Flannery O'Connor on Ready Reference | Arts & Culture
In our office Craig and I have a set of books close at hand that we can to turn to quickly to answer visitors' questions or to provide us with ideas for blog and Facebook posts. Among the titles on our "ready reference" shelf are Jean Cash's and Brad Gooch's biographies; At Home with Flannery O'Connor (Craig Amason and Bruce Gentry, eds.); and, of course, The Habit of Being (filled with post-it notes to mark interesting passages in the letters). There is one other book we have that is required reading for the serious O'Connor scholar: Flannery O'Connor: The Contemporary Reviews.
This valuable resource edited by R. Neil Scott and Irwin H. Streight contains all the reviews of O'Connor's fiction that appeared in newspapers, magazines, and literary journals during her lifetime. It is interesting to see how some of these very early reviewers either totally misunderstood Flannery or - more rarely - "got it."
Even when her work was panned, sometimes the reviewers were quite insightful. A case in point comes from my hometown newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, in this 1960 review of The Violent Bear it Away: "For this reviewer [William H. Blocklage], this book evokes the same emotional response that certain modern music does. Author and composer alike offer little else than dissonance, though most artfully contrived. The brilliance engages the mind, but the heart does not get its due." (Flannery O'Connor: The Contemporary Reviews, R. Neil Scott and Irwin H. Streight, eds., p. 106) Whether one agrees with the review is really beside the point.
Rather, it recalls a day when every city newspaper worth its salt had a book section and serious fiction was covered because enough people were reading it to justify publishing reviews. Sadly, that day appears to have passed us by.