brothercyst: today, review, painting

Saturday, January 13, 2007

today, review, painting

Going to the MoMA tonight with EJ to see the Brice Marden and Manet exhibitions. Must spend the afternoon in the dark with the shades down, working on both Midnight Picnic and the other, basically finished novel.


Time Out Chicago just ran a negative review by Lauren Viera. I'm annoyed by it for obvious reasons, but mostly because it is a lazy review by someone who seems not to have grasped the basic principles of book criticism*. More on this later, though.

*though i have no attachment to updike's fiction, i think his guidelines for fair book criticism are essential reading for any would-be reviewer.


Early last year I went to a book party that was also a pool party. I had fun and it was surreal. Someone told me yesterday that an artist named Rebecca Schiffman did a painting from that party. That's me at the top, wearing a tie in the water. No idea who the girl is--the guy who sent me the image thinks it's someone named (really) "Jezebel." But I don't remember, you know, carrying any Jezebel anywhere.


trevor johnson said...

Is that the entire painting, or a portion of it? It's good, very good.

About Viera's review, was it random? I mean, did Time Out Chicago decide to cover it without a request from Impetus? I know little to nothing about publishing, but I would guess that Impetus would querying select people to read/review Fires, to create a buzz and boost sales.

Chief said...


Sex, booze, and cigarettes are the deisel fuel of the modern novel, and they've taken mine cross-country and back several times.

So patronizing, that little "props for trying" at the end.

Those little blurb-reports in Time-out hardly qualify as legitimate reviews, Nick.

I used to know a girl who did Restaurant reviews for Time-out NY and barely spoke any English. Once a month, at the 11th hour, she'd show up at my apartment with her incomprehensible copy and basically wheedle me into writing the review for her. Her editors were never the wiser.

That's how mickey mouse an outfit Time Out is.

Fuck Lauren Vierra, whoever she is. If I was Richard FOrd, I wouldn't even spit on her.

Piper Nichole said...

i LOVE that painting.

NickAntosca said...

Trevor--Far as I know, that's the whole painting. Dunno, I think Impetus sent Fires to Time Out Chicago but they certainly can't choose the reviewer.

Chief--I don't know about all reviews in all Time Out publications being sloppy/illegit, but this particular one certainly seems half-assed. It reminds me of many a writing workshop. Among your classmates you've got Talented, Intelligent Writers and Dull, Bad Writers. You've also got people who like your stuff and people who don't. Now, if each classmate can have one quality from each set, you've got four possible situations:

1. A TIW likes your writing (this is the ideal situation, of have someone whose talent and intelligence you respect advocate your work and "get" your intentions.)

2. A DBW likes your writing
(this isn't a bad thing, and of course it's nice to be praised, but it's vaguely galling and disorienting to hear someone whose opinions you don't trust praise your stuff.)

3. A DBW dislikes your writing
(somehow both infuriating and gratifying. it tries one's temper to humor criticism from the ignorant or simply ill-equipped, but there is a comfortable sense of looking down at it.)

4. A TIW dislikes your writing (humbling if educational. when someone you trust and admire criticizes you, you'd be foolish not to listen.)

Try and guess which of the four situations I regard as analogous to the Viera review.

Bobby Farouk said...

I don't get out much, but "effed-out" is not a term I expect to read in a book review.

There's a fifth group out there, though perhaps not in writing workshops. Intelligent Bad Writers: bad writers who recognize good writing when they see it. You won't get a decent review from them because they're bad writers; but they have the sense not to pull a Viera.

Blake said...

I hate slapdash reviews. This really doesn't offer any sort of illumination of anything.

Thought I think anybody who reads it is going to be wary of taking it seriously when it refers to "Gen-Y" twice in the first line. Jeebus.

I like your analysis of workshop profiles. On point.

Lauren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NickAntosca said...

Lauren posted a message on here that said, "Wow. Who knew." then deleted it.

Evelyn said...

Hi Nick, this is Evelyn. I'm very interested by this discussion, since I've passed very recently into the ranks of "book reviewers" here at The Record. Actually, I think I'm the only one here who writes them. The others we get off the wires.

The interesting thing is, we get books sent to us all the time, many times with a press release and letter from the publisher, but that doesn't stop us from throwing most of them in the slush pile. We have a big holiday book sale every year with these books, and the proceeds go to charity. I do dig through the piles every few weeks to make sure there isn't something a little bit interesting hiding there among the crap.

My main source of books to review, however, is the review copy request. I simply look up what books are coming out when, find the publisher, and email the publicity department with my request (possibly with some of my clips). A few weeks later, I usually get my book.

I'm sorry to say that I haven't read your book yet, but I have to say my knee jerk reaction to that awful review is that she went into it with a predisposition to dislike it--violating Updike's vague sixth rule.

What I'm wondering is, if this reviewer chose to review your book--which she must have, unless someone forced her to do it--why did she choose a book she was predisposed to dislike? I don't understand how her article really helps anyone out, the readers of Time Out included.

I also have to say something about Updike's rules. First of all, I'm not allowed to quote extensively in my reviews because we only publish one Books page a week, and only 4 reviews per page. Limitations on space mean I have to be concise, and to my editor that means no quotes. This doesn't mean I don't read the entire book, or don't give it my full attention--I usually mark up passages that I want to discuss. I just can't quote.

Secondly, I think number one is vaguer than number six. How am I to know for sure what the author wished to do? I think the best thing to keep in mind is that I DON'T know for sure what he or she wanted to accomplish. I can only say, from my limited perspective, what I think this book achieves--considering that it is being published at this specific moment in time, and considering its stand-alone merits. If anything, I'm saying with my review that I think a reader of my newspaper might benefit from my limited view of the book. Which is not an ego-free statement by any means. But the book review should be about serving the book review reader. Not about serving my own ego and will to be snarky.

NickAntosca said...

Evelyn, thanks for the thorough and thoughtful post. I have no knowledge, really, of why Viera reviewed my book. She certainly didn't request it herself--Impetus had never heard of her before they saw the review in print--so I just assumed it was assigned to her.

I recognize that word limits severely curtail the reviewer's ability to include extensive quotation (Mark Asch made the same point--he sent me a pleasant and intelligent email the other day after his review ran) but I *do* remain suspicious of/frustrated by reviews (and I'm speaking in general here, not just about reviews of my book...I've always found this an annoyance) that include no quotation whatsoever. At least give a phrase here or there, a taste, however limited, of the author's words. Whenever I have written reviews in the past--not often--I have been incredibly careful to do this.

With regard to Updike's first rule--well, I think a more precise way to say it might be something like, *Be careful not to judge the book solely through the lens of your own politics and prejudices.* For example, if an author has written a book involving young Americans in 2006 that never mentions the Iraq war, it would be unfair to condemn the book merely because you think the author really ought to be more concerned about international politics. It isn't unfair to bring up such an opinion in the review, but...well, nevertheless...a good critic will still "try to understand what the author wished to do."