On the morning my column runs, I can't wait to see what I meant when I wrote it. Some of the interpretations given – most, by anonymous newspaper readers, never cease to amaze me. I am apparently so diabolically clever that I can give a different message to a dozen people with the same 600 words, give or take a few.
When I sit down to see what I actually meant with a particular commentary, I’m always reminded of a story told in a book called “God Caesar: The Writing of Fiction for Beginners” by Vardis Fisher.
It seems a young author had published a book, at some time before 1953 when Fisher wrote about it. The author thought he had written a simple love story, a romance if you will, but a critic for a New York newspaper saw it differently.
The critic, never named by Fisher – in fact, he never gave the book title, either – wrote a sterling review in which he told his readers that novel he had just read was obviously a story of love between two men, disguised as a simple love story because the author didn’t dare tell the real story.
When the author read the critique of his novel, the one he considered to be a simple man-woman romance, he tried to call the critic who refused to speak with him. The author began to write the critic demanding a second review.
After the second or third letter, the critic finally sent the young writer a letter that said something along the lines of, “I won’t redo the review. You are not the first author who wrote a better book than he knew he was writing.”
Maybe the entire matter can best be summed up in this quote from Irish writer, Brendan Behan: “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves.”