Richard Herley writes:
I feel that all contributors should mark the following. It is part of the email Mr Kelly sent with his submission:
|When the thing takes off, perhaps you could get people to do some anonymous reviews in the style of great reviewers deceased. I myself can do a passable George Orwell when my blood is up.
Secondly, when you start inviting real reviewers to contribute, as well as getting literary heavyweights, perhaps you could also invite book reviewers from specialist magazines such as "Angler's Weekly" or "Breville Sandwich Toaster Monthly", the sort of publications they use for the caption competition on "Have I Got News For You". It might be fun to get the sort of review that Lady Chatterley got from (I think it was) "Gardening Monthly" or something, saying something like, "I was disappointed by the lack of references to composting techniques...this book is interesting in parts but is no substitute for the Gardening Handbook." Or, again, you could get people to fake such reviews, but the real thing might be better. Perhaps magazines connected to things mentioned, if briefly, in existing reviews, e.g. "Benzene Monthly" or something. Just an idle thought.'
Mr Kelly is much too modest. These thoughts are by no means idle and require elaboration.
Any writer worth his salt can do impressions. As a teenager I could do quite a good Ian Fleming and once passed myself off as J. P. Donleavy for several pages on the trot. I eagerly await Mr Kelly's George Orwell. I might even try my hand at Franz Kafka -- not in German, which I barely know, but in the manner of his translators, Willa and Edwin Muir. I wonder how they managed to get that particular voice in English. Did Edwin do the donkey-work of translation and Willa polish things up? Or did they collaborate all the way? What bizarre conversations passed across the marital pillow? I should imagine that of all Kakfa's stories, The Burrow must be the least aphrodisiac.
Where was I?
Ah yes. The people in publishers' offices who write blurbs have been known to ape the style of the novel they are promoting. And what of the tyro author, unduly burdened by his influences, who has yet to find his own style? Again, which of us, in youth at least, has not emerged from the cinema imagining we are the hero? The degree to which a work of art affects our vision of the world is in direct proportion to our liking for it. (A corollary is that we can only be permanently influenced by art we like, but that's by the by.)
So the extent to which the style of a review imitates that of the book reviewed tells us quite a bit about the critic's real feelings about his subject; and the extent to which our reviews begin to resemble one another as the project unfolds will reflect the spirit of our community.
Given a wet afternoon, one might devise a simple equation to measure what I shall call the 'Coefficient of Mutual Critical Hostility', (0 = no hostility, 9 = maximum). A language analyser could then be put to work on these web-pages to calculate a running figure. At this inchoate stage I would deem our figure to be unhealthily low. It needs to come up, up! But not necessarily as far as the CMCH found in the press, which operates under a different paradigm.
We mustn't forget that Hofstadter's original proposal did relate to the press. To replicate that environment I hereby encourage bickering, dissent and threats of litigation; but draw the line at physical violence, which of course is what happens when language fails. (Acknowledgement to W. H. Auden for that thought.)
Hence if you think that, say, Metamorphosis or even The Trial is less aphrodisiac than The Burrow, please feel free to express your views impolitely -- but look to your verbal defence!
And please do submit reviews in the style of deceased reviewers.
(2) Obscure sources
Mr Kelly's suggestion in this regard is extremely valuable, though I regret to inform him that 'Breville Sandwich Toaster Monthly' has for some time been amalgamated with 'What Poptart?'
Since we don't know what Reviews of this Book is about, we don't know what sort of publication it should be reviewed in. At the moment, "Psychiatry Today" seems a suitable candidate.
Look here, I can't do all the work of soliciting reviews myself. For one thing I am too lazy. If you know of some particularly recondite publication, do please email its editor with a request. We want our book to speak to as many readers as possible. Why should we limit our horizon to the literary pages of the Sunday papers?
(3) Fake reviews (as opposed to those purporting to come from deceased reviewers)
I see no reason why we shouldn't have them. The lamented Joe Orton and his hammer-wielding lover embarked on a career of forgery at their local library (in Hornsey, North London, if my memory serves). Their target: innocent dustjackets. For instance, the blurb and bio on one how-to on rose culture (by some moustachioed colonel, retired) was altered, with steadily decreasing subtleness as one read, to the most alarming effect, leaving the prospective borrower with the impression that the book in his hand would teach him all he could ever wish to know about certain depravities which I blush to enumerate in mixed company. A famous prosecution ensued. Doctored books continued turning up for years, even after Orton's death.
Literary forgery (as opposed to the financial sort) can be creative and funny and I think everyone should encourage these qualities. After all, without them one ends up wearing a dressing-gown like Osama bin Laden's.
The only condition I must sadly attach, for obvious reasons, is you do NOT misrepresent yourself as a living person.
Enough editorializing: back to the reviews!