Some more thought on reviewing, occasioned by new literary magazine, KILL YOUR DARLINGS, which I just reviewed, so I can't repeat the comments I made here until Sunday week.
Reviewing is a minefield, unless you happen to live in a deep dark cave. One of the problems is social. At one of last year's Xmas parties, I chatted to a political satirist, who surely would have a professional hide like a turtle. When I remarked that I'd reviewed him, he put his hands up in defensive position and said: "Don't tell me! Don't tell me!"
"Favourably," I quickly added.
He thought. "Ah, yes, I remember your review." Pleased smile.
We got on just fine after that, with topics of chat including literary drinking groups to avoid (don't go to the Standard Hotel, he says).
But what if I'd given him a good reviewerly kicking?
In that case I wouldn't have mentioned the review. And if he was a true professional, he wouldn't have mentioned it either. We could still have chatted, but with a thin, frail, layer of ice.
The Craft of Reviewing
On another tack, my day job is reviewing. I have a weekly column in M magazine, Sunday AGE. Here I review anything except books for the younger reader, that being Fran Atkinson's patch (on the same page). And I have just sent a stern note to a publicist asking her please not to send me any more serial killer novels, as I have developed this terrible allergy to them.
Reviewing is a tricky job. You have to identify the audience for the book (sometimes not what the publisher thinks it is). You then judge genre, and how well the book succeeds within that genre. And in that I include the literary novel. Such concerns are quite apart from whether you know the author or not. My rule of thumb is no friends, enemies, people with whom you have a professional relationship, and sensitive little plants. Even if the latter are six foot tall macho novelists who are old and ugly enough to know better.
Sometimes reviewing is a license is to be well, pernickety. I once told a publisher that having a mention of EAST LYNN by Mrs Humphrey Ward in a novel was a turn-off, as both title and author were wrong. For those who like Victoriana, it should have been Mrs Henry Wood's EAST LYNNE, one of the defining popular fiction blockbusters of the age. I invented an alter ego for my reviews, the Pedant from Hell, who helpfully points out such faults. I now find that people think it is my other half. No, just my other self.
At the Scribe Party last week, I met another reviewer for the first time. We both found we carry review books around with us. Mine was Joe Hilll's HORNS. "Can I show you something?" she said, and went off to fetch her current new release.
"Now," she said, opening her book, " does this paragraph make any sense to you?"
I looked at it. "Is that an allusion to Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN?"
"I don't think it does make any sense even with the allusion."
She turned back to the first page.
"And what do you make of the opening paragraph?"
In retrospect I should have said: a mud pie. But words failed me. I think I said: "Oh dear."
Somehow I think neither of us will review the book.
Another Grump On the Internet
One of the pleasures of reviewing is that sometimes you encounter people who agree with you. The following comes from Matthew Flaming's THE KINGDOM OF OHIO, a work of literary steampunk:
"They tell me that we're living in an information age, but none of it seems to be the information I need or brings me closer to what I want to know. In fact (I'm becoming more and more convinced) all this electronic wizardry only adds to our confusion, delivering inside scoops and verdicts about events that have hardly begun: a torrent of chatter moving at the speed of light, making it nearly impossible for any of the important things to be heard." (p. 29)
And, I promise you, that will be the last Grump on the Internet for a while....
Some Introductory Words
Lucy Sussex here, venturing into my very own blogland. About which I have some ambivalence, best expressed in that I nearly called the blog 'Universal Age of Deafness'. The phrase derives from Milan Kundera's THE BOOK OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING, being his projection of the future, where everybody had graphomania, an obsession with the act of writing (books). He wrote that this state occurred when a nation had no significant social change, a high rate of social atomization, and the material wealth for people to devote their time to 'useless activities...creating a wall of mirrors" around themselves. Very true. I wonder what he thinks of the Net now?
The other qualm is that blogs resemble ephemera, and not the useful ephemera that libraries collect, such as antique election posters.
That said, what I intend to talk about is the life of involvement in the 'universe of words'. I edit, write creatively, do scholarly research, and review. Expect remarks on any of these subjects, and more.
Welcome to my Blog!
Welcome to my blog! You can follow what I'm up here in my blog.