Louis Menand’s Advice to Young Literary Critics

Question: What advice do\r\nyou have for an aspiring literary critic?


Louis Menand: I think the only way I can answer that is to say it, \r\nin my\r\nown case, because people do, students do say, “Well, how did you get to \r\nbe a\r\nprofessor and also a magazine writer?” \r\nSo, my answer to that is that I didn’t plan it, A; B, that to be a\r\nprofessor, you have to pay your professional dues, there’s no kind of \r\nshortcut\r\nto that.  So you have to write a\r\ndissertation, you have to publish an academic monograph, you have to \r\nhave, you\r\nknow, respective peers in your scholarly field and all of that stuff, \r\nyou can’t\r\nkind of substitute book reviews for that.


At the same time, one of the good things about the\r\nprofession of being a professor, is that you also have time to do what\r\ninterests you and what you care about or what you’re good at.  In my case that was, it did turn out to\r\nbe magazine writing, I don’t know that I would’ve predicted that, but \r\nthat’s\r\nhow it turned out.


So the fortunate thing for me is that my writing is\r\n such,\r\nthe way I naturally write is such that it’s just commercial enough for\r\nmagazines to publish it and just academic enough for me to have a career\r\n in the\r\nacademy.  So it’s worked out really\r\nwell.  But I’m not one of the\r\npeople who has a kind of scholarly hat and writes in a certain way for \r\nan\r\nacademic audience and then puts on a public intellectual hat and writes a\r\ndifferent way for a different kind of readership.  I\r\n generally write the way I write, no matter what and it\r\nseems to have worked for me.


So I think in general there’s no point in going \r\ninto a field\r\nlike English literature if you’re not going to have fun with it.  I mean, you’re not going to get\r\nanything else out of it, you’re not going to get rich, you’re not going \r\nto get\r\nfamous, and you’re not going to really have a big affect on, you know, \r\nforeign\r\npolicy.  But you are going to do\r\nthings that if you’re interested in it, that nobody else can do with \r\ntheir\r\ncareers.  And if you’re not going\r\nto enjoy it and have fun with it and feel like this is what you care \r\nabout, I\r\ndefinitely would not advise going down the very long road to get there.

"There’s no point in going into a field like English literature unless you’re going to have fun with it."

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