Kate Livett

There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The text is merely one of the contexts of a piece of literature, its lexical or verbal one, no more or less important than the sociological, psychological, historical, anthropological or generic.

Leslie Fielder.

 Quotes from Quote Cosmos

My first ever review was of Operation Dumbo Drop – a movie (a comedy, allegedly) starring Danny Glover, about the American military airlifting an elephant into a village in Vietnam, during the Vietnam War.  I was 15, and as part of a competition for kids you got to see the movie for free if you wrote a review of it.

At that age anything free was good, and to be honest, I was also sure that I was going to win the competition with my words of profundity and be published in the newspaper to instant fame and fortune. This was back in 1995 or so, before the Internet, so having your opinion published in the newspaper was a big deal.

After watching Operation Dumbo Drop, which I decided was pathetic propaganda for America’s military intervention in Vietnam, as well as just plain silly (I was super-serious at 15), I rushed home to dash off some withering lines on the movie, and then sat back with a smile to await the phone call telling me what I already knew: that my review was the cream of the junior-reviewer crop. But the call never came! Eventually I received a letter saying: thank you for your review…quality field…loads of great entries, please try again blah blah blah… – you know the drill. I hadn’t won! Did this mean some snot-nosed punk had written a better review than yours truly? And how old was this little brat….twelve? Ten? Eight?!! Had I been out-written by an eight-year-old?

My first ever rejection letter and a total shock to the system, the beginning of many years of suffering the writer’s oscillation between over-confidence and self-doubt. Through experience I learnt to temper those two emotions, and I also learnt to take a break between finishing a review and sending it off – a break that gave me the time to rethink many an empassioned sentence that I was later deeply relieved was never made public. (On the other hand, to this day I wouldn’t change a word of my scathing political critique of Operation Dumbo Drop…).

Nava Lubelski, “Rejection Letters”, 1" x 20" x 20", cut and shredded rejection letters, glue, 2008


Nava Lubelski, “Rejection Letters”, (detail) 1" x 20" x 20", cut and shredded rejection letters, glue, 2008

(Check out Nava Lubelski’s wonderful artwork at this link: http://www.navalubelski.com/ )

Back then, in 1995, the printed word, even the daily, disposable word of the newspaper, was special, glamorous, and gave the writer an aura of authority – your words were worth printing and being circulated to tens of thousands of readers. That sense of specialness, the aura of publication, has been irrevocably changed by the Internet.

Nowadays, anyone can ‘publish’ their own words and achieve some kind of audience. Of course, not all ‘publications’ are equal, still; there’s still infinitely more kudos accorded to having your writing published in, say, Time magazine, than there is in getting 1000 hits on your blog. Nevertheless, from the time children can read and write, they can ‘publish’ their writing on the web – the glamour has left the building. But while the glamour has diminished, the amount of ‘reviews’ has multiplied infinitely.

With such a massive amount of words out there on the Internet, ‘published’ for our entertainment/education/irritation, a whole new generation of questions have grown up entwined in the very fabric of the internet, questions regarding authority, value, and editorial processes. Questions such as:

– If a review is by a reader/viewer who wrote it for their own interest and desire to share with their online readership, does that make it a review less worthy of reading than a review written by a professional critic?

– Is the judgement of an editor a proscriptive curbing of true opinions, or a necessary filtering and refinement that the writer doesn’t have the distance to perform on their own work?

– Is a review by a professional critic in a newspaper or industry journal even directed at the same readers as a review written by someone who makes no claim to special knowledge but has simply ‘read the book’?

– Has the immediacy of internet communication (email, Facebook etc) changed not only the way we write reviews, but also what we expect from them and how we read them?

These are internet-specific questions about the age-old practice of reviewing that will continue to be negotiated into the foreseeable future.

In the end, however, all that matters is that if no-one will publish your brilliant review of Operation Dumbo Drop, nowadays you can darn well publish it yourself on the web, relying on the sheer power and sparkling intellect of your words to guarantee you an appreciative audience!

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