the review too harsh. 

Book Review 2
  Book Review 1

Discussion Starters:

  • Read the entire book review. What's your opinion of the author's approach and tone?
  • Have you ever received feedback that you considered too harsh? What were the circumstances?