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Saturday, August 3, 2013

The view from here on reviewing

I figured this is a good point to talk about my reviewing process and thoughts. Another way to get feedback. First I review for myself. I do often try to choose friends' books, but that's not the biggest consideration.  But I learn so much from reviewing. And it forces me to stop, take the time to READ as well as process what I'm reading. I do come MOSTLY from an adult perspective (anyone who's talked with me knows this is true). But I also think about how a child may perceive it. I do choose things that I like, and will only review books I feel positively about.

Which isn't to say I don't have criticisms. In the case of this blog I understand most people don't really have tons of time to read or review. I have a slight learning disability so though I read voraciously, between my poor eyesight and very slight dyslexia (usually it doesn't impair unless I'm preoccupied or tired or some other upset) this too colors the way I choose and look (or not) at things.


My father was a paper engineer, so oddly enough it's one of the few things as a child that wasn't too dear to me. We had a closet I could go to and just pull it out. Do I wish I had that now. The joyous thing about that is I really did play and it's probably why I am a proficient draughtsman. When I had to pay for it, it of course became very dear, and now with the way our consumer society is, it's horribly dear.

And from the writing/illustrating perspective I've only had the one dreaded rejection calling my work "slight" and that was more than enough. Yet there's such a fine line between Slight which is offensive to me not only to offer, but also to take valuable resources to send out. I've in other fields where people who came from wealth or achieved it, who wanted to fulfill a desire cast that $20,000 piece of giggly sculpture (truly I couldn't walk by it without laughing and if I think on it too much, I still will laugh. I described it to a friend recently and we both ended up guffawing--- how can you take a tableaux water fall that looks like a tongue hit with Novocaine, a "pioneer" sitting on a horse that looks like a dog  and a raccoon cap that looks more like a bit of an asshat, seriously?) And yet very talented people couldn't afford to cast their sculptures even small ones. To this day I don't know if I should be offended or just keep on laughing, but it's a consideration.

When you get to a certain point in your submitting process, if you're good enough it really becomes a matter of finding the right editor, what the market will bear, and even sometimes who you know. It's one of the reasons I'm now self-publishing and am open to self published materials. And make no mistake the vast majority of what we all do is repetitive and an exercise in expression, but it's not a shift in consciousness or means by any measure of the word, so it comes down often to degree.

But the two things I was noticing in some of the books I was reading is how slight I believed some of the books to be. And some of the messaging was very subtle, but with my critical eye, I noticed right away because I'd sensitized to it thirty years ago.

One book was one recognizable line from an animal and the punchline was different one. Granted the author probably described the action very well for the illustrator. But to me, it was slight. What was being communicated was equivalent to my closet full of paper. Had no value because there was no context, and I guess it was a way to get humor across, but New Englander that I was raised to be, I want my books to multitask, even while not hitting me over the head.

And there is a LOT of messaging. One book had an interesting idea for a mashup, but looking through the book, there was a slightly subliminal message. The male characters were well developed and did and was LOTS of things. The female characters were beyond secondary, and most of them negatively drawn. Literally, because they didn't have dialogue, but the judgments were drawn about busybody females. This was written by a woman, illustrated by a man.

I chose the books I did deliberately, because they dealt with larger issues, issues of today and with people but the lesson wasn't that sledgehammer of pronouncement. More often than not there was wiggle room for humor, forgiveness and thoughtfulness within the books I chose. Lion wasn't evil. And The King of Little Things was a page turner to me, because though I "knew" where Lepp was going with the book, I really loved the joy, humor, and the unexpected he inserted in the story. And that's what good story is. Even when it's expected, it really isn't. You have to honor and surprise your reader.

I see a lot of books that have little nutrition in them. Talking to a few people about my book Annie, I realize it may not do well not because I haven't paid attention to detail (and anyone who follows me knows that's not the truth and is obsession really an unattractive quality like everyone says?) But because most people no longer read for pleasure. And there it is. We've dumbed books and hurried our lives and in order to love my book, people will have to love the words and hopefully the images. Savoring the thought, the color, the image, the word, the sound, the meaning THAT is one of the powers and beauties of  B O O K. It is why I do what I do, share what a share, and encourage what I do. I hope when people read my reviews, they know this is also a part of my process, not only for choosing the books (because I read books, and because of space and all kinds of considerations, I don't necessarily share).

If you write or illustrate the books, what really is your message to the world? Yeah, it's about money, and that is important. I looked recently at my other work Nana's Gift in hardcopy (THANK YOU CHERYL JOHNSON!) It's the wrong size. I will be redoing it before Christmas because I do love the book and it's worth the effort. But the personal as well as the professional message was there. (Now I have to make the technical message better, because I do believe in that Maya Angelou adage of when you KNOW better you DO better). Anyhow, I figured this might clarify a few things, and get off my bosom the gripe I've had coming for awhile. Slight is evidently a subjective thing (I KNOW, I KNOW, I DID REALLY KNOW THAT, lol). But I think it's time again in this dwindling avenue of a world to be critical of the CORRECT things, other wise we are being sold a bill of goods.