Miss Fickle Critic: On Goodreads and in Hippocampus Magazine

Hey, Fickle Readers! It’s time for some blatant self-promotion! Those of you not among my personal cadre (and therefore not privy to my various lunatic rantings and blatherings) may not realize that I’m not only a creative writer, I’m also (surprise!) a budding book critic. I’ve just signed up for another year of reviewing at Hippocampus Magazine, an excellent all-creative nonfiction online journal. I’m also determined to write up more of my glorious opinions on Goodreads, because I really really want to keep getting free books to review. Really.

So here’s the latest on my fickle reading adventures:

One book you should definitely read, especially if you’re into creative nonfiction of the most intense, transformative kind, is Cynthia Barnett’s Rain: A Natural and Cultural History.

This is what the cover looks like. Go read this book immediately.

This is a book that steals into your life with a simple premise that, you soon realize, has gigantic, perspective-changing implications. Also, the title was long-listed for the National Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. Tragically, it didn’t move on in the process, even though I wish it had. (Admittedly, the field was probably more competitive than usual this year. Hard to beat Ta-Nehisi Coates.)

Despite the awards game, though, this is book is worth every minute you spend with it. Go forth and read.

I wish I could say the same for Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time. Vintage Books has commissioned a whole bunch of high-profile authors to write novel adaptations of Shakespeare plays (it’s called the Hogarth Shakespeare Initiative, in case you’re interested). When I heard about the project, I was so thoroughly excited I signed right up to get an actual physical review copy of the book and I GOT ONE, sent to my actual real-life address. I felt so validated I just sat around appreciating the cover for a while.

And, yeah, it’s a pretty cool cover.

Much to my dismay, the book itself isn’t all that great. Granted, you may have to take my opinion with a grain of salt, since I have sunk a lot of time and energy into studying The Winter’s Tale, on which Winterson based her novel. And granted, it would probably give someone with little to no familiarity with the play a pretty solid introduction to the original. The problem is, if that uninitiated person ever got to read or see The Winter’s Tale, he or she would probably be ready to set the bear on Leontes right from the beginning. Because Winterson’s Leo is just that awful. He’s vicious, self-centered, and whiny and deserves none of Shakespeare’s (or anyone’s) much-vaunted forgiveness, which the original play is also known for. If you’re curious, I’d say get this book out of the library. Otherwise, wait for Margaret Atwood to write her adaptation of The Tempest.


Yesterday It Was My Birthday…

…I hung one more year on the line.

–Paul Simon, “Have a Good Time”

So now I’m the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. My husband, Inspector Spacetime, reached this age last month, and he doesn’t seem to be more enlightened yet. Maybe it takes a while to kick in.

Anyway, to celebrate my first full day of being a brand new age, here are a sampling of the callouts I’ve wanted to make for a while. I haven’t gotten around to writing them all down because I’ve either been chasing after small children, playing with poetry, lying around in a semi-conscious haze, or just generally being insane:

First, I’ve had some nifty Publication News in the past couple of months! (You know the Goddamned Writing Life? Sometimes it ain’t so bad.) I had a horror poem, “Mother Killer,” published in Spectral Realms, along with many a fine spec poet, such as Ann K. Schwader, F.J. Bergmann, Marge Simon, Mike Allen, and spec-poetry bigwig Bruce Boston.

I also had not one, but TWO essays published this spring: the first, “Rape Stories,” is a reprint from Mid-American Review but made its official Internet debut in Hippocampus Magazine, a journal devoted to memory and memoir. I have to say I couldn’t be happier about this publication. Not only did Hippocampus provide a new forum for a piece that is really important to me, the layout folks on staff found a picture of the fountain from my old stomping ground in Rome, where the essay happens to be set. Many, many heartfelt thanks to whoever found that picture. Even though I wrote about some fairly dark topics, the fountain itself takes me back to a beautiful time and place.

The second essay, “Dead,” appeared in the 2015 issue of Moon City Review, which isn’t online but can be ordered here. A really gorgeous journal, which also includes a piece by Curtis Smith, an amazing writer and all-around beautiful guy who incidentally helped me work on the very essay that appears in MCR. Lots more deep and heartfelt thanks to Curtis, whose workshop did so much to boost my confidence when I felt like I was starting from square zero.

Back to Hippocampus: this month, I had the overwhelmingly self-esteem-boosting experience of opening an email about a journal’s latest issue to see my name listed as a contributor. Yes, in case you missed the umpteen times I announced this in the past week, I’m officially on the schedule of Hippocampus reviewers, and my very first review appears here. The book is Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Light of the World,” a stunning piece of writing that shows what extraordinary innovations a poet can bring to prose. Definitely a must-read.

Two last things: as a birthday gift, I finally got the Poet Tarot, which is in fact a pack of Tarot cards plus a guidebook for “creative exploration.” This nifty item is produced by Two Sylvias Press, which is also currently running its poetry chapbook prize. (I personally covet the trophy they give out with the award, but I’m not sure I have anything on hand that’s especially prize-winning.) And I must say, I’m SO looking forward to playing with my Tarot cards and seeing what happens. I looked through them already and noticed a certain Mr. W.S. is not among the poets represented. Very ballsy, ladies!

Fie on thee, froward, fen-sucked flax-wenches!

And finally, April is over but the PoMoSco poems will be up for one more month! Here’s the official wrap-up post discussing the 3000+ poems that were written, plus links to some favorite individual pieces. Though my own work isn’t featured here, you should still explore the site for some excellent poetry! (And if you think I’ve forgotten about my proposed list of ruminations on my own found poems of April, oh how very wrong you are. I may just pick a few I like or want to grumble about, or I may write about them all in one lump, but you can be sure you’ll get bugged about them, yessirree!)

When Did the Recap Replace the Review?

Not a real post here. Just a question that’s come up again in my brain. Said question came up several times when I was watching last season’s “Game of Thrones.” Come to think of it, I was probably pondering the issue during last season’s “Downton Abbey,” too. Lots of controversy in both those TV shows of late, and since Television Without Pity folded in May, I’ve had to slog around to discover who’s thinking what out in there in Internetland. (I suppose I could just have a look on Twitter, but that can be an even worse trudge, with less actual information and more chances to enter the conversation and become an offensive idiot.)

So last week, the latest season of “Doctor Who” began, and it’s a seriously transitional season: a brand new Doctor is taking the helm and the companion is staying on. This is the first time current show-runner Steven Moffat has had to deal with this specific situation. Last week, I thought everyone involved did a brilliant job, but this week I wasn’t so sure how I felt. (To be honest, I thought large portions of this second episode were pretty damn cheesy. My husband, Inspector Spacetime, has now banned me from watching the rest of the season with him. Spoil sport.) After the episode ended and Inspector Spacetime and I had a robust argument over the cheese content of the story, I did what any red-blooded insomniac laptop user would do, left my husband sleeping on our bed, and came to wander the Internet for Official Opinions on the TV show I just watched.

Inevitably, as I scrolled through screen after screen of links, I bumped into many, many recaps. Maybe six or seven recaps for every self-proclaimed review. That’s when I realized I was thinking the same thought I’d had when I went looking for material on “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones”–namely, why the hell does every blogger do so much recapping? I’ve just seen the goddamn episode. I don’t need anyone to repeat back to me the contents of my last TV experience. Long ago, broadcasters handled that themselves in the form of reruns. I want to know what other people think about shows. I want analysis and observation and–dare I say it–argumentation.

Granted, I used to love reading funny recaps, and I often read them on Television Without Pity or its predecessor, Mighty Big TV. But as far as I can remember (and this was almost fifteen years ago, so my memory might be getting a tad hazy), the writers who put together those recaps were acting as commentators, picking out zany details and explaining references and weaving spontaneous-sounding jokes as they summarized, so the whole thing felt like a written-down version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That’s not an easy thing to achieve, no matter how effortless it appears on the page.

Now, apparently, we have a huge horde of people who have gleaned from those old TV sites that recapping = funny and are now acting on that insight by carefully documenting what goes on in a particular show week after week. The problem is, the reason why the old recaps were funny (and I’m sure some current recappers have a handle on this, too) is that they weren’t just summaries of what happened onscreen. A simple summary of a show would be a transcript, and if you think transcripts are fun reading, you clearly haven’t encountered a lot of court documents in your day.

No, the old-style recap, the kind that started the genre, is a comedic work of art. It makes you laugh till you cry. It makes you want to re-watch the show to see for yourself the goofy glitches the recapper caught and you didn’t. It does not simply plod through the scene-by-scene antics of the kitchen staff and then dutifully list every one-liner fired off by the Dowager Countess. Why the hell would anyone want to read that, except if they happened to miss the episode, and in that case, why do we have DVRs and HBO GO and On Demand and all the other technological doodads we have nowadays to make sure we don’t miss a single second of any video event anywhere in the world?

Seriously, folks. Have we, as a culture, probably the most literate in history, become so rushed, uncaring, or dumb that we would rather have a writer repeat a TV show back to us than hear what she might have to say about it? Are we too terrified to enter into discussions these days, for fear of starting flame wars? Or is it just that “recaps” are much easier and faster to write than reviews, the way “listicles” are easier and faster–and thus more profitable–for the impoverished freelancer to produce than detailed reportage?

Oy. Now I think I don’t want to know the answer. I’m going to toddle off to bed before I depress myself more. Carry on with your recapping, kids. If some of you have deeper thoughts to contribute, please put them in a helpful section on their own, so I don’t have to waste precious seconds reading my TV shows.