The art of reviewing, hey, the fact of book reviewing has taken a lot of hits in recent years. not the least of which is the closing down of poetry reviews at Publisher's Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, and long, long ago, the sad disappearance of Geoffrey O'Brien from the poetry book reviewing scene, the end of Tembor, due to the tragic early death of Leland Hickman, which featured terrfic critical writing from Joseph Simas, Ghino Tenger and many others. Geoffrey, of course, has been busy writing his own books, among others *The Phantom Empire" about the history of film, which I scored recently, complete with review and author photo, at the Strand for $1.
Thankfully, the web, in particular, Jacket, the blogging scene-and even the SUNY poetics list, has brought us some fine critical writng from, of course, Ron Silliman, Amy King,Gary Sullivan, Tim Peterson, Michael Lally, Nada Gordon, Ray Davis, Nicholas Manning, Sharon Mesmer, Mark Wallace, K. Silem Mohammad, Charles Bernstein, Jack Kimball and many others, most notably recently Douglas Messerli and his critically absorbing and autobiographically revelatory Green Integer Blog.
Not that long ago, a new phenomenon emerged on the web, that at first appeared to consist of little more than lists of favorite books on a site that echoed successes by other well known web "friendship" groups. When you join Goodreads, people may nominate themselves as "friends" or you may suggest yourself as a friend to other members, by going through the friend lists on your friends' sites, checking yourself off there for a request to be automatically emailed to someone, who can then accept or reject you. Possibly to distract myself from other work to be done, or perhaps to show off my library, of which I am quite proud (there is, among many other prized items my signed book by Theodore Dreiser), I joined up. One day, in a fit of inspiration I listed over 750 items from my library.
Anyway, lately I haven't been spending that much time on the thing, or on this thing for that matter, having been busy on some other projects, and having fallen in love with reading novels by women which I am now consume addictively like so many delicious, or ordinary boxes of chocolates. I seem to have become a gourmand of this genre, not a true gourmet. But when I got an invitation recently from Marcella Durand to become her "friend" on Goodreads. I noticed that John Ashbery was listed on her site. When he recently agreed to be my friend on Goodreads I thought to myself: wow, this is getting really interesting.
One of the features of Goodreads which you can receive if you choose to (you can also suspend it if you want) is to receive recent book reviews from your friends. I am not ashamed to admit, that while I do tend to read books, even for years, by types, I like to read almost any kind of book review, the same way I will read anything in front of me at the breakfast table, including whatever is on the cereal box, particularly if it happens to appear in front of me and there is nothing else to read. I don't always read the reviews that now pour in daily in my email inbox from Goodreads, but I have been reading every single one, by somebody who has named themselves, interestingly, tENTIVELY, acONVENIENCE. I noticed, and was struck by the sensitivity and generosity of a group of reviews he did about books by Alan Davies. He claims he is going through his library alphabetically, and reviewing books that catch his eye. Today, for example, he reviewed "In Celebration of Ourselves" by Seymour Rosen and said:
"Ah! The front cover gives a pretty good explanation: "All of us have to reveal our inner selves once in a while - Sometimes that just might mean smiling at a stranger for no reason - or whistling - A rarer breed likes to dress up as cabbage leaves or sunflowers - or wear Hawaiian leis or diapers - But there are few authorized times for that - What do you do when you have a full Samurai outfit and no place to go - Or a bird's-eye view of Sydney tattooed above your kidney - How do you say - I am alive - if you are a sixteeen-year-old ghetto kid - That's only the beginning - California has always had more than its share of - grand eccentrics"....A great, GREAT bk. Kinetic sculpture race, 'outsider' architecture, costumes, murals, folk sculpture, graffiti, neon, church fronts, shaped buildings, giant donut signs, art cars, homemade ads, all sorts of fascinating signs of creativity largely done outside of the art world. Oddly, my copy has rubber-stamped inside: 'NOT FOR RESALE DISTRIBUTE THRU BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH DEPARTMENT'".
Even if you know you'll never read even a fraction of the thousands of books you will find out about on Goodreads, it's a fascinating enterprise, not the least of which is the opportunity to list books you think others should know about. There are tons of books, by the way, for which there is only one listing, while there are others, like The Great Gatsby, that has 69, 760 listings, and, "the Curious Incident of A Dog at Nightime" which has over 39,000 listings, Charles Bernstein'a A Poetics has 39 listings as does Ron Silliman's Age of Huts; Elaine Equi's Ripple Effect has 20, Gary Sullivan's Elsewhere 1 has 10, Tim Peterson's When I Moved IN has 11,Brenda IIjima's Around Sea has 9, Nada Gordon's Folly 9, Kim Lyons' Saline has 8 and my fait accompli 7.
Goodreads is easly accessible on Google, of course.