I’ve recently finished reading “The Best Australian Stories 2010”. I’m reviewing it for publication, so I have pages and pages full of notes. I feel awkward scribbling in the margins of reviewing books, though it does sound like a more effective strategy. There’s something about defacing books I own that I just can’t come to terms with.
I plan on sitting down tomorrow, when everything’s had a few days to percolate, and making sense of those notes. In the mean time though, many other people who bought the book recently are finishing it too. I exchanged impressions with Alec Patric yesterday, which I found helpful in expressing some of my ideas about the stories. I talked to another friend last night about what I’d expected from certain authors in the collection and what I hope for them in future. Talking to people helps me get my ideas straight before I start writing.
However, I feel a little hesitant to read printed reviews. I have ideas about what I liked and didn’t, and suspicions as to why, but overall I’m still a baby reviewer and at times I feel like I don’t have the literary knowledge to say things with conviction in case someone tells me I’m wrong.
This morning in my Google Reader feed appeared Claire Zorn’s review of the collection on the Overland website.
The uncertainty of my own authority mentioned above means that I’m torn as to whether or not I should read this review. Overland – that’s got some heft. Good writing, authoritative voices, established opinions.
I have two options. I can ignore the review until I’ve written my own, insuring that my ideas are all mine. Or I can read the review and risk an “accidental steal”.
You know the ones. You’re reading a lot of Jane Austen, and somehow her language starts showing up in your own writing. You’re listening to a lot of hip-hop and you accidentally end a sentence with “yo”. It’s not done on purpose, but things influence you. The external worms its way in. Especially really good things – it’s natural.
I see connecting themes in the collection, and I think I’ve nutted out stylistic approaches, strengths of the stories. I have a half-baked review in my head. Claire’s review is sitting in my Google Reader feed, but I can’t decide whether I should read it yet or not, lest my review echoes hers too much.
I wonder if you’ll be able to tell from my own review whether I decided to read it or not?
07/01/2011 at 5:10 am
I’ve had concerns like this as well, especially after discussing with other people about certain books or movies. It happened with my review of The Danger Game, not the stealing I don’t think, but worrying about it as I’d read a few reviews and had lots of discussion about it even before reading it.
I’m not sure it’s all bad though. If what you took from others weren’t true or you didn’t agree with it, I’m sure you and I could distinguish that.
07/01/2011 at 5:16 am
Well it’s the same as sorting out your own opinion of classics from all the literary criticism and cultural stuff that’s come out of it post-fact.
…Or does that just happen to me?
I know I very easily figured out what I though of “Oedipus the King”, but in the case of “The Tempest” I’d read so much about it before hand that when I did read it, all I could see was the criticisms I’d read earlier.
I think it’s similar to that. If I’d read the review before I’d read the book perhaps it would be more of a problem. At least nothing got in the way of my reading.
07/01/2011 at 5:18 am
Perhaps avoiding what others think is creating something artificial. Most other opinions about other things are inevitably shaped by those around you, but not exclusively so.
Also, there can be comments between reviews if others pick up specific issues and you might want to respond to it.
07/01/2011 at 5:22 am
True. Nobody’s creating in a vaccuum.
I’m not worried about being influenced, it’s more about developing the ability to realize when I’ve picked something up from someone else and where. Responding to someone else’s review is good, if you realize that you’re responding.
07/01/2011 at 5:21 am
I’ve read Claire’s review and it is very highlevel, I don’t think there’s a theft risk for you. I guess this is the difference between writing for your own blog where you can be more conversational about your influences and writing for publication where there is a trend towards a more traditional style of review.
07/01/2011 at 5:27 am
Thanks for reading, Melissa! The review I’m writing is for publication, but it’s for a university paper and has a reasonably short word-limit, so I don’t think I’ll have too much space to get political.
You’re right though, I’m certainly a lot more relaxed about reviews on my blog, they’re almost throw-away conversational reviews.
07/01/2011 at 5:41 am
I have that delimma too.
Usually I’ll read the reviews when either I have really strong feelings and nothing will sway me OR when I’ve finished writing my review.
07/01/2011 at 5:43 am
I don’t think you need to worry. In fact, I’d encourage you to read it, though I certainly wouldn’t call it a review. It’s the introduction to a piece that doesn’t actually get written. In regard to your worries though, think of it terms of dialogue. They’re saying something, and then you say what you think.
07/01/2011 at 6:16 am
Good point, Alec. It is a dialogue – reviews are pretty pointless without that part.
12/01/2011 at 9:53 am
I’m looking forward to hearing what you think about the collection now! Can you post it up here? The longer I’ve been doing this sort of thing, the more I’ve realised it all just comes down to individual opinions. I REALLY struggled with this one, because I am quite crap at writing about things I like. I’m much more useful when I’ve got a bee in my Austen-esque bonnet. Also, maybe I accidently stole from someone else…
12/01/2011 at 3:21 pm
I’m touched that you read my post! 🙂
I’m planning on posting it after it’s appeared in print. It’s for a uni newspaper, which I believe starts back in March, but keep an eye out and I’ll be posting it here for sure!
I know what you mean, it’s much easier to be articulate about negative responses than positive ones. My positive ones always seems to melt into a big puddle of “it’s just so gooooood!”