Despite a subscription to one of the noteworthy review periodicals, I have mostly given up reading book reviews. They never really manage to tell me what I want to know, the information that a blind, intuitive reaching for the shelves will provide – what do I want to read next? Indeed, looking at book reviews (for even in my heyday I rarely read many thoroughly) put me off the idea of reading entirely. Every party in the transaction – author, critic, subject, genre, publisher, format, review venue – is bound up in their cliques and claques, which to the outsider (the common reader, not the fan) can only be so much noise at best or too much gossip at worst (who likes/hates/wants to curry favor with whom?).
The first few reviews in the collection of Alejandra Pizarnik’s translated literary criticism, A Tradition of Rupture, fall prey to these ills: insular and too specifically targeted to provide much clarity to a reader continents and decades away.1 The fault might lie with the texts reviewed; in the middle of the collection, in particular, the reviews focused on a string of books in the mid-twentieth-century-I-suffer-and-am-vaguely-amorous-therefore-I-must-be-interesting-despite-my-bourgeois-upbringing school of literature, which (with its broody-hen angst) has never quite appealed to me (too much cackle, not enough eggs). They were books I had never heard of and am unlikely to think about further.2 When the reviews began to touch on more familiar names (there is something to be said for a book having lasted beyond its moment), they became more interesting, although still focused on relationships more then I like; they fit into a picture of art and meaning that, even if I did not agree with it, provided something to grasp.3
Halfway through the book, I was sure it would go on the donate pile for the library book sale – but having finished it, I am no longer so certain. It seems likely, now, that the problem with some of the reviews was the reader – though I am not certain whether I mean myself or Pizarnik.
- The reader can be blamed as well. [↩]
- Although it is not unlikely I might ‘discover’ one or two of them at some later date and wonder how I could have missed them. [↩]
- Situating books, although key for marketing, is less helpful for those who read haphazardly (and would like to think they are not a market, though of course they are). [↩]