A Book A Week Challenge – Week 18

“Policing a Police; Interviewing an Interviewer; Critiquing a Critic” – not a spot you want to be in. A.O Scott in his book “Better Living through Criticism” puts himself into that difficult position. A renowned film critic with New York Times had to experience heavy backlash from Samuel L. Jackson when he reviewed “Avengers”. Even though this book seems to have taken birth as a vengeance against those who are judgmental about the role of the critic but has enough content for everyone to spend some time on it.


Book #: 18

Title: Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth” by A O Scott

Pages: 290

A.O Scott starts off by stating “Everyone is a critic – you have an opinion on everything you see or experience” but that doesn’t undermine your role as being a critic. Everyone who would call themselves a “professional critic” might have experienced this backlash as to their role in the big schema of things. Many even go further to call them as the “failed artists” and “vengeance seekers”.

A O Scott puts criticism as an art in its own form. The role of critic is not to “rubbish everything” and at the same time not be a “fanboy”. Criticism enhances the glory of other arts, and an impossible activity. Zoom it out into large frame of life scenarios – it is necessary and essential for human understanding.

The struggle of an artist lies in his brilliance of translating the vision of his director. His success or failure depends a lot on how director sees his final product and also how the audience adapt into their systems. But, the critic is the player that fits right in between these two entities – taking only the happy viewing (I mean ‘happy’ it is equivalent to ‘quality’) till viewers. The critic has his limitations in conveying what he believes is right or wrong in the art. But, he has no right to banish the viewers from his experience.

Many directors of any generation believe that their movie is medium of dialogue between him and the audience. Critic either acts as a catalyst to enhance the experience or to shatter the dialogue. Most of the present day critics translate the movie to layman terms to viewers and it is the mad rush to share the review that hurts movie viewers experience.

Overall, A O Scott puts a lot of thoughts and opinions forward as to the dos and don’ts of how you perceive a critic’s writing. One essential element he highlights is “critic should share his criticism on the object that he sees and not the effort that goes into making it”.

Even though, the thoughts are arguably convincing, they take you nowhere by time you reach the end of the book. “The End of Criticism” (A Final Dialogue) pretty much summarizes he covers in the bool– if you have a time crunch – pick this one chapter and you get the essence of it.

A O Scott probably might be better critic but he tumbles at multiple places in writing and maintaining consistency in what he wanted to communicate.


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