On Meeting Other People’s Expectations… [A Response]

Over on his website, Abhinav (a great fellow who I have got to know as a reviewer and friend these past couple of years) has written another good post about reviewing and being a part of the online book community. I agree with most of the piece. There was, however, one comment he made that I have long had issue with – he is by no means the only person to have articulated it, but he was the latest to use it. It is also something I think needs to be addressed (and, hopefully, purged from reviewers’ and prospective reviewers’ minds…)

The comment in question:

“You often have to meet people’s expectations of what you should and should not be reading, reviewing, discussing, and so on. I’ve gone through this several times, and is something I’ve blogged on about as well. Because we put ourselves on a pedestal, it gives people the license to call us out. I’ve seen plenty of cases, personally and second-hand, where these instances have gotten out of hand. Not a fun thing to deal with.” [Emphasis mine.]

The text in bold I disagree with. Not because bloggers and reviewers don’t think this, but because they really shouldn’t think this, or approach their blog through other people’s expectations.

Shakespeare-ToBlogOrNotToBlog

See, Shakespeare knew what he was about.
[Image shamelessly pinched from Abhinav’s post…]

A blogger should not review/cover books they think they SHOULD cover. It should only ever be what they WANT to cover. It happens, certainly, that bloggers will take the road that they think is expected of them, and this can manifest itself in a number of ways (one example: praising popular books and authors, regardless of whether or not the reviewer likes their work).

The apparent belief among reviewers (perhaps especially newbies?) that they have to feature certain books and authors is probably why it is so easy to find reviews of certain novels and writers. Sure, it’s nice to be able to engage in discussions about the books a lot of people are talking about, but when you feel you have to keep up with the Joneses? Fuck that.

Read and feature what you WANT to read and discuss. Following the herd, by only reviewing all the hot-topic books, or writing about the latest hot-button issue (whether or not you are able to articulate an interesting and intelligent position or not) is a terrible strategy. It’s also boring: Why become a clone of all the other blogs? Sure, no blog can really hope to be 100% unique (except in voice, perhaps), but there’s no need to follow everyone else in everything.

In the comment thread, some people are also talking about the rate of hits they get, and being one of many shouting into the void to be heard. [Something I discussed in this post, three weeks back. Much of this response is an outgrowth of stuff in that post, actually…]

Cardinal Rule of Blogging/Reviewing: don’t blog/review for attention. It won’t work. Do what you want, how you want. If you’re good at it, then people will come to your site organically and through word of mouth. Honesty – in your opinions and also taste – are the only expectation of others’ that you should keep in mind.

As for “we put ourselves on a pedestal”… I’m not sure if I’m getting Abhinav’s meaning right, but I don’t believe (most) bloggers do this. Others may put their favourite, or prominent bloggers on a pedestal, or hold them in high regard but, as I mentioned in the above-linked post, we should always be considered, first and foremost, as fans who have taken the time to write about what we love. We’re a vocal lot, basically, and the internet allows us a platform to publish what we want to say. If people like what they find on our various blogs and platforms, then great. But I don’t believe we hold ourselves in any great position of esteem or influence. [At least, I don’t, and I think it would be very unhealthy for others to do so…]

But yeah. Otherwise, a great post, and I think a lot more people should be reading Abhinav’s stuff – he produces a hell of a lot of quality content, from reviews (fiction and comics) to editorials/opinion pieces. Some of his comic reviews have appeared on Civilian Reader, too.

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Most recently, Abhinav has also had his first piece of fiction published, in the Manifesto UF anthology.

Various-ManifestoUF

The collection features stories by Lucy A. Snyder, Jeff Salyards [review], William Meikle, Teresa Frohock [review], Zachary Jernigan, Betsy Dornbusch, Kirk Dougal, Karina Fabian, Adam Millard, Timothy Baker, Ryan Lawler, Andrew Moczulski, R.L. Treadway, Abhinav Jain, TSP Sweeney, Nickolas Sharps, Jonathan Pine, Kenny Soward, Joshua S. Hill, Jake Elliot, Lincoln Crisler, J.M. Martin, & Wilson Geiger

Go check out his site, you’ll probably find something you like.

On Strong Female Characters & Sherlock Holmes’s Modern Successor?

First up, a hat-tip to Abhinav for sharing the link on Facebook, which is where I spotted it [everyone should check out his reviews on his blog, on Founding Fields, and follow him on Twitter].

Sophia McDougall has written a very good piece for the New Statesman, with an attention-grabbing headline: “I hate Strong Female Characters”. It’s an interesting article, and addresses what a lot of society views as a ‘Strong Female Character’, and the double-standards that exist when characterising a hero or heroine as ‘strong’. The whole article is well worth reading, so off you go and read it…

One paragraph in the piece got me thinking. Not really about the topic of the article, but something related to an example McDougall used to make part of her argument:

“Is, say, Sherlock Holmes strong? In one sense, yes, of course. He faces danger and death in order to pursue justice. On the other hand, his physical strength is often unreliable – strong enough to bend an iron poker when on form, he nevertheless frequently has to rely on Watson to clobber his assailants, at least once because he’s neglected himself into a condition where he can’t even try to fight back. His mental and emotional resources also fluctuate. An addict and a depressive, he claims even his crime-fighting is a form of self-medication. Viewed this way, his willingness to place himself in physical danger might not be ‘strength’ at all – it might be another form of self-destructiveness. Or on the other hand, perhaps his vulnerabilities make him all the stronger, as he succeeds in surviving and flourishing in spite of threats located within as well without.”

This made me wonder if there were any female characters that I’d read (recently or otherwise), who maybe adhered more to this archetype of (anti-)hero. And, I actually think I’ve come up with a speculative-fiction contender for the modern successor of Sherlock Holmes. There is, after all, a female character who can be described similarly to McDougall’s Sherlock. To reiterate:

“Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius.”

Who am I talking about? Chess Putnam, from Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series (published by Voyager in the UK and Del Rey in the US).

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Downside Ghosts UK Covers

Chess is an addict, she is a gifted (supernatural) detective, she can be alternately abrasive and vulnerable, she can handle herself in a fight (against ghosts and against corporeal antagonists). She sometimes manipulates those around – on the job, but also as a way of hiding her substance abuse. She’s certainly brave, charging ahead into situations that would make me bug out, screaming like a petrified kitten. Even regarding the more ‘mundane’ elements in the above description, Chess can tick them off: Bohemian (she lives in a converted church on the wrong side of the tracks), vain, neurotic, untidy, and fastidious (in her spell-making, for example). I haven’t yet seen anything that suggests Chess is quite a “polymath genius”, but she has a considerable breadth of skills. At the same time, sometimes Chess needs help from “sidekicks”, and has a couple of her own Watsons – most notably Trouble Terrible,* who she does not always treat well or fairly.

So. There we have it. Chess Putnam is our contemporary Sherlock Holmes. Anyone have any other suggestions who could fill that role?

Downside Ghosts Series: Unholy Ghosts, Unholy Magic, City of Ghosts, Sacrificial Magic, Chasing Magic

Downside Short Stories: Finding Magic, Wrong Ways Down, Home, Close To You

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* Update: The original version of this post got the name wrong. Apologies to Stacia!

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Incidentally, Sophia McDougall is the author of the Romanitas trilogy – Romanitas, Rome Burning, and Savage City (published by Gollancz) – which you should all be sure to read, as well.

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