Skip to main content

Reviewing With Invisible Friends





Reviewing with Invisible Friends

by: Hubert O’Hearn
Dec. 16, 2011


Yes well, the title of this essay may be a trifle misleading. I’d actually thought of a back-breakingly long one: The Invisible Life of the Distant Book Reviewer. Now that would be just grand if I was about to pitch a movie to Pedro Almodovar, but I’m not. Instead I’m writing pieces that have to be Twitter acceptable. At 32 characters it leaves just enough room for the url plus a come hither hashmark. To be concise is the Twitter haiku.

However, I got to thinking about something quite particularly today. The news had come across last night about the death of Christopher Hitchens and I’d written a memorial this morning, sent it in to my editors, published it and was busily sharing it around. And it occurred to me that I had never met in person a good 90% of the people I felt close enough to personally or professionally to share a subject very close to my heart - I idolized Hitchens.

I’m quite sure I’m not alone in this, nor do I think it placed me in the company of crazed loners who in earlier times would have spent their off-hours plotting assassinations. Now they stay at home and post humorous pictures of cats on Facebook. The internet is nothing if it isn’t at least a shiny, music-playing Fisher-Price toy for the borderline mentally deficient. (Now there’s an advertising slogan those smarty-pants boys at Apple never thought of!)

However, on the great Venn diagram of humanity, I think the only arc shared between me and the basement creatures is that we both spend a lot of time on the internet. My excuse (and I am sticking to it) is that this situation of developing close relationships with people who I literally would not recognize if they came to the door is a direct outcome of writing and in particular book reviewing.

One develops these close relationships - and I’ll get to whether or not these actually are close relationships in a moment - with three general groupings of people. The publicists are key. In a rough tie are the authors, along with the Editor/Publishers. Granted actual visual contact would be much more likely with those who live in the same city. I happen to live in the land where Nowhere goes to hide. Regardless, I believe that urban overlap would only alter the percentages and not the structure. It’s not like you would go banging on doors every week of every month.They have security guards for that sort of thing. Plus you’d be broke, starving and permanently drunk if you went to all the wine and cheese book signings, cocktail parties, fund-raisers and comments floating through the air like, ‘You do like wearing that outfit a lot, now don’t you?’ As Great Britain found with the English Channel, a little distance can save you from uncomfortable invasions.




Now I do believe that these are close relationships. I’ve found over the years that I can learn much more about a person by taking one long look at their bookshelf than by looking over their refrigerator magnet collage. Rifling through the wallet, purse and/or medicine cabinet is best; however those deeds will get you arrested. So with the publicists then, for the relationship to work well, there has to be a nearly-intimate exchange of tastes. At the least, a general matrix gets formed as to what each other likes by measuring the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) of the eventual review. How many of your, shall we say, three-dimensional friends really know your tastes? Have you looked at your recent birthday presents lately?

In much the same way, the reviewer does get to know some authors quite well. I would say particularly well with the newer, usually younger authors that I want to give a push to. There are editors out there who think any such relationship is as bad as bribing the high school quarterback with tattooed hookers and a cigarette boat the night before The Big Game. I say that’s nonsense. What if an author I thought of as a friend wrote a book that I hated? If the book was not assigned to me by a publication, I wouldn’t review it. Simple as that. If it was assigned, then I bear the duty to the public of honesty...phrased as kindly as I could. It hasn’t come up. Yet.

Finally, there is inevitably going to be a kindred-ness between reviewer and editor for that relationship to work at all. There are elements of style (first person usage, pungent humour, level of syntax) which if held in common I believe indicate likely well-matched personalities. I read about an hour or two ago Martin Amis’ line, ‘Style is not neutral; it gives moral directions.’ Precisely in thought, and phrased precisely too.

In any event and to sum up - it’s actually quite pleasant. The beauty of these email, message, occasionally Skype-based relationships is that one always can look one’s best...and you can eat a sandwich while doing business. That may be a lame ending, but honestly, haven’t we gone far enough?

Be seeing you! Merry Christmas!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Blocks by Karl Parkinson

The Blocks

Karl Parkinson (New Binary Press 2016, Trade Paperback) 274 pages, cover price N/A

There's a tremendous irony in our lives you know, and it is one as large and predominant as the oxygen we breathe yet equally as invisible, equally ignored; an irony as imperceptible as the blood within our veins that itself only comes to our notice when the skin breaks and the blood trickles free before we hide the wound with a bandage and secure the blood back where it belongs. That irony is this: Our most basic desire, expressed in equal parts of hope and fear, is that we want to continue to live. And why? Because we want our individual lives to be different than what they are.
Karl Parkinson's first novel, The Blocks is a mad, tragic, stylish and daring exploration into that self-same need to survive and yet to change. The Blocks of the title themselves are neither those of the prison nor a child's alphabet; at least not literally although the reader may rightly infer those meta…

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Nutshell
Ian McEwan (Knopf Canada edition 2016, Hard Cover) 197 pages, $29.95 cover price
We have to talk about the concept first. Oh I had a long and lively internal debate about it, you can be sure of that. After all, all books have concepts that we accept without too much fuss – talking animals, sentient corpses, thought-filled trees, the whole Harrod's bought stuffed menagerie of Winnie the Pooh carrying on like a picnic gathering of the British Women's Institute with special invited guests from the Royal Society of St George – we accept all of those without too much fuss. I've even admitted to sniffing up a tear or two over The Brave Little Toaster, so if one can be moved by a bloody kitchen appliance then why not a sentient foetus as the central character of Ian McEwan's Nutshell?It probably won't surprise you that I have a theory to go with that, slightly more substantial than an amuse-bouche if not quite a meal in itself. My thinking is that we go with the ta…

White and Red Cherries by Tanja Tuma

White and Red Cherries: A Slovenian Civil War Novel

Tanja Tuma (Self-published 2016, Trade paperback) 301 pages with glossary and bibliography, cover price n/a
It dawned on me like a thunder strikes a tree: this petite young girl embodies a mission, her reason to exist. Every one of us embodies his mission by what he does. We are what we do. Not chemical elements, but our deeds define our being. We are neither the faith we trust in God, nor the love we give and take. The least of what we are is the genetic code we get from our parents, which in turn lives on in our descendants. No. We are what we do at this moment in this bloody world. Our deeds can defy eternity. They can mirror our will and freedom forever. Those words are thoughts by the elderly Martin, born during the Second World War and raised by the partisan heroine Valeria Batič as her son, when his natural mother Ada quite literally tossed her baby from a train window to Valeria as the train pulled out for Vienna. Ada you see w…