Wednesday, February 03, 2010

On Reviewing and Lying

Just reviewed ten books all at once, which was quite an epic undertaking, trying to be fair to each within a narrow word allowance, plus flag up weaknesses and strengths. Only one collection really made me want to throw it across the room, and I hope I've made that dislike clear in my review.

You know, I read these puffs on the backs of poetry books and my god, some of them are just jaw-droppingly untrue. You read them as a kind of introduction to the work, and you think 'Aha, okay, sounds good ...' and then you open the book, and it's like they were describing another book entirely. Another poet, in fact. Probably on another planet in a completely different solar system. And not even a poet, but a yellow-striped geologist-cum-lugworm, with three heads and a tendency to spit when conversing.

I know it's hard when a friend, or the friend of a friend, or someone you owe money to, or who's having a nervous breakdown and needs all the help they can get, or who simply gives good head, comes along and says 'Can you write a few words about my new book?'

But do you really have to lie? That much? Like, Tony Blair proportions ...

I didn't lie in my review. That may cost me in some instances. But what the hell. It's not like I've ever been popular! And I was at least circumspect. I didn't say 'Wow, this is shite' - though I wanted to at times. I tried to be kind, which runs contrary to my nature. I also tried to give credit where it was due, for books which were, at least, not actively offensive. I had a strong urge to write 'Mostly harmless' next to some titles, it's true. But I'm being paid to give my expert opinion (stifle your sniggers please, I have been doing this for well over a decade now) so I bore that in mind and wrote accordingly.