Better Living Through Criticism

Better Living Through Criticism coverBetter Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth
A. O. Scott
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon paperback $17.00
Penguin Press (February 9, 2016), 283 pages
ebook borrowed from the Santa Clara County Library System

I was looking for my next book to read, and I wanted to avoid spending any more money at Amazon for the time being, given that the bulk of our Christmas present dollars went to that fine firm. Therefore I visited the ebook section of the Santa Clara County Library System web site. To avoid the aggravation of seeing all be recent books I wanted to read being checked out I selected the “Currently Available” option. That is where I found this book.

I was familiar with A.O. Scott both in his role a movie critic for the New York Times and for his multiple stints as host on the late, lamented movie review television program At the Movies. It seemed worth a go, especially since the price was right.

The book is, to my mind, somewhat uneven. Some parts are so abstract as to be almost meaningless. On the other hand, I found his discussion of the ancient Greeks and their use of criticism engaging. Scott has an encyclopedic grasp of Western civilization, and his knowledge ranging from Renaissance art to nineteenth century literature is impressive.

Scott intersperses his commentary with a kind of Platonic dialog between himself and a sort of alter ego. I’m not sure that this adds a lot to the book, but at least this convention lets us know that Scott doesn’t take himself terribly seriously.

Is the book worth reading? I would say that there is a lot of nonfiction out there that is probably a better use of your time.

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