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Posts Tagged ‘The Millions’

Lately, there is a lot of kerfluffle about the future of the book review. HuffPost had an article where major critics commented on the relevance of the book review today Anis Shivani: Book Reviews: Major Critics Speak On How To Keep Them Relevant (PHOTOS). The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog has commentary by Mary Halford on Zadie Smith’s new post as reviewer of books at Harper’s. Over on The Millions, novelist (and reviewer) Emily St. John Mandel talks about how she handles bad reviews.  The Millions : On Bad Reviews. A blow to my heart, New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger talks about the problems with memoirs The Problem With Memoirs – NYTimes.com. Why all the fuss?

It seems the Internet is changing the way books are reviewed. No longer is it a choice of either questionable reviews on Amazon or long, well-crafted critiques in newspapers such as The New York Times or the UK’s Guardian. Now, we have bloggers — anyone from the more widely read HuffPost Books, The Book Beast, The Millions and The Book Bench to smaller sites such as Sparkling Reviews, Nancy Pearl and Beth Fish Reads. How does a reader sift through all of these opinions to determine which books to buy?

Bloggers are getting their opinions out there while helping promote authors who might otherwise miss out on an audience, but does the quality of the review suffer?  It seems these bloggers are democratizing the process of choosing books for the public, taking the choice from a select few albeit high quality reviewers and broadening the number of books represented.

Zadie Smith, in her new position at Harper’s is trying to address this change. She believes the book review is being reinvented thanks to the Internet. She’s even chosen the more middlebrow title of reviewer because she will review three to four books per month in 2000 words or less rather than the longer pieces traditionally put forth by critics who use the space to make big arguments and to put more of themselves into the pieces. Now, readers want shorter reviews without compromising on quality. Currently, quality can suffer and even worse an inconsiderate reader has the power to post a negative review and wreak considerable damage. However, readers enjoy the intimacy of the Internet where they might befriend a writer from anywhere in the world within minutes. Interestingly, although Smith is addressing changes wrought by the Internet, her online reviews will be available by paid subscription only.

An organic curation process seems to be happening where talented bloggers are rising to the top, but it still feels a little like the Wild West out in the book review blogosphere. I’d love to learn where all of you go for your trusted reviews. Please drop me a comment and I’ll be sure to check out your trusted reader sites.

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Thought Bubble

Cathy Day’s post The Millions : The Story Problem: 10 Thoughts on Academia’s Novel Crisis got me thinking today. In it she argues we are not having a renaissance of the short story. It is simply that MFA programs focus on short stories rather than novels mainly because it is a more manageable form for both teacher and student. Thus, writing programs produce students who are wary of writing novels.

Since graduating from an MFA program, I’ve often wished I had learned more about structuring a longer body of work. Although I did learn a lot about writing in general at my university (which was in Australia, so I’m not sure how well it correlates to the American MFA experience) including theory classes and broad-brush exposure to multiple genres ( scriptwriting, short story, poetry, YA) it would have helped to have a class that addressed the novel or memoir.

So, the hard work of learning how to structure a long piece fell to me. My self-directed course in writing memoir has included reading the greats: Mary Karr, both Wolff brothers, Dave Eggers, Jeannette Walls and some other up-and-comers including Laura Munson and Kelly Corrigan. I also troll countless blogs looking for advice (or is this simply procrastination). Ironically, one of the most helpful posts was a speech given by a YA literary agent, Cheryl Klein. Her thoughts on Harry Potter helped enormously. Finally, I read books on the craft of writing memoir. Currently, ‘The Art of Time in Memoir’ by Sven Birkerts sits on my bedside table. Two years ago this book wouldn’t have made much sense to me. Now it has me running to my manuscript to add elements of Birkert’s strategies.

Recently, I signed up for the Monster Memoir Workshop with Rachel Howard at The Grotto in San Francisco so that I can have my 100 or so pages critiqued by a small group of writers. I’m hoping to get advice regarding the overall message of my book, the characters I’ve developed and the balance between showing readers Australia and letting them into my life. I’ll let you know how I go…

So, I agree with Cathy Day that a place needs to be made in MFA programs for students who would like to write longer pieces. However, I’m not sure anyone has the time. Teachers are too busy teaching and writing short stories because they don’t have enough time for their own novels! Or, could this just be another stage in the looooooong process of learning to write? Perhaps I would have been overwhelmed with lectures about BIG novels. Maybe the overview I received was just right. What do you think?

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