Responding to Reviewers

Conventional wisdom has long dictated that writers aren’t supposed to respond to reviewers—except, perhaps, in cases where egregious errors of fact are involved. But Jack Pendarvis addresses a middling review of his debut novel, Awesome, in the New York Times Book Review sensibly. Which is to say he notes the complaints and preserves his sense of humor. Perhaps only satirists should get to do this:

Then the reviewer ends the paragraph like this, as if she were put up to a dare of some sort: “Fee fie foe fun!” (Exclamation point hers.) I will go out on a limb and say that “‘Fee fie foe fun!’ – The New York Times” is going to be plastered all over the cover of the paperback. So be it! The reviewer is less entranced by my “***** jokes” (WARNING: the “link” is full of racy quotations), of which she gives several examples, some of which, truth be told, appear kind of shameful when they’re laid out there cold on the slab like that. As a counterweight, I’d like to “link” here to some kind words from a feminist (she starts out suspicious but I win her over by the last paragraph) who mentioned some of the same ***** jokes and seemed to appreciate what I was “going for” in context. Why do I feel the need for a “counterweight”? It’s untoward! Nobody likes a whiny writer! No book review is ever good enough for a precious, precious writer like myself! The New York Times reviewer did a fine job!

Related to reviewers and reviewing: I have a post up on the National Book Critics Circle blog, Critical Mass, about writing about books for alternative weeklies. The timing is a bit awkward: I wrote the piece a couple of weeks back, and if I knew then what I know now, perhaps I would have changed a few things. But I do think that the basic point of making oneself flexible as a writer—yes, fine, “media producer”—still stands. If anything, that point is more critical than ever.

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