Sunday, April 5, 2009

Book Reviews and Personal Culture/Canon

"Writers who are familiar with classic literary works are better able to engage with the ideas deemed most relevant to a culture." Well, yeah sort of, but I think this concept is a big load of propoganda that diverts us from an understanding of, "Who's culture?" Most often in these canonical reading lists I find quite certainly the culture that is identified and pushed is not mine. The ideas deemed relevant may not be relevant to me, though I am sure it is relevant to a drunken Robinson if I slip my lift-boy tips into Robinson's pocket.

Show me please, I ask of these lists, What is my culture?

For me a good book review is a writer’s review of a writer’s work, and as such it is not meant as an uber-analysis, best-of, recommended that the world buy this and read this for the purpose of a publisher's marketing department to enhance sales of product, but an explication of why I, as a writer, would appreciate or learn something from this or that writer’s book, and why I may propose that other writers, or curious (dare I say discerning) readers, may want to read a particular book.

Yesterday my wife and I discussed around the futility of critical words to ever recreate the essence of a work of art, to which eventually I agreed once I had a clue what it was that we were discussing. The variations of human experience are multiple and if not unique to each individual at least they make a good show to appear unexpected. Critique is an artifice conditioned by our talent, and in some cases training, to observe ourselves in the process of observing and to be able to articulate that experience.

In a world that works so desperately to depersonalize our understanding and to capture our attention, my only interest finally is in the local and the personal, wherever and however it may occur, and as much as possible to do so in the purely subjective. This is what I think, and what I feel. If I did not intend to communicate then I would not bother to try, but in the end Dear Reader you are free to go where you so desire and think whatever suits your fancy.

I like to listen (though my wife may tell you that I prefer to bounce around the room and shout). Talk at me.

Add to that, too often my impression is that writers, young and old, neglect a habit to read a whole lot of really good trashy sub-par not-perfect material in preference to what they have been pointed to as the canon of great examples. This tendency, IMHO leads to a sterile literature.

A good gardener knows without thinking how to turn manure into beautiful flowers. And lest one not understand, a sustainable human population requires that we do something imaginative about the accumulation of night soil. In the light of morning one person’s steamy pile is as good as another’s.

Well, great examples have criteria of selection and what I intend to say here is that the canon that appeals to me is the one that I select for no good reason... and I encourage all writers, and readers, to carve out their own canon, to ignore the bright lights, bright signs, best sellers, pillars of literature and to look into themselves, see and sense what they feel and experience in reading a book, and settle as to what they themselves desire to read, and why, and to stick to it.

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