To its credit, Anna Looney’s recent review of my book, The Devil is a Gentleman, spends a good deal of time quoting from it. Curiously, the quotations serve as evidence that disprove the review’s basic argument.
Dr. Looney is distressed that while describing the travels that make up the book I offer occasional observations that do not shed a particularly flattering light on the people who became my characters. While Looney acknowledges that these observations eventually led to observations she considers more respectful (in one instance, however, she erroneously attributes another’s insight to me), she fails to ask herself whether that transition wasn’t, in fact, the point of the entire exercise.
Looney longs for “rationale,” for “a systematic, objective approach,” for “citation.” In other words she wants scholarship. Yet something she fails to mention is that I announced quite clearly that the goal of the book was literary. I am not a scholar; I do not want to be a scholar. Had Looney been willing to turn the pages of the book, she would have found all the citations she desires, but that’s not really the point. My main concern is this: just as one does not indict an apple for failing to taste like an orange, one should not fault an attempt at literature for failing to achieve scholarship.
Looney imagines herself the best audience for this book. She’s not. In making the transition from treating subjects to describing characters, I set out to persuade a different audience with a different method.
Others have disagreed with Looney, and while it may be bad form to quote one’s own reviews, I think the large disparity here speaks to certain blindness in the current reviewer. “Hallman is an uncommonly insightful and humane guide,” said the San Francisco Chronicle. “A deeply complex and thoughtful work of social commentary,” claimed the Saint Petersburg Times. “What makes this treatise different,” said the Knoxville News-Sentinel, “is that [Hallman’s] is insightful, balanced and compassionate.”
Ironically, the conclusions of the book chime within Looney’s own sensibility. Yet she can’t imagine that a work that begins in incredulity and ends in understanding might have its own particular value. Whatever that value is was my goal all along, and always will be.
Editor’s Note: Although many of the hundreds of book reviews ICSA has published over the years are negative, authors very rarely protest. I think most simply accept that some reviews will be positive and some will be negative. After all, it’s merely opinion. J. C. Hallman, the author of the book reviewed here, is one of those very few who wants to “correct” the reviewer. Although I personally find his protest rather unconvincing (another opinion), the reader can read and make his own judgment. Hallman Comment.