The Critic, continued

Freedom Factory

In 2014, I wrote my first experimental book review and I’ve since written seven more, with plans to write as many as I can so long as people keep finding them interesting. Each one is a puzzle to write but I like what they allow me to do, as a form, compared to more traditional criticism. They’re written in third person about a critic, rather than as a critic. Each piece can stand alone, but if they are read sequentially, they show time passing for the critic, and her family, as her career goes on.

The latest review is about Russian author Ksenia Buksha’s novel, “Freedom Factory.” It was published this spring in the online cultural journal, The Critical Flame. Here’s an excerpt, with a link to the full piece below.

The next one will appear this summer in Textshop Experiments. It’s focused on “Aviaries,” a novel by the late Czech author Zuzana Brabcová.

Party On: An experimental review of Freedom Factory

The critic had missed her deadline and couldn’t bring herself to care.

On her couch, with her laptop on the coffee table, she looked at her notes about the book and read a quote: “The factory is a continuation of my father.” Ksenia Buksha had placed it near the end of her book, in one of the more experimental chapters. It had been meant, the critic thought, to convey a sense of something spiritual about the way the place a person works can enter their lifeblood. Continue reading

300-page gorilla

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I recently shared the above photo of a tall stack of small books on Twitter. I enjoyed most of them and think my tastes lately have been running toward the sort of things writers do in a short book versus a long book.

There’s no use in trying to define short book or long book. Yes, there’s its size and page count but that hardly defines it as a book. Reading defines books. In terms of heft and the realities of production costs and potential film rights, in the U.S. so much of the market (we’re told) depends on the 300-page book that anyone who writes fiction is forced to grapple mentally with the meaning of this demanding animal for at least a little while as some kind of arbitrary standard.

The 300-page book’s magical powers are a mystery. If every writer could write one, they would, we are told. Meaning it’s foolish to take it lightly.

Every reader knows what their favorite big-name fantasy, romance, literary fiction, and crime authors will do in a 300-pager. The respective expectations are set. There are infinite possibilities within these templates and I enjoy them. Even if they’re an extra hundred or two hundred pages long, you still know you’re reading a 300-page book when you open it, and if you cross the 600-page mark, no worries. It’s still written in that enjoyable 300-page book prose and the extra 300 pages are probably good for the endurance.

Still, the absurd mystery of why 300-page-books are revered is bound up in money, but only for about 1 out of 10,000 novels. For my money, I can’t get away from liking the shorter books. Most of the very good long books usually could’ve been whittled down to 200 pages and really done something special. Or been pared down drastically into one good essay that cracked a fascist regime in half. Or a poem that led soldiers worldwide to abandon their posts. But these are not lucrative goals.

“Little books” are doing fine, of course, in terms of appearing often on Twitter and in blog posts. I hope their authors are, too. Here’s another photo of a few more.

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Paper Monument

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My, oh my, how the months fly by. Last I posted it was winter and now it’s fall again. Three seasons later, I have three things to share.

I’m very pleased to have published two new story-reviews this year. These are my experimental book reviews, or critifictions, as I call them sometimes. (A friend of mine said he thinks I might have invented this form/genre? Hard to say. Who knows?)

Continue reading

Another Life

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My latest experimental book review is now online at Full Stop. (It originally appeared last year in the Full Stop Quarterly.) It’s part four in an ongoing series of experimental reviews I’m writing about literature in translation. I’ve been publishing them pretty slowly, about once a year. They’re a bit hard to place, being so different from traditional reviews, but I enjoy writing them. Many thanks to Helen Stuhr-Rommereim for believing in this piece and making it happen.

Another Life
On Recitation by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith.

The critic read Suah’s novel, Recitation, on the train to and from a writers conference. At a panel about the art of criticism featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson the discussion turned to writing, the personal process of coming to terms with bias against different sorts of texts, the ways critics develop an approach for each piece. In the audience the critic listened as Jefferson described the nature of critical writing as “giving real coherence to ambiguity,” saying that not unlike a fiction writer a critic must also, “play different parts, very much adjusting your voice,” when interpreting a book’s potential meanings.

Continue reading at Full Stop

 

An interview with Daniel Evans Pritchard

What motivations shape a critic’s decisions to write about the books they defend and those they dismiss? And what are the ethical or moral dimensions of those decisions? Beyond mere conflicts of interest, what lines do they draw for themselves in their work? Are there personal forces or experiences that affect their preferences about what to read and review?

In this ongoing series of interviews with critics, one of the central questions will be, “What is a critic’s role?” It’s a broad question, open-ended, but one which can be used, if the critic chooses, to address the personal side to their lives as critics, and perhaps how they see their work affecting society and culture.

Daniel Evans Pritchard took the time recently via email to talk about some of these questions during a discussion that ranged from his reflections on the effect of focusing solely on writing by women and writers of color for a year to the possible fates of respected literary journals that refuse to address biases in the kind of writing they support.

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An interview with David Winters

What motivations shape a critic’s decisions to write about the books they defend and those they dismiss? And what are the ethical or moral dimensions of those decisions? Beyond mere conflicts of interest, what lines do they draw for themselves in their work? Are there personal forces or experiences that affect their preferences about what to read and review?

In this ongoing series of interviews with critics, one of the central questions will be, “What is a critic’s role?”  It’s a broad question, open-ended, but one which can be used, if the critic chooses, to address the personal side to their lives as critics, and perhaps how they see their work affecting society and culture.

For the second post in this series, I’m very pleased to present an interview with David Winters. Our conversation took place over email in recent months.

David Winters is a literary critic living in Cambridge, England. His reviews, essays and interviews have appeared in a wide variety of print and online publications, including the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Literary Review, The White Review, The Quarterly Conversation, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. A collection of his literary criticism, titled Infinite Fictions, is forthcoming from Zero Books in January 2015; it can be pre-ordered here. He is currently co-editor in chief of 3:AM Magazine, where he commissions criticism and nonfiction. He can be found online at davidwinters.uk.

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An interview with Rohan Maitzen

What is a critic’s role? What motivations shape their decisions to write about the books they defend and those they dismiss? And what are the ethical or moral dimensions of those decisions? Beyond mere conflicts of interest, what lines do they draw for themselves in their work? What personal forces or experiences affect their preferences about what to read and review?

In this ongoing series of interviews with critics, one of the central questions will be, “What is a critic’s role?”  It’s a broad question, open-ended, but one which can be used, if the critic chooses, to address the personal side to their lives as critics, and perhaps how they see their work affecting society and culture.

For the first post in this series, I’m very pleased to present an interview with Rohan Maitzen. Our conversation took place over email in recent months.

Maitzen was born in Berkeley, California, and raised in Vancouver, B.C. After doing her Ph.D. at Cornell she moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she has taught in the English Department at Dalhousie University since 1995. She specializes in Victorian literature; her academic publications include Gender, Genre, and Victorian Historical Writing and The Victorian Art of Fiction: 19th-Century Essays on the Novel. She is an editor and regular contributor at Open Letters Monthly and blogs at Novel Readings.

Maitzen Profile

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