On Reviewing: Brian Joseph Davis

In lieu of responding to the 10 questions Brian Joseph Davis offers the following review, published recently in Eye Weekly.

Duty now for the future
One man’s journey out of criticism

By Jim Hanas. Available free
Cassingle by Jim Hanas is a collection of short stories. It’s free and online in several formats. Besides containing some very good writing — which I’ll get to in a few paragraphs — I’m reviewing it here as a departure point for myself.

To put it bluntly, I can’t write one more fucking review.

As a fiction author, I’ve never wanted to criticize other authors in that sadomasochistic headmaster style popularized by John Updike, then copied and diminished by parsimonious cranks-with-a-sense-of-entitlement the world over. I know intimately that the worst novels ever written took more fearlessness, will and soul than the best book reviews ever written.

The truth is, since the age of 14 I’ve read at least a book a week and not a one I picked up because of reviews I read. It was word-of-mouth, other writers recommending them or, god bless them, cantankerous bookstore workers who shamed me into buying certain books. How could you create a critical language that could supplant that? Why would you want to? Sure, industry reviews matter, but why would the public want to read brutally egotistical reviews of books? A text is a site where entire cosmos sprout up, from Stephenie Meyer–sized cults of crazed virgins, to small groups of pale grad students worshipping a poet who only works with sneeze sounds. The only way to judge these works is to have a dialogue, and that’s just what EYE WEEKLY is doing this coming January by launching our online book club at www.eyeweekly.com/books.

For three weeks at a time, myself and a group of people drawn from Toronto’s literary, arts and blog scenes will jabber back and forth about one book. We hope readers will join in as well. We want to try something a little more open, organic and much like the act of reading itself.

As for the future of publishing, it won’t entirely look like Hanas’ experiment in free, but it will look more like it than not. At five stories and 33 pages, Cassingle is aptly titled and rather witty. A combination of original works and stories that have appeared in the likes of Fence and McSweeney’s, it is a good introduction to Hanas’s perfectly designed, well-tuned and aerodynamic tales.

His writing can be evocative, as in “The Nose,” which has my favourite first line of the year: “The sommelier’s hand stalled in mid-air and hung there, frozen and limp, above the midpoint of the table, above the salt and the pepper, and above the single pink rose in the flat black vase.”

It can also be crisp and uncanny as in this moment about the power of post-structuralism: “Deana slowly rocked Kiki in her arms while Kent read out loud. It was the easiest way. It didn’t matter what he read. He read from trade magazines and junk mail and books he randomly pulled from the shelf above the bed. Tonight he read from a copy of Of Grammatology that Deana had acquired in college. ‘You can’t read that to the baby,’ Deana whispered as she rocked from foot to foot and patted Kiki’s bald head. ‘What?’ Kent said. ‘She can’t understand it. I can’t understand it.’”

No matter the cut, this is writing that speaks American, in all its complexity. Help yourself to the free sample.

via Eye Weekly November 25, 2009 21:11

via facebook 01 December at 19:21

Parting philosophical question on the crisis of textual criticism:

My dog can see a film.

My dog can hear music.

My dog cannot read a book.

Who is wrong in this case: Dog or book?

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