We’ve Moved

Chamber Four is closing its doors at the end of the year. In the meantime, we still have new posts and reviews rolling out. You can find all our content, old and new at this address:



It’s Almost Time To Say Goodbye

Dear C4 friends and supporters,

After months of deliberation, we have made the difficult decision to shutter Chamber Four at the end of 2014. We would like to thank each and every one of you for your support for and contributions to the many evolutions of our endeavor over these past five years. We are sad to say goodbye to the site, but life has pulled the staff in too many directions and we can’t bear any longer to allow our pet project to limp along like it has been of late.

Most of the content we’ve published will still be accessible, as we’ll be archiving ChamberFour.com on a free WordPress site in the coming months– and the Page Count podcast will continue for the foreseeable future–but unfortunately the magazine site won’t be able to come with us. Hopefully, the digital press page—where we host copies of all the lit mag issues and the anthology—will still exist on the archived WordPress site. But we can’t guarantee that just yet.

Ebook copies of all four issues and the anthology will still be available at Smashwords at this link, but we encourage you to download the handmade PDF that you can find through our digital press page. That page will be up at least through the end of September, but if you miss it, feel free to email Sean or Nico at clark.sean.p AT gmail.com or nicovreeland AT gmail.com. Thanks again and keep being awesome. .

The C4 team

April/May Podcasts Now Available


UPDATE: The original files got messed up. If the episode you downloaded cuts off unexpectedly, just re-download and the full version should be there. or you can listen to the corrected streams below (should show shortly).

What’s up personal pals. Sorry C4′s been slack the last few months. We promise to get back into the swing of things for the summer.

You can catch back up with us by listening to the two new podcast episodes now live. In the April edition of The Page Count, we discuss a bunch of books, as well as some movies and games, we talk about Amazon’s Comixology buyout and Gabriel Garcia’s death–we also make a death pool for still-living authors–and bring you a fresh edition of Bro2Bro.

When you’re done with that, we invite you to enjoy the lates Drunk Review. We got WriteByNight’s David Duhr drunk and alone (he called in) before noon on a Sunday, then made him discuss Rush Limbaugh’s Rush Revere, a kid’s books featuring a talking time travel horse that encourages children to buy crappy tea that Rush Limbaugh is trying to sell, because America.

Subscribe on iTunes here. If you’d rather the direct RSS feed, here you go. You can also stream the episode below.

Have any topic or reading suggestions, or comments about the show? Please email them to info@chamberfour.com or shoot us a tweet.




Programming note: the end of Book Radar

When I started writing the Book Radar column, almost three years ago, I was working at a bookstore, spending a fair amount of my weekly time paging through catalogs of upcoming releases, and marking the books I was interested in. The column was a natural byproduct of all that casual research.

In the time since, I stopped working at the bookstore and stopped having access to both the catalogs and the spare time to idly flip through them. Instead, I’d pull interesting books from Kirkus, which handily laid out reviews for all the books coming out in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, Kirkus changed their format, and you can no longer sort out upcoming books, and I can’t find a similar website that will let me research a Book Radar column in less than eight hours.

So I’m retiring the Book Radar column, and instead we’ll continue to highlight interesting books in the Week’s Best Book Reviews feature, it’ll just be after they come out. (And no, this isn’t the world’s worst April fool’s joke.)

The March 2014 Episode of the Page Count Podcast

c4-podcast-logoOur latest episode is live! This month, we talk about comic books, the correct pronunciation of “Michel Foucault,” a fantasy series that might be better than Game of Thrones, the novel by the guy who wrote True Detective.

Also, Aaron asks a couple questions “bro to bro,” we play a hastily designed game of “Allen Ginsberg or Kristen Stewart?,” crap on James Patterson for giving money to bookstores, and a whole lot of other nonsense.

Subscribe on iTunes here. If you’d rather the direct RSS feed, here you go. You can also stream the episode below.

Have any topic or reading suggestions, or comments about the show? Please email them to info@chamberfour.com or shoot us a tweet.

Negative Capabilities Part 5: The Reading List

[In this series, Eric takes on the Bambi/Thumper rule in book reviews and argues for the role of negativity in new media. Find the other installment here.]


Here’s a list of posts and articles from the debate over book reviewing and “niceness” as it’s played out since last fall. Please share any other related resources you might come across in the comments, and if you feel like adding your own two cents on this topic, that would be appreciated, too.

Burying the Hatchet” by Lee Siegel, The New Yorker, September 26, 2013

This Guy Thinks We Shouldn’t Have Negative Book Reviews. Two Thumbs Down!” by Isaac Chotiner, The New Republic, September 26, 2013

BuzzFeed names Isaac Fitzgerald its first books editor” by Andrew Beaujon, Poynter, November 7, 2013

Publicist Takes a Constructive Stand Against Negativity” by Tom Socca, Gawker, November 7, 2013

BuzzFeed Books Won’t Kill Literary Criticism — But Book Snobbery Might” by Michelle Dean, Flavorwire, November 8, 2013

Much Ado About Niceness” by Maria Bustillos, The New Yorker, November 12, 2013

Banning the Negative Book Review” by Bob Garfield, The New York Times, November 29, 2013

On Smarm” by Tom Socca, Tom Socca, Gawker, December 5, 2013

What’s Missing From the Smarm vs. Snark Debate: Honesty” by Michelle Dean, Flavorwire, December 6, 2013

Like, Sympathize, But Don’t Hate: How Social Media’s Enforced Positivity Is Making Us Dupes” by Tom Hawking, Flavorwire, December 10, 2013

Being Nice Isn’t Really So Awful” by Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, December 11, 2013

Malcolm Gladwell Thinks We Are All Laughing to Our Deaths” by Ryan Kearney, The New Republic, December 11, 2013

Bigger Than Bambi” by Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, December 14, 2013

Everyone Is Missing the Point About Negative Book Reviews” by Madeleine Crum, The Huffington Post, December 18, 2013

Negative Capabilities Part 4: “Why waste breath talking smack about something?”

[In this series, Eric takes on the Bambi/Thumper rule in book reviews and argues for the role of negativity in new media. Find the rest of the installments here.]

“Why bother?” is both the weakest argument against book reviews and the most dangerous because it’s rhetorically posed to shut down discussion. “Why waste your breath?” implies that any reply is “wasted breath.” It’s also the most useful to refute because it creates a vacuum for advancing a positive argument in favor of book reviews and the role of negativity in public discourse, even at places like BuzzFeed.

Let’s start with the source, that Poynter interview with Isaac Fitzgerald:

“Why waste breath talking smack about something?” he said. “You see it in so many old media-type places, the scathing takedown rip.” Fitzgerald said people in the online books community “understand that about books, that it is something that people have worked incredibly hard on, and they respect that. The overwhelming online books community is a positive place.”

He will follow what he calls the “Bambi Rule” (though he acknowledges the quote in fact comes from Thumper): “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

There is one point worth granting here. Fitzgerald and others are right: we do not need blood sport reviewing. Everyone who reviews books, including myself and the Chamber Four gang, could hold ourselves to a higher standard of kindness and respect in our writing. But not all negative reviews are “talking smack,” and being kinder or more respectful doesn’t mean liking everything or else ignoring it.

So why should we “waste breath talking smack”?
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Negative Capabilities Part 3: “… the book review is dead.”

[In this series, Eric takes on the Bambi/Thumper rule in book reviews and argues for the role of negativity in new media. You can read the previous installments here.]

Another standard argument against negative book reviews is what you might call “the superiority argument.” Once again, Lee Siegel:

Quite simply, the book review is dead, and the long review essay centered on a specific book or books is staggering toward extinction. The future lies in a synthetic approach. Instead of books, art, theatre, and music being consigned to specialized niches, we might have a criticism that better reflects the eclecticism of our time, a criticism that takes in various arts all at once.

Or, as Madeleine Crum puts it:

Instead of finding a home for my review of The Interestings, I set out to write an essay about nostalgia in contemporary literature. I’m still working on that one; it’s proved much more difficult to write.

There are two related points here: (1) critics should strive to create something new instead of merely commenting on (or judging) the works of others; (2) this is more challenging and therefore aesthetically superior. There is some truth in both, but neither one actually argues against book reviewing or even against negativity.
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Negative Capabilities Part 2: “Who the hell am I?”

[In this series, Eric takes on the Bambi/Thumper rule in book reviews and argues for the role of negativity in new media. You can find the entire series here.]

One of the most common arguments against writing a negative book review is the “No Authority” argument. To quote Lee Siegel:

Unlike a positive review, a negative one implies authority, and authority has become something ambiguous in our age of quick, teeming Internet response, where all the old critical standards and parameters are in the process of vanishing and being reinvented.

Or that Huffington Post piece by Madeleine Crum. She was preparing to publish a negative review she had written of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, but then she pauses to ask herself “Who the hell am I?”

According to her byline, she’s an Associate Books editor at the Huffington Post, which strikes me as some claim to authority about books all on its own. To further undermine her point, she qualifies the questions. Who the hell is she “besides someone who reads a whole lot, and enjoys thinking critically about literature, that is.” In our “age of quick, teeming Internet response,” being someone who loves to read and think about books strikes me as a solid set of credentials for offering your honest opinion about books.

But I want to go back to Siegel: “Unlike a positive review, a negative one implies authority.” Why?
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Negative Capabilities

When Keats wrote of “Negative Capability” in a letter to his brothers, he wasn’t talking about anything we would today associate with negativity per se. He meant being “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” He offers this criticism of a contemporary by way of a negative example: “Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge.”

By “Negative Capability,” Keats meant not presuming to know the world before you’ve experienced it and not ignoring  your experience because it doesn’t fit your world view. This is where my mind has gone a lot in the past months while thinking about negative book reviews.

It may seem rather “old media” of me to revive an argument that appears to have been dead since 2013, but since Lee Siegel’s “Burying the Hatchet” appeared in the New Yorker last September, I’ve tried to follow the online exchange over book reviewing pretty closely, and now I’d like to add my own posts to the whole kerfuffle. As most book nerds are likely aware, the whole thing exploded last November over this Poynter interview, when BuzzFeed’s newly appointed books editor Isaac Fitzgerald said he wouldn’t run negative reviews, because “Why waste breath talking smack about something?”

The ensuing reactions largely referred to this as an argument over “negative book reviews.” I want to reframe the argument by leaving out the offending adjective and make it an argument over “book reviewing,” without qualification, because if you approach a piece of writing about a book with the forgone conclusion that you are going to say something positive, then in no meaningful sense can what you’re doing be considered reviewing. Arguing over whether or not literary culture needs negative book reviews is the same as arguing over whether or not literary culture needs book reviews at all.

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