Myriad Thoughts On (un)Professionalism, DNFs, Why Do We Do It, What Value We Have, and ultimately a FFS…

[Or: I’m having a bit of a grumble, as insomnia keeps me awake in the wee hours…]

A courageously anonymous commenter has got me thinking about this whole blogging lark. Specifically, the idea of bloggers being “professional” or, more commonly, “unprofessional” when their opinion doesn’t conform to your own. I’ve also been thinking more about the comment Anne Rice made on Facebook, and which I in turn commented on earlier in the week, about the power of reviewers.

I have been reviewing things I loved (and some things I loathed or felt indifferent about) since before blogs really were a thing. I used to print a monthly music magazine when I was in university – interestingly, its name, MWRI, is a Terry Pratchett reference (“Music With Rocks In”, from the excellent Soul Music). It was a fanzine. It took a lot of work, cajoling, personal expense, and printer cartridges to get noticed by record labels and, eventually, to receive free advance albums, gig tickets, and interview opportunities. Then I discovered Blogger, and eventually blogs became a Thing. They Arrived. Record labels, publishers, and more took notice. Some blogs, the busier and earlier ones, have massive followings relative to their newer peers (I don’t like using the term “competitors”).

But. I think, perhaps self-deprecatingly or -consciously, newer blogs (especially since the explosion in numbers) have impact collectively rather than individually. Largely, this is because much of our readership is comprised of the choir to which we preach. I think this is good. It generates debate, discussion, and it can create change – or, at the very least, disseminate change-making ideas and opinions.

This is how review blogs have value: collectively, they paint a picture of how a novel, album, movie, TV series, or who-knows-what-else is received from a diverse cross-section of the reading/viewing/consuming public. I do not believe a single blog review can have a massive impact on a novel’s or album’s success. Newspapers and magazines, however, can have a great impact on whether or not a novel can be a success or not – or, perhaps, if it can become a mega-seller or phenomenon, etc. (Not exclusively, of course, as there are plenty of examples of word-of-mouth successes.) There is, I believe a good reason for individual blogs not having as much impact as some people seem to think.

That relates, in part, to the idea of “professionalism”. I don’t know of any blogger who considers themselves a professional reviewer, unless they also contribute to syndicated columns, or outfits with money behind them (national newspapers and the like). Above all, bloggers do what they do because they are fans. Fans of a genre, or a particular media, or even a particular author/artist/director/or whatever. We come from all walks of life – academics, government employees, techies, teachers, bricklayers, accountants, even writers and other creative types, to name but a few. I don’t think any (ok, just to be careful, many) would consider ourselves anything other than fans, who want to write about and discuss their passions. This indicates a level of non-professionalism, which may (in my opinion) reduce the level of impact we can have on an individual basis.

The “amateur” status of blogs, therefore, should always be remembered. If a blogger, on their personal blog, writes something about a book, movie, album, or whatever that they didn’t like, or were unable to finish because it was in some way flawed in their opinion, then… Well, it’s their right to do so. To do so is by no means “wrong” or “unprofessional”. It is their opinion. There is probably nothing that irritates reviewers more than anonymous commenters who “concede” that we “have the right to our opinion”, only to then attempt the internet equivalent of a bitch-slap.

It shows a stunning lack of impulse control, arrogance that we need their permission to write what we want on the internet, and a strange belief that we seem to have great power. Which we do not. Nor do we believe we do, on an individual basis. (At least, I hope not…)

Are there “unprofessional” things a blogger can,do? Certainly. Lying, for example. Or misquoting, misattributing, and plagiarising. These are more unethical, though, and are wrong in every walk of life and not just professional environments.

That being said, after you’ve been around long enough, and assuming you’re not a complete asshole or troll (or both), you’ll acquire something of a readership. Whether it’s massive or miniscule, you develop a belief in what your readers want. Mostly, in my experience, they want honesty, regardless of what that honesty is. Don’t like a book? They’d rather you wrote that, instead of lying or dissembling, just to keep in with the cool kids, avoid hurting someone’s feelings, or avoid pissing off publishers just so you can stay on their review lists. People can smell bullshit a mile off. It doesn’t wash.

Now, those hard truths also have to be backed up. If you just spend a post slagging off a writer or their work, but never give a coherent reason, then you’ll probably be written off as a crazy lunatic troll. Rightly so. But, if you state an opinion, explain why you reached that opinion (with some allowance for hyperbole in both negative and positive situations), then you’ve done what your review is supposed to do. No reviewer owes readers, writers, publishers any more than their honest opinion. That’s it. And nobody has any justification to pick up a loudhailer, or hit the CapsLock and scream (anonymously) YOU’RE WRONG MOTHERFUCKER YOU DESERVE TO BURN IN HELL BECAUSE THE VOICES TOLD ME SO! That shit will just make people pity you. Or, if you keep hammering away at it in repeated comments, we might think you’re actually the author, a member of the author’s family, or someone connected to their publisher… Which is most likely not the case. But we’re suspicious bastards, and there are plenty of instances of it actually being true…

Someone said on Twitter that this sort of behaviour would make them boycott an author, if their fans acted this way. I don’t think this is a good idea. I think no book can truly be judged from a review (despite some reviewers’ exceptional writing abilities and talent). And certainly no author should be punished for a single fan’s… exuberance. By definition, every review is suspect: they are opinionated, bias, flawed. Many have stated agendas (some bizarre, most understandable and/or rational). But they are pure opinion.

A reviewer who believes s/he has written the definitive word on a novel, album, or movie displays a towering, misplaced arrogance. Thankfully, I believe the vast majority recognise that we are each just one of a cacophony of voices attempting to be heard (some try much harder than others) over the even greater (perhaps greatest) cacophony that is the internet.

So yeah. Let’s all learn that “disagrees with me” is not the same as “unprofessional”. Because really all you’re doing by throwing that accusation around is proving that you’re illiterate. Or connected to the person who created whatever’s being reviewed. Or off your meds.

So just knock it off, engage the filter, and exercise some self-control. You’re giving Anonymous people a bad name everywhere.

Craig Ferguson Interviews Stephen Fry (back in 2010). It was Really Interesting…

I’m going to share this video without any commentary, save that it was really interesting, and I like them both as actors, comedians, and interview subjects. They spend a fair amount talking about depression, manic depression, alcoholism. And internet trolling. It’s something they both know a fair bit about. It’s a frank conversation. Really good. Enjoy.

Reviews, Debuts, Vampires, A Different Time…

Rice-InterviewWithTheVampire1I have been a fan of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles ever since I picked up Interview with the Vampire in 1999. I was living in New York at the time, and I went to Barnes & Noble on 51st & Lexington (in the CitiCorp Building), and came across the series. Even though I hadn’t read any of the novels, by this point I had seen the movie, starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, and a scene-stealing Kirsten Dunst. I really enjoyed it (and still do), so I thought I’d give the series a try. I proceeded to read all of the volumes then in print, and then bought each new book on day of release.

I didn’t think the first novel was perfect, and I found the fact that it was written as a conversation slightly strange – I was young and not very well-read or refined at the time. Nevertheless, it planted the seed that has had me eagerly await any new book by Anne Rice ever since. I consider the first two sequels, The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned, as one of my five favourite novels of all time (I can’t read one without immediately reading the next, so I consider them as a single book).

Time to get to the point of the post: I have also been reviewing books for almost seven years, and movies and music for a few years more than that. I therefore found this post on Anne Rice’s Facebook feed, attached to a link, rather interesting:

Interview with the Vampire was actually a flop when it was published, severely hurt by a negative New York Times review by Leo Braudy. I’m not sure a review can kill a book today. But this was 1976, a different world. And a first novel, especially a very unusual one, was I think tragically vulnerable to the power of the Times… Now 37 years later Interview is (I’m grateful to say) an unqualified success and is still in print in hardcover as well as in paperback…

Rice-InterviewWithTheVampire2Sadly, the review is behind the New York Times pay-wall (which I still couldn’t read, despite supposedly having access to a specific number of articles per month…). Nevertheless, and perhaps a little strangely, Barnes & Noble’s listing for the book has the following quotation from Leo Braudy, apparently from “Books of the Century, The New York Times, May, 1976”:

“Anne Rice’s publishers mention the Collector and the Other, but it is really The Exorcist to which Interview with the Vampire should be compared, and both novelist William Peter Blatty and filmmaker William Friedkin, whatever their faults did it much better… The publicity tells us Rice is a ‘dazzling storyteller.’ But there is no story here, only a series of sometimes effective but always essentially static tableaus out of Roger Corman films, and some self-conscious soliloquizing out of Spider-Man comics, all wrapped in a ballooning, pompous language.”

I thought it was interesting that Rice said she’s “not sure a review can kill a book today”. I think she’s probably right. Not only is the internet allowing critiques, criticism and praise to spread all over the world, but also the fact that negative reviews only seem to generate extra interest in books. Take two (admittedly unusual) examples: 50 Shades of Grey, or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (which got, effectively, a bad review from the Vatican = publisher’s Holy Grail).

I also think Braudy is wrong his statement that “there is no story” in the novel. There’s quite a lot, actually. Yes, it’s “static”: it’s a book-length interview. What was he expecting? I don’t understand the Spider-Man connection, but it stands out, no? I don’t know the other references he presents, so I can’t speak to those. The connection to The Exorcist is an interesting one, but I don’t know either the book or movie version of that story well enough.

I’m sure this would have been a more interesting post if I’d had access to the review, but there we go [and if I hadn’t been writing it during a bout of insomnia, at 3:30am]. I’ll keep trying to get the text, and see if it adds anything to the discussion. Or, at the very least, offer some interesting quotations from it as/when I find them.

What do you think? Can negative reviews kill books today? If not, why not?

Dead Cat Bounce… [Musical Interlude]

DEAD CAT BOUNCE – I learned about this band today. I went to school with the lead singer. Haven’t spoken to him since school (too many years ago to admit to…). This is kinda surreal. But they’re funny, and actually talented… So check ’em out.

First, a song for Movember…

Propaganda & Politics – When Historical Images Remain Relevant

I was at the British Library’s Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition last week. I highly recommend anyone within easy reach of London visit the exhibition (open until September 17th). There are a good number of excellent displays, and even a couple that are relevant to content that has appeared on Civilian Reader. I’m putting together a longer post about a specific piece in the exhibition, but I thought I’d share another of my favourites here today. Namely, “Freedom American-Style” by B. Prorokov (1971):

FreedomAmericanStyle-1971-BProrokov

I shared this over on Politics Reader, too, but I thought some readers of this blog might also find it interesting. According to the British Library’s page on the poster:

“… New York’s famous Statue of Liberty is parodied as a look-out tower for the American police to observe its people, mocking the idea that it is a symbol of freedom. The poster attacks and subverts American propaganda that promoted the idea of the democratic freedom of the West.”

Given the considerable prison population in the United States, it would appear that Prorokov’s piece retains contemporary relevance, and probably will for quite some time to come…

“Cuckoo’s Calling” Art an Homage to Hellblazer? Also, some BAD Journalism.

Not sure why, but the cover art for Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling makes me think of Vertigo Comics’ John Constantine/Hellblazer covers.

Galbraith-CuckoosCalling

The shadowy figure scuttling away, the antique lamppost, the fire-like smog/smoke, the iron wrought fence, London… Ok, so the colour palette is a shade more chirpy than John Constantine’s covers, but if you were to darken it and swap out the birds for bats… Think it would work brilliantly. Below is the closest Hellblazer cover I could find after an admittedly very brief Googling session (by Simon Bisley)…

Hellblazer-SimonBisleyCover

Incidentally, we were finally able to get a copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling (since the big reveal, all of my local booksellers have an abundance of copies), and Alyssa blitzed through it in a single day. She said it was really good. I’ll try to get to it in the next couple of weeks, but I can’t promise anything. (Too. Many. Awesome. Books. To. Read.)

Also, in related news, the article in last week’s Sunday Times about the revelation that “Robert Galbraith” was really JK Rowling was the worst bit of journalism I’ve read in a long while. The article is behind the pay-wall, but here are two choice bits that irked me. First of all, the author of the piece was really scraping the barrel, claiming Rowling-as-Galbraith was an elementary deduction, making the article little more than a piece of I-Am-More-Awesomely-Deductive-Than-Thou puffery. The “killer clue” that tipped them off? Yeah, someone told her outright! But after that, the journalist insists,

“Of course it was JK Rowling. There are only two female authors who could write convincingly about the excesses of super-rich, super-glamorous London… There are only two female authors who could write totally persuasively about being chased by paparazzi and write compassionately about being famous. One is Zadie Smith; the other is JK Rowling. I know Zadie and I knew it wasn’t her…”

So, a nice spot of celebrity name-dropping, and a single-handed writing off of 99.99% of female authors who may wish to ever write about high society in the UK. The Sunday Times has spoken: you will never do it convincingly. If you are male? Well, forget it, too. According to the author of the ST piece, men can’t write women well enough or convincingly. The idea that a debut author couldn’t have done this? Unbelievable. The article got worse, however:

“It all became so obvious: the themes of the books are Rowling’s and are subjects she addressed in last year’s The Casual Vacancy – and in the Harry Potter books: noble small people; ghastly, spoilt wealthy ones; social injustice; race; poverty; being in the wrong family…”

So, going by this ‘logic’, Rowling also wrote Gossip Girl… These are universal, as-old-as-time literary themes, and are not the sole (or even rare) province of Hogwarts…

So, uh, This Really Doesn’t Sound Any Good…

Colfer-W1-ReluctantAssassin

While on Goodreads last night, I stumbled across this upcoming book, the first in Artemis Fowl-author Eoin Colfer’s new series: THE RELUCTANT ASSASSIN (W.A.R.P. #1). The novel will be published by Puffin in UK, and Disney Hyperion in US. Its synopsis is one of the most underwhelming I have ever read…

Riley, a teen orphan boy living in Victorian London, has had the misfortune of being apprenticed to Albert Garrick, an illusionist who has fallen on difficult times and now uses his unique conjuring skills to gain access to victims’ dwellings. On one such escapade, Garrick brings his reluctant apprentice along and urges him to commit his first killing. Riley is saved from having to commit the grisly act when the intended victim turns out to be a scientist from the future, part of the FBI’s Witness Anonymous Relocation Program (WARP) Riley is unwittingly transported via wormhole to modern day London, followed closely by Garrick.

In modern London, Riley is helped by Chevron Savano, a seventeen-year-old FBI agent sent to London as punishment after a disastrous undercover, anti-terrorist operation in Los Angeles. Together Riley and Chevie must evade Garrick, who has been fundamentally altered by his trip through the wormhole. Garrick is now not only evil, but he also possesses all of the scientist’s knowledge. He is determined to track Riley down and use the timekey in Chevie’s possession to make his way back to Victorian London where he can literally change the world.

Never before have I read a synopsis for a published novel that was this problematic. First of all, I’m not sure about the trend (or, at least, the beginnings of a trend) in YA novels featuring protagonists that are assassins is a particularly inspired one.

Next up: The FBI are operating in London? Really? They’re the department in charge of domestic US law enforcement! At the very least, Colfer could have picked the CIA, which would have been at least a little bit believable… The clunkiest attempt I’ve seen to keep a novel set in the UK “American accessible/friendly”. And a 17-year-old FBI agent? Sorry, no.

Finally: that steampunk-esque cover on the right isn’t going to fool anyone… The inclusion of Victorian-era characters does not a Steampunk novel make.

If I read this on submission, from a would-be-debut author, I would reject it out of hand. Given the author, I can only hope this is a case of “Someone Doesn’t Know How to Write Synopses”, but if I’m honest I still don’t care.

Make Your Own Superman “S”/Glyph…!

So. This is utterly silly, but also really cool. I’m a massive Superman fan (the Christopher Reeves videos must have been worn out in our house, when I was a kid). With the upcoming Man of Steel re-boot, Warner Bros. have put up a rather nifty, totally geeky app: the Glyph Generator! Make your own “S”! Here’s mine…

shield_1370194085353

There’s also the option to add your glyph to a photo. I totally would have done this, if there were any decent pictures of me in an appropriate pose. Thankfully for the world, there wasn’t…

First Rule of Beard Club

This is just a funny… episode(?) of BEARDO, one of my favourite daily comic strips:

bdo130530

Beardo is by Dan Dougherty. I only discovered the strip a little while ago, but I’m loving the gentle sense of humour. There have also been some great sequences – the series from April 15th-28th was really great (a little bit about the creative process, and the value of, well, taking a walk home…).