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Letters to the Editor - The New York Times


To the Editor:

I wish your reviewers would keep to the business at hand of reviewing books. I am not interested in Lauren Groff’s anxiety and fear about reviewing “American Dirt” (Jan. 26), or her lack of Mexican heritage or migrant experience. Or the author’s lack of Mexican heritage or migrant experience, for that matter. We are all human beings, regardless of racial or ethnic background. Human beings love to tell and listen to stories. It’s in our makeup. It’s as simple as that, no matter who’s telling it. Writers have the great pleasure and privilege of creating worlds for us to enter, whatever color they are, or where they were born.

Please urge your reviewers to actually critique and/or praise books, not give us all their feelings about doing so, the controversy behind the book, or questioning the author’s right to tell the story. Save the hand-wringing and the virtue-signaling for the opinion pages.

Gina Ortiz
Claremont, Calif.

To the Editor:

In her review of Jeanine Cummins’s “American Dirt,” Lauren Groff wondered whether she was the right person to review the novel, being neither a Mexican nor a migrant. If this were the case, then only an African-American should have reviewed DuBose Heyward’s novel “Porgy,” a Holocaust survivor William Styron’s “Sophie’s Choice,” and a classicist Mary Renault’s novels about ancient Greece. If the critic represents the reader at his or her highest level, then Groff has succeeded admirably. She realizes she is not reviewing an art novel but a work of commercial fiction and judges it accordingly. She admits her ambivalence about it but cannot deny its emotional impact. Groff should be commended for navigating the troubled waters of cultural appropriation without hitting a reef.

Bernard F. Dick
Teaneck, N.J.

To the Editor:

I haven’t read “American Dirt,” but the whole debate about cultural appropriation strikes me as ridiculous and dangerous. What’s next: telling a female author she doesn’t have the right to write from a male point of view, or vice versa? Was John Steinbeck an Okie? Was Harriet Beecher Stowe an African-American? And yet, “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” were powerful works that helped shape public opinion.

In the end, the only thing that really matters is: Is the work of fiction effective or not? Beyond that, it shouldn’t matter in the least who tells it.

Dale Boyer
Chicago

To the Editor:

I have read about all the controversy associated with “American Dirt” and whether it is an appropriation of “Others’” stories. This is my question: I have read all of Tony Hillerman’s novels about the Southwest and the Navajo in particular. They gave me insight into the area and peoples that I never received from my undergraduate and graduate history education. Has anyone ever questioned Hillerman’s appropriation? Was he given a pass because he is a man? And recently male writers have been praised for their novels that featured female main characters.

There needs to be more discussion of these issues.

Dee Pregliasco
Louisville, Ky.

To the Editor:

The idea that certain groups have an exclusive right to certain stories is a critical fallacy; Shakespeare was not a woman, not a Moor, not a Jew, not a medieval — or ancient — English king. Nor was he unable, as a white Christian male of his time, to write sympathetically about them. Let’s get back to judging works on their merits, not by our personal politics.

Gregory Loselle
Southgate, Mich.

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