With a doctorate in Classics from the esteemed Princeton University, an extensive backlog of affiliations with major publications, and a number of accolades and honors, Daniel Mendelsohn could be what one regards as a qualified critic. But that’s far from how he sees it; intellect is the only prerequisite for criticism, with the defining line being not the ability to critique, but rather, the ability to form ‘meaningful criticism’.
“Good critics arise at the intersection of expertise and taste: you need both, and the latter, of course, is mysterious – some people just have it, others don’t, and that’s the way it is.”
Defined by The New York Times Book Review as ‘our most irresistible literary critic’, he spent the entirety of the talk – in a very well-occupied theatre, might I add – exercising his skill at charming, and captivating, the audience. His monologues laced with ever-so-slight tinges of humour, the audience were rapt as he described the development of his career, and his most recent memoir. A memoirist, among other things as well, his latest recalls the year he spent reading The Odyssey with his late father. Their journey through paper, was matched by their literal journey, as they chose to embark on a ten day cruise – one day for each year of the novel – that followed the path of their literary counterpart.
They never reached their destination, he admitted. Yet, as he read his opening passage, one touched with an undercurrent of poignancy, there was also an undeniable sense of fulfilment. Their journey served to provide an experience far more rewarding than that of reaching the destination, and as the passage detailing the aborted cruise came to a close, as did the life of his father.
There’s an undeniable quality in Mendelsohn’s work, one when carried by the charisma of its writer, results in an enthralling one-hour interview. A firm believer of correct grammatical sense, see Twitter re: its sidebar – “it should be ‘Whom to follow’” – and the justifiable nature of handing out poor reviews - given they have genuine reason to do so; Mendelsohn serves to provide the modern reader with classic criticism, something so very scarce in this modern age where everyone thinks themselves an irresistible critic.