I recently reviewed a poetry which I borrowed from Netgalley. I usually request Children’s Literature, Young Adult Fiction, and Poetry from them. Also, I request books which I can’t get in India — books which are expensive, books which are not available.
Lately, I have stopped asking for Poetry, because I realised that I am tired of reading poems written by neo-poets whose I’s are i’s. I am tired of reading one-liners which are packaged as poems. I am tired of reading about men who call their women oceans and waves. I am tired of reading about women who pine for their lovers. I am trying hard to not sound patronising here, but it’s just me after OD’ing on such poems.
For I admit that I haven’t read great poems — I do not know what a great poem is — I understood that it’s not fair on my part to request Poetry when I know they are only going to irk me. However, a poetry which I had requested a long time ago was lying in my mailbox, and I decided to review.
The book was about 150 pages long and had a gorgeous, gorgeous cover and some surreal illustrations. The poems were still cold for me. They didn’t bring me back to the present nor did they send me into a spiral of introspection. The poems were just there and I wished they were better. (In truth, I have copied and pasted this paragraph from my Goodreads review itself.)
I had also quoted a poem, which was just one line long and which was broken into a couple of lines. I mentioned that such poems didn’t move me.
Is it wrong to say that a piece of artwork didn’t give me feelings? Do you think I should have read great poets to say that?
This morning, I woke up to a personal message on Goodreads from the author. For obvious reasons, I am not revealing any information about the author and the book. However, the author’s message left me flummoxed.
From the message, I understand that the book is the author’s first one, and that there had been suggestions from the publishers to change some aspects on how the poems were presented. I nodded as I read that. I could really see the pressure that was imposed upon the author.
The author added that it’s hard to take tough reviews. I really wanted to empathise. I didn’t enjoy the work, but I can see how a creator would be shattered to receive two-stars. I understand. I really do.
But. There came a suggestion which didn’t sit with me. The author said that if I happen to read the book and get a different view of the allegory and the deeper layers, then the author would love an update on the number of stars I had offered. Despite telling me that there’s work to do, the author hoped that I would find three-stars worth of value in the book when I reread.
I woke up to that message and I couldn’t shrug off the underlying sneer in that. After I read it a couple of times, what I understood was, “Thank you for the review. But I think you didn’t understand the allegory and how beautifully layered and profound the book was. As you didn’t see the book for what it is, I suggest you read it again. When you reread, remember to wear those perfect, scratch-proof literary glasses!”
The message rang in my ears that way. An insult to a reader’s intelligence. While I am trying not to take it personal, I detest how an author could believe that the reader had given two-stars because the reader was not bright enough to catch all the metaphors, and that a reread had to be prescribed to fix the reader’s myopic vision.
Even on Goodreads, I don’t expend my energy to explain why a book didn’t work for me. Even if I am supposed to review a book, I pick some soft words from my vocabulary to say that the book was not for me. Above all, if a book is available on Netgalley, it is exposed to all sorts of feedback. Since I believe that my criticism was constructive, I couldn’t fathom why I was judged as a reader.
I have decided not to respond to the author; I don’t want to have a conversation, lest it would turn bitter. But I wish authors were open to honest feedback, instead of asking the readers to up their game. Not fair. Not fair at all.
As I wrote this blog, I was reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro’s interview published by Lithub.
I don’t really like to work with literary allusions very much. I never want to be in a position where I’m saying, “You’ve got to read a lot of other stuff” or “You’ve got to have had a good education in literature to fully appreciate what I’m doing.” . . . I actually dislike, more than many people, working through literary allusion. I just feel that there’s something a bit snobbish or elitist about that. I don’t like it as a reader, when I’m reading something. It’s not just the elitism of it; it jolts me out of the mode in which I’m reading. I’ve immersed myself in the world and then when the light goes on I’m supposed to be making some kind of literary comparison to another text. I find I’m pulled out of my kind of fictional world, I’m asked to use my brain in a different kind of way. I don’t like that.
To forget the message I received this morning, I had to read this poem. 🙂
Our new dog, named for the beloved poet,
ate a book which unfortunately we had
Fortunately it was the Bhagavad Gita,
of which many copies are available.
Every day now, as Percy grows
into the beauty of his life, we touch
his wild, curly head and say,
“Oh, wisest of little dogs.”
— Percy from Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs