amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Puritan Firestorm

The Puritan is a literary prose journal published here in Ottawa. Its first issue was just launched in the last few weeks.

Last week Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston’s review of the Puritan’s first issue was published in the Xpress. I was disappointed that the reviewer did not go into specifics about the stories, but more controversially, I was pissed off at his sanctimonious tone about what he referred to as “amateur writing.” It seemed like a cheap and easy way to write a review to me: don’t deal with the work of the publication; just make general and condescending remarks.

He’s planning to go into more detail about amateur writing in his print review, but I think he should go into more detail about the actual stories instead. Labels like amateur writing serve no purpose except condescension. I don’t care whether someone has been published for decades or whether the story published is his first story ever in print. That isn’t relevant to whether the piece of writing is well-written or not. You can read all about it here.

Since the Xpress doesn’t permit people to write more than one comment, I’ll have to post my response and afterthoughts to the reviewer’s reply here.

I likely should have mentioned that I had written one of the stories in the issue; however, since the reviewer was unspecific in his comments about the stories, I didn’t feel the need to be specific in return. I should have stated that I’d written the story and that I had no problem with it being intelligently torn to bits.

[Since the story was submitted for the journal, I’ve worked with my fiction writers’ group and they’ve given me some great advice about how to turn Zombie Walk from something that was basically a character sketch into something more. I make money from stories about sex and sexuality, some coin it “erotic fiction”. ZW was my first attempt at a story that couldn’t be labelled in that way.]

Next I claimed the reviewer gives good review of work by friends. He says that claim is without basis. Here I am in a funny position. When I said that, I was thinking about his fluffy and positive reviews of Chaudiere Books publications. Like Mr. Mesiano-Crookston I am also a friend of the publishers of Chaudiere Books. This is what I was referring to when I said he gave good reviews when he’s writing about his friends. This was a cheap shot on my part and I regret it. I’m not suggesting that the publications in question were not worthy of good reviews.

The truth is Ottawa is a very small world and it is quite difficult for friends to avoid reviewing one another. I’ve read glowing reviews from folks who are friends of a specific author or publisher. Is that important?

To me it is important when a review is a paid review or when readers are looking for unbiased information about a publication. Perhaps that is impossible in a town as small as Ottawa. I think the reviews in the Xpress are sometimes lacking from the standpoint of analysing and critiquing. I also find reviews very difficult to write and haven't ever sent any of my own pathetic efforts to any publication for money.

I appreciate that the Xpress “reviews” also serve as promotional pieces to help get the word out about a particular work, and that is more important perhaps.

Why doesn’t the Xpress dispense with the notion of publishing reviews and simply realise that what it is doing is providing some wonderful free advertising by promoting local writers' work? There’s nothing wrong with that in my opinion. It may be that it is too difficult to find a non-partisan, non-incestuous reviewer in Ottawa. We’re all related one way or another.

I’m glad to see the Puritan getting lots of notice and I don’t mind that I’m the shit disturber. This is often my role. I haven’t won any popularity contests so far, and I don’t intend to start winning them now. I don’t like sanctimonious and condescending attitudes and when I see them, I question them, often by taking on the role of the green vomit spewing demon in the Exorcist.


Amanda Earl said...

the other thing i noticed in JMC's response is that he totally missed the point. he thinks i wanted him to write some sacharine review. that isn't it at all. he didn't write a review. he never commented directly on any of the stories, he just made insinuations about something called amateur writing.

Anonymous said...

Aah the wonders of rob mclennan's mailing list.

Just wanted to explain that last part a bit. I'm a big fan of textual examples, but I was only given 400 words, and though there were a lot of positive examples in the Puritan, there were a lot of things in it that put me off.

So instead of conspicuously singling out certain stories for being good or bad, I wrote generalizations about my feelings about the whole book.

Whether I was right in doing so? I have no idea. I thought so at the time.

I appreciate your input,
All my best,

Amanda Earl said...

i can dig that. thanks for reading and explaining.