The Shotgun Blog
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Good article from James Marcus in the Washington Post: The boisterous world of online literary commentary is many things. But is it criticism? (requires reg. but if you go through the link at Arts and Letters Daily, where I found it, no reg. necessary). He relates some of his experience working for Amazon near its beginning, dealing with the avalanche of anonymous customer reviews.
He also makes this observation:
If only there were some way to combine the speed and democracy of the Web with the more meditative character of traditional criticism. Oh wait, there already is: blogging...But even those bloggers who never venture into print have something in common with their opposite numbers in the traditional media: a name to besmirch, a reputation to smudge. It keeps them honest in a way that anonymous, duck-and-cover reviewing never can. It also encourages a kind of snarky civility, very welcome in our polarized era.
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The sorry state of Canadian lit-crit:
I have been enthusastically hired, and unceremoniously fired, from many a Book Review Section, for daring to wander off the Boosterism Reservation. One is simply not allowed to criticize a bad book in this country, in the manner of our more boisterous British reviewers. A lot of this is put down to the fear of alienating a future grant or award jurist--but since many grants and prizes are judged anonymously, I can only conclude that this is just another example of typical Canadian suckiness.
Look what happened when Phil Marchand dared to opine that Margaret Atwood wasn't all that: he made the cover of Saturday Night and almost got fired. Years later, some people still won't talk to him.
My reviews have generated plenty of complaints from authors, and the bigger they are the harder they fall. Flaky Sylvia Fraser was aghast that I'd mocked her new age Rope In The Water memoir in Quill and Quire; hey, you write about having an imaginary friend at age 60, you get what you deserve.
My favourite: Tom Harpur and I share(d) a publisher. You can see where this is going. The publisher emailed me after Harpur complained to him about my panning of his then latest tome. How dare I suggest Harpur wasn't a Christian, just because he didn't believe in Jesus and all? I responded that if Harpur were a real man he would have complained to me himself, and if my publisher were one, he would have declined to serve as Harpur's water boy.
So you can see why I labour in relative obscurity... :-)
Posted by: Kathy | 2004-04-14 7:33:37 AM
The old joke, "Such lousy food, such small portions." is rapidly beginning to describe book reviewing in Canada.
While the Globe and Mail and the Star are still flying the colours, the Canwest papers have cut books to one or two pages a week.
Reviewing, which I have done my fair share of, is a wonderful place for writers to break into print and to learn a particular craft. It is also a place where a good, but obscure, book can get a boost.
While I've written the occassional negative review I have never had an author or a publisher complain directly.
The thing about a negative review is that it is substantially harder to write than a positive one. After all, if you say Smith's (title here) is a most original contribution to human knowledge no one will check if you have your quotes right. But if you slam "a great Canadian author" you have to build and support an argument.
Posted by: Jay Currie | 2004-04-14 10:28:29 AM
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