My friend's book got busted up in a review. I feel bad for my friend. I almost felt like the reviewer was busting up my book, the one I don't have yet.
Of course I never like it when friends of mine get bad reviews but it especially annoys me when reviewers come in with a pre-fab agenda of what a book should do and then are all disappointed when it doesn't do those things.
It irritates me even more when you get the sense that a reviewer has barely read the book, and they certainly didn't read anything else by or about that author nor did they do any thinking about how this author's writing relates to other writing that has been written or is being written today.
For instance, in the research-y section of the review, the reviewer quoted Wikipedia--to talk about a poetry movement that almost everybody agrees was never a movement--and therefore nobody can sufficiently describe or associate anyone with it.
It was like he was the drunken 17-year old-narrator in THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES, in a bar, talking about Visceral Realism and the Visceral Realists.
Get to a meeting.
I'm not perfect by such a long stretch. But I have a few things I do before I interview people, which I find helpful.
Interviews, I admit, aren't the same as reviews, but still, they share some common ground and so maybe some of this process applies:
a. Read other reviews of that work
b. Read interviews that the author has done about that work and his or her previous works
c. Read previous books by that author
d. Read several different author bios
e. Don't quote from Wikipedia (?)
BAM. You were thinking it.
And, most importantly,
f. Read the book.
If I am interviewing someone about poetry, I read the book once to myself, once outloud. I'm not saying everybody has to be crazy like that but it does seem like you should keep reading a book until you can complete this sentence:
1. It seems like the author of this book is attempting to [insert thoughts].
You'll note that I did not say you should read until you can complete these sentences:
2. You know what I hate? I really hate when people write poems and they [insert opinions].
3. God, you know what's the best? I love it when people write poems and they [insert opinions].
We don't care what you hate in poetry.
We don't care what you like in poetry.
We don't even care what you don't care about either way in poetry.
You aren't the boss of Poems.
Reviewer: Who's Your Daddy?
Poetry: Not you.
You are a reader of poems (hopefully). That is who you are. So be that person.
Once you have read the book and you feel like you can answer Question 1, I say to you: Rip that book down to its royal underwear. What do I care?
I actually do care. I hate writing negative reviews, it makes me feel bad, like I'm spitting on a bouquet of pansies because I just so happen to like Black-eyed Susans a little better.
Black-eyed Susan, also known as Rudbeckia hirta, Brown-eyed Susan, Blackiehead, Brown Betty, Brown Daisy (Rudbeckia triloba), Gloriosa Daisy, Golden Jerusalem, Poorland Daisy, Yellow Daisy, and Yellow Ox-eye Daisy.
I respect critical reviews--I really do.
But ask yourself this before you fire off a reveiw without necessary prework:
DO YOU REALLY WANT TO RIP UP A STUFFED BUNNY WHEN YOU THINK YOU ARE RIPPING UP A PUFFY TOILET SEAT?
What I don't respect is a critical review that's rattled off half-cocked. Why the half-cockedness? Because the reviewer isn't getting paid? Secret number 1: Nobody is.
Or maybe because the reviewer is thinking, "Well, whatever, this ain't the NYTBR." Secret number 2: No kidding. Secret number 3: Thank god.
Or maybe the reviewer is thinking, "Oooh, goody [hand rubbing], another review of mine, written in three minutes. Published. Booyah!"
Not booyah. Just boo. Boo on review grubbers. Boo on mofo lazy.
Also boo on poor writing and no editing.
I want to understand exactly what a reviewer is criticizing, but I cannot do this when I do not understand what I am reading. I can only say to myself: "I consider myself a creative person, and yet, I can't think of any context in which these words in this order might make a kind of sense."
"l still don't get this. It seems like an interesting thought that I would like to think about in relation to Poet's poems. Could this thought be explained more clearly? I want to think yes."
In the nicer parts of the review, the reviewer kept using the word "banal" but not pejoratively. Except, as I understand it at least, the connotation of banal is pejorative.
Maybe he means "ordinary" or "everyday"? An editor could tell us this. Maybe he's writing "banal" but he means "anal"?
I am so confused.
I think the poet Issa explained it best in his last (and sadly most obscure) poem:
THE DEFINITION OF BANAL
And thank you for listening and thank you Reviewers for your reviews, even the wobbly wonky ones that will surely improve in the coming new year.