A Minor Grouse

Grumping about litblogs is insidery and boring, I know, but there’s a line in a Galleycat post yesterday that’s been annoying me ever since I read it. On Monday Ron Hogan posted a perfectly nice item about some of the more popular galleys at Book Expo America, among them Robert Bolaño‘s 2666 and Amitav Ghosh‘s A Sea of Poppies. Harcourt apparently moved a lot of copies of Padma Viswanathan‘s The Toss of a Lemon, prompting this parenthetical statement from Hogan:

America’s book reviewers being what they are, expect a dozen explanations of how the author isn’t that Viswanathan come September.

Hogan’s frustrations with newspaper book reviewers are well documented, but this is an odd little swipe. Why on earth would it be a bad thing—or even a thing that reveals the mediocrity of newspaper book reviewing—to clarify that Padma Viswanathan isn’t Kaavya Viswanathan, a disgraced author? Journalists make these clarifications all the time with recognized last names. If somebody named Billy Bob Updike writes a novel, I’d note that the author isn’t related to John, and I’m sure Hogan would do it too. After all, he did recognize that some of his readers wouldn’t have instant recall on Kaavya’s name and might be confused. And I’m sure he’s not alone: Litbloggers being what they are, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of links to stories about the Kaavya scandal once The Toss of a Lemon comes out…

2 thoughts on “A Minor Grouse

  1. Fair objection, although “no relation” is a somewhat different clarification than “not the same person.”

    At the time of writing, I wasn’t so much aggravated at the potential presumption that American readers weren’t going to be able to tell one Viswanathan from another without a reminder, but at the laziness of approaching The Toss of a Lemon by way of an unrelated but dimly recognizable controversy rather than plunging right into the book and its own merits. As in, “oh, look, this person’s last name gives me a chance to talk about this other writer people might remember.”

  2. Thanks for clarifying, Ron. I think we’d agree that we’d both be more than a little put off by a review of The Toss of a Lemon that had a lede mentioning Kaavya Viswanathan. I’d like to think that most reviewers would be smart enough to address the book itself, and that most review editors would put that ancillary (but not irrelevant) detail in a parenthetical.

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