Thursday, March 15, 2012

On Reading & Reviewing

Literary fiction consists of story and manner. That is, the same story (plot) can be told any number of ways. As Wallace Stevens reminded us, there are 13 ways of looking at a black bird, and many more multiple ways of writing fiction.

This is, of course, an over-simplification, but sharing any interpretation requires it.

Are some manners of fiction better than others? I can't say that this is so, except that surely some manners are worse than others.

Some are more niave and some are more complex, and as literary readers, it's the complexity we crave. Yes?

Not always. In fact, in my experience, rarely.

However the reading process works, it is subjective above all. You look at the black bird one way, and I see it another. Do we have any chance of understanding each other? Can we ever read the same book?

What can the book reviewer hope to accomplish?

In the past, I have answered this question (for myself) by trying to convey in my reviews a clear articulation of my response to the book ... to back up that response with quotations from the text. If someone has a difference response to the book, then they can at least see the "evidence" behind my conclusion.

Lately, I haven't written any reviews. Not even on this blog. I'm feeling an existential drift. In writing these blog posts, am I speaking only to myself? (If so, that hasn't been a problem in the past. Often, just the process of writing the review enabled me to understand more deeply my response to the book.)

Also, I've realized that my response(s) to book(s) are multiple. Not only do I not evalulate books by a thumbs-up, thumbs-down principle, but I also recognized that I have contradictory conclusions about many books. In fact, these are the complex books that I (say I) crave.

Andre Alexis's Beauty & Sadness was one such book. There are many others.

In writing reviews, how do I capture this multiplicity of thoughts? This rainbow of responses? We are taught to write an essay with a strong central thesis and back it up, bang, pow, smash, with confidence.

Is multiplicity not just wishy-washy-ness?

A recent post on Lemon Hound also addresses this conundrum.

First linking to Constant Critic, Sina Queryas then comments on why she likes that website:

...there is such a diversity of vision and style here and you know, I don't want to know what a reviewer is going to think about a book before I start reading a review....though I do want to know that there will be a consistent kind of looking, or an integrity of vision even if I don't agree with the reviewer, and that, she said, was her objective: consistent reviews.

Diversity and unity, engaged perpetually in the act of criticism, a revolution (spinning) of thought, never settled, yet always seeking coherence.

This blog attempts a spinning of opinions by providing links to other Canlit blogs, reinforcing that there is no single point of contact for any reader (or ought not to be).

And I attempt to write spinny reviews, that offer argument, and also, hopefully, open multiple avenues for (re)interpretation.

Interpretation as breath, as act of living, as unending.

A thought that intrigues me.

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