I’m

Meep- Meep!

Esquire (Singapore) - - Feature -

a book critic. I make en­e­mies for a liv­ing. I don’t mean to, but I do. I live for good writ­ing, and bull­doz­ing the bad is how you clear space for the good to flour­ish. I write for the reader and not the au­thor—any critic who doesn’t should be forced to go eat a grain bowl in the cor­ner—and thus ev­ery so of­ten I make an au­thor fu­ri­ous. He or she wishes to do to me what Burt Reynolds once did to the Na­tional En­quirer, which is get in his he­li­copter and rain down a great deal of horse­shit. This is not go­ing to be a col­umn about my ex­pe­ri­ences as a book critic, ex­cept for here and there. The writ­ers who ap­proach me in pub­lic tend to be the ones whose ca­reers I have en­cour­aged. The rest are surely at home do­ing to my shapely self what the writer Shirley Jack­son (“The Lot­tery”) did to the pub­lisher Al­fred A Knopf when he dis­pleased her. She made a voodoo doll of him and plunged pins into it. Not long af­ter, it is said, Knopf broke a leg while ski­ing.

This is a col­umn, how­ever, about that old-fash­ioned word— en­e­mies. To­day we more of­ten speak of “ri­vals” or “com­peti­tors”. Richard Nixon would have been vastly duller had he com­piled a ri­vals list in­stead of an en­e­mies list. “Noth­ing pro­duces such ex­hil­a­ra­tion, zest for daily life and al­laround grat­i­fi­ca­tion as a pro­tracted, ugly, bit­ter-end vendetta that rages for years and ex­hausts both sides, of­ten bring­ing one to ruin,” wrote the muck­rak­ing jour­nal­ist Jack An­der­son, one of Nixon’s cru­cial en­e­mies. They don’t make guys like Nixon and An­der­son any­more. Their feud was not “Some­times you sense some­one is your en­emy in­stinc­tively; you’re like an­i­mals that just don’t like the way the other smells.”

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