Troy Patterson
June 25, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Why two book critics are facing off against others

THE IRRESPONSIBLE SELF The veteran book critic James Wood, whose author photo looks pensive, is as adept at explicating Erasmus as bitch-slapping Salman Rushdie.

Sample Opening Line ””Fury” [Rushdie’s 2001 novel] exhausts negative superlatives.”

Typical Metaphor Zadie Smith’s ”White Teeth,” among other books, ”is a perpetual-motion machine that appears to have been embarrassed into velocity.”

On Don DeLillo’s ‘Underworld’ ”[The] mode of narration seems to be almost incompatible with tragedy or anguish.”

On the Modern Epic Tom Wolfe’s ”A Man in Full” ”veer[s] between the typologically drab and the monstrously melodramatic.” Wood further suggests that Wolfe reread Shakespeare.

Just How Cutting? [3 Axes]

HATCHET JOBS Two years ago, bad boy Dale Peck, who actually poses with an ax on the cover, wrote a 5,700-word pan of Rick Moody’s memoir ”The Black Veil” that’s still ruffling some literary feathers.

Sample Opening Line ”Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.”

Typical Metaphor Philip Roth’s ”American Pastoral” ”is like watery oatmeal.”

On Don DeLillo’s Novels ”Stupid — just plain stupid.”

On the Modern Epic David Foster Wallace’s ”Infinite Jest” ”Is one of the very few novels for which the phrase `not worth the paper it’s printed on’ has real meaning in at least an ecological sense.” Peck further suggests that Wallace be sodomized.

Just How Cutting? [4 Axes]

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