Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of June 25th, 2007

The Cult of the Amateur (Doubleday/Currency, $22.95) is a jeremiad about the baleful effects of the Internet on our culture. Andrew Keen insists that the wiki-wonders of that radically democratized blogger’s paradise known as “Web 2.0” are “undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience and talent.” I can’t help appreciating any author who thinks of “cultural gatekeepers” as a valuable, endangered resource. But will Mr. Keen still feel that way after a few professional critics have exposed the flaws in his shallow, numbingly repetitive book?

If you missed Andrew O’Hagan’s steely appraisal of Don DeLillo’s Falling Man in The New York Review of Books (June 28, $5.50), you can still catch it online. It looks at first like a respectful review: He acknowledges, as every critic must, the eerie prescience of Libra, White Noise and Underworld. But what follows is a massacre, achieved in part by turning Mr. DeLillo’s “formerly superlative intuition” into a trap: “[H]e dangles uncertainly between what he knows of [9/11] from pictures and what of it he predicted in his novels.” Here is the death blow, poetically delivered: “Reading Falling Man, one feels that September 11 is an event that is suddenly far ahead of him, far beyond what he knows, and so an air of tentative rehearsal resounds in an empty hall.” Mr. O’Hagan’s tough love hasn’t changed my mind about Falling Man (which I praised in these pages), but it does breed troubling second thoughts.

The jacket of Confessions of a Wall Street Shoeshine Boy (HarperCollins, $24.95) tells you everything you need to know about the fresh, bottom-up perspective in Doug Stumpf’s first novel: Reflected in the dazzling shine of a sleek, black shoe (a punched oxford, to be precise), the silhouette of two outstretched hands shaking on a deal; the towers of Wall Street and the fluted columns of the Stock Exchange recede toward a narrow slice of sky—the image is at once seductive and menacing. Mostly narrated by a Brazilian-born shoeshine boy, the novel is an exposé of high finance—and an insider’s peek at magazine journalism (Mr. Stumpf is a deputy editor at Vanity Fair)—spiced with shoeshine lore and steamy South American sex. Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of June 25th, 2007