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Tim Hopwood Reviews Home Away Edited by Louis Greenberg

Home AwayVerdict: Carrot overall, but some of the writers get sticked:

TWENTY-FOUR different writers each choose an hour of the day and a different part of the world as the setting for their text. These are all writers who have either grown up in South Africa or are resident here.

The brief given them by editor Louis Greenberg was to “write about a specific interaction, place or object in a foreign city that makes you reflect on your South African home”.

Some of the writers have chosen a fictional solution to the demands of the brief (others completely ignore it). Some are successful in themselves as stories but shed little light on “home” like (Zukiswa Wanner’s tale of assassination in Nairobi, and Ted Botha’s Kinky Friedmanesque vignette of an LA private eye).

Book Details

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    September 16th, 2010 @16:56 #
     
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    Is it really necessary for reviewers to be nasty?

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    September 16th, 2010 @17:09 #
     
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    in terms of a whole bunch of extra-to-the-review-and-the-reviewed-text, evidently yes. in terms of the job at hand of writing a useful review, no.

    imo

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  • <a href="http://sarahlotz.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    September 16th, 2010 @18:36 #
     
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    Oh, Sally, don't take it to heart. It's just the reviewer's personal opinion. Ghosts and zombies clearly aren't his thing, which is fair enough! Far better to be silly and odd than dull and forgettable. xx

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    September 16th, 2010 @21:00 #
     
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    Seriously, Sally, what Sarah said. That's simply it.

    He could have more reasonably said 'I don't like horror/genre/schlock fiction and preferred the non-fiction pieces.'

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    September 16th, 2010 @23:12 #
     
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    I wish he hadn't swatted at Sally and Sarah, kinda takes the sweetness out of the fact that he liked my story. But (heh heh) IMAGINE what he thought of Lauren's story if he doesn't like horror/genre etc? He was probably afraid she might come after him if he dissed her...

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    September 17th, 2010 @09:01 #
     
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    That was a glaring omission wasn't it? Although I resent the implication that I would go after a reviewer. The corpses stacking up in my basements are strictly stalkers.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    September 17th, 2010 @10:07 #
     
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    @Sally and @Sarah - at least you got mentioned (sniff, sniff) ...

    ... ah well, having my story republished and getting paid for it too in O magazine this month makes up for all the silence re my story.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    September 17th, 2010 @10:15 #
     
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    You and I are different, Colleen. I'm very relieved nobody's taken on my story in reviews. I can imagine the silence to be one of reverential awe.

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    September 17th, 2010 @12:19 #
     
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    Talking of reverential awe and going after reviewers, imo there’s too much of the former and too little of the latter accorded to book reviewers. Especially since the internet allows, as with journalist, editor, publisher, anyone to call themselves reviewer – no schooling, no apprenticeship, no constructive feedback, just grab a book, lick your pencil and write.

    Where I think this particular review fails is that it don’t give me, its reader who has not read the book, any understanding of:

    1. What about the horror story makes it silly? Why does it ‘fail’? Because the reviewer doesn’t like the genre? Because the reviewer doesn’t like the author? Because the reviewer doesn’t understand the genre? Because the reviewer is way too old (or young) to be reading the genre? Because the reviewer also writes the genre?

    2. What about the post-apocalyptic tale makes it odd? Why does it fail? Because the reviewer doesn’t like the genre? Because the reviewer doesn’t like the author? Because the reviewer doesn’t understand the genre? Because the reviewer is way too old (or young) to be reading the genre? Because the reviewer also writes the genre?

    3. What does ‘stunningly written’ mean? Understated? Elegant? Short club-like sentences? That the reviewer wants to flatter the author? Her husband?

    As the above questions show, an unsubstantiated review probably does the reviewer more of a disservice, in terms of the questions it invites, than it does the authors opined on. For which reason, imo, reviewers should be held accountable for what they write – for their own best interests.

    Yet there seems to be a reluctance to engage with what reviewers write – as if publishers and authors are at their mercy and get to only be (more or less) silently gutted or gratified. Why? For fear of eliciting another lousy review with the next book?

    The editor of a litmag I write for received a letter recently from a publisher, in which she refused to send the requested review copy of her latest publication. She said, in essence,

    No. That reviewer has repeatedly trashed previous items on my booklist which means he either doesn’t read, doesn’t understand, or doesn’t like the work I publish - which is cool. But my authors and my review copies and are too valuable to be wasted on such a person. And there’s lots more reviewers and litmags in the sea.

    Surely a professional would/should be skilled enough to write a useful review of a book which she does not like, which she does not (initially) understand, or for which she is not target readership? Surely book reviewing is not a royal dispensing of some largesse of carrots and sticks? Surely it’s about getting to really engage, in depth, with the work of another (different from you) human being, and attempting to convey some of this experience to others? And if one can’t, for what reason would the reviewer publish their failed attempt?

    Or is there something about book reviewing that I don't get?

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    September 17th, 2010 @12:27 #
     
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    Bad reviews - or passing mentions should be taken on the chin. it is part of the deal of putting your work out there

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    September 17th, 2010 @12:48 #
     
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    How to handle bad reviews? All I can say is that there are four neatly dug veggie beds in my garden. I do the trenching and mulching on moonless nights...

    Ag, in the end it's such a spin of the wheel. I can't understand why the critics aren't raving about Liesl's story -- esp as hers and Karina's make such a perfect "call and answer" response to very complex and topical issues. But it's all so personal -- I adore Colleen's story because it so perfectly encapsulates a truly incredible experience I was lucky enough to share. Lauri K loves Sarah's story because it sums up the Motswana character so aptly. I had to go and lie down four lines into Lauren's story because she mentioned boots made out of whale foreskin (I think -- I don't dare check). Etc etc etc. (Thank heavens none of you decided to write a bull-fighting story.)

    OK, Lauren, I'm going to go and lie down again -- in the garden.

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  • <a href="http://karinamagdalenaszczurek.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Karina</a>
    Karina
    September 17th, 2010 @13:00 #
     
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    "Stunningly written" can only mean that the reviewer wants to flatter my husband - there is NO WAY that I could have penned a "stunningly written" personal essay - right, Moira Richards?
    How about looking up some words in a dictionary - usually helps with understanding...

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    September 17th, 2010 @13:00 #
     
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    As Margie says, bad comments should be taken on the chin. As should good ones. I should like to think that writers are busy with their second or third project after the work under review, and that the comments are irrelevant to them. Mass media reviews are written to aid readers, not writers; they are not professional manuscript assessments that would help writers improve their work. Mediocre or unsubstantiated reviews fail readers: it is readers who should be writing to their books editors and making a fuss if they feel strongly enough about it.

    The reviews that have seriously engaged with Home Away are a great guide to potential buyers.

    Claws in and chins out, people. There's work to be done!

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    September 17th, 2010 @13:30 #
     
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    I spotted that below-the-belt and unnecessary dig at Karina (whose story is written under her own name) and Andre only after writing my comment above, and found it v. disappointing, esp embedded in an otherwise useful comment. I second Louis: claws in, please! Book SA is usually refreshingly free of the gobsmacking nastiness seen in most comment chains -- let's keep it that way.

    @ Louis, I have to confess I am still pathetically pleased by good reviews, no matter how far down the line I am with new projects...

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    September 17th, 2010 @13:33 #
     
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    Me too, Helen. I was just channelling Richard de Nooy there for a moment.

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    September 17th, 2010 @13:41 #
     
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    oh dear. Karina, I didn’t intend an ad feminam attack – those questions also optioned elegant and understated (a great trait in my book). I’d hoped to make it clear that that and other adverbs/adjectives in the review didn’t convey enough to me, as reader of the review, about the reviewed text, and that, imo, they required substantiation in order to a) be useful to me and b) clarify the reviewer’s take. Peace?

    I’m still not convinced that reviewers should be immune to accountability for ‘bad’ reviews – by which I mean hurtful, unsubstantiated opinion, inability to engage with the text etc. Nor even for those ‘good’ reviews – by which I mean flattering, unsubstantiated opinion, inability to engage with the text etc. I’m not even sure what value, other than emotional, either has for the author or publisher involved.

    On the other hand, I would have thought a negative review – substantiated, informed critique – would be more useful in many ways, albeit more (initially) painful, to an author than a positive - substantiated, informed critique - review.

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  • <a href="http://karinamagdalenaszczurek.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Karina</a>
    Karina
    September 17th, 2010 @13:54 #
     
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    Was there ever a war? I would just like you to practice what you preach: I think that you, like anybody else, should be held accountable for "hurtful, unsubstantiated opinion[s]" which your comment above strongly implies.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    September 17th, 2010 @14:07 #
     
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    Allow me to channel myself for a moment: you're all barking mad and you need to stop this otherwise I'm going to run off with this bagful of twisted knickers and sell them to the highest bidder(s) on the internet.

    (Another part of me says: this is not a good idea. Sadly, that is the weaker, smaller, flabbier, more introverted part.)

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    September 17th, 2010 @14:11 #
     
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    Uh-oh, speak of the Devil.

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  • <a href="http://karinamagdalenaszczurek.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Karina</a>
    Karina
    September 17th, 2010 @14:14 #
     
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    I thought we were speaking of cats ;)

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    September 17th, 2010 @14:24 #
     
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    The cat's in the bag, hiding among the twisted knickers, terrified by the barking madness.

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    September 17th, 2010 @14:27 #
     
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    well, war or no war, I sure do seem to have landed up in the firing-line :-(

    Let me try again to make my points clear.

    1. My piece *in no way* commented on the ‘Home Away’ or on the work of its authors.

    2. My entire critique is of the *review* of that text.

    3. I am not defending or agreeing the reviewer’s take on the ‘silly’ and ‘odd’ stories. I am saying that imo his unsubstantiated opinion raises more questions about him than it answers about the texts he reviews.

    4. I am not defending or agreeing the reviewer’s take on the ‘stunningly written’ story. I am saying that imo his unsubstantiated opinion raises more questions about him than it answers about the text he reviews.

    5. I am not offering any opinion, hurtful or otherwise, on any of the stories in the collection that I’ve mentioned in my critique of the *review*. I’ve not read the book and I doubt I’ve read any of the work of any of its contributors – unless they’ve published poetry in the last decade.

    And yes, I should be accountable for the opinions I’ve expressed above, whether hurtful, unsubstantiated or flawlessly argued (yeah right, it seems ;-) - accountable to Tim Hopwood whose *review* is what I’ve expressed opinion on.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    September 17th, 2010 @14:37 #
     
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    I hope Tim reviews my next book badly.

    (FYI - Twisted knickers just sold to Graeme of Adelaide, who claims to have a "modest collection" of such garments on display in his "museum".)

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  • <a href="http://karinamagdalenaszczurek.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Karina</a>
    Karina
    September 17th, 2010 @14:43 #
     
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    Moira, the following is not motivated by anger, or cynicism, disappointment or any other negative emotion, just by some vague hope for INFORMED - future - interaction: PLEASE read the book in question or at least some of its contributions, PLEASE review a few books yourself, especially collections of diverse work (and try to do so in 370 words), and PLEASE - only then - comment on other people's work and other people's reviews of that work.
    Tim Hopwood read the book, he took the trouble of actually squeezing some comments about it into less than 400 words, and yes, we might not all like what he is saying, but it is his opinion and he is entitled to it. And: I would be saying the same if he had hated or ignored my piece.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    September 17th, 2010 @15:12 #
     
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    For what it's worth, when I read Moira's apparently offending comment, my interpretation was in sync with her intention - I didn't detect any claws.

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    September 17th, 2010 @15:38 #
     
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    Karina, over the last coupla years I’ve writ about two dozen reviews for a US print journal that required 250 words per book, max. They later upped my space to 350 words per book, regardless of whether it was a tiny single-author book of haiku or a full-length multi-authored collection of haibun. I agree it’s not an easy job to do well.

    I agree too, that Tim Hopwood is entitled to his opinions. But I’m trying to make the point that unsubstantiated opinion in a book review has little if any usefulness for the readers of the review.

    The reason I read reviews is to get some idea of whether I want to read the book or not. So why would I need to read the book in question to point out that a review contains useless (to me as reader of the review) unsubstantiated opinion? Again, I am (above) critiquing the unsubstantiated opinion aspect of review, not the text being reviewed.

    If however, (totally different thing now) I wanted to argue the substance of reviewer’s critique of the book then, Yes – I would have to read it. And then I would be in a position to argue the reviewer’s substantiated opinions of the book – but there’s still nothing much one useful can do about dis/agreeing the unsubstantiated opinions. As you say, everyone it entitled to those.

    But again, are they critique? What use do they have? Does they have a place in a book review?

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    September 17th, 2010 @15:51 #
     
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    awww, thanks Ben - I really am a pussy cat :-)

    I hope those who've met me will hopefully, politely refrain from remarking on the remarkable resemblances to Garfield...

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    September 17th, 2010 @16:06 #
     
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    Me too, Ben. I was just channelling Kevin Bloom there for a moment.

    I thought Moi argued persuasively and encouragingly which is why I was encouraged to scuttle from under my rock again.

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  • <a href="http://karinamagdalenaszczurek.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Karina</a>
    Karina
    September 17th, 2010 @16:24 #
     
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    Louis, with such 'understanding' comments from one's own editor, I think one can rest one's case.
    I will follow your example in one thing though. Rocks are not such a bad idea.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    September 17th, 2010 @16:33 #
     
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    I think everyone should click over to my latest post for some end-of-the-week R&R.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    September 17th, 2010 @16:47 #
     
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    I'm terrible at arguing, Karina, seriously. I try to defuse arguments by injecting puerile humour. I grew up with three older sisters you see. Sometimes a joke served to prevent a knifing. Not always.

    I should really have said that "*apart from the few words of catty clawing in point 3 above*, Moi argued persuasively and encouragingly." I didn't, and I can't really go back and edit it now. In my defence, my "claws in" quip was intended to address that particular slash. I try to be liked by all sisters and end up being loathed by the lot of them. (This is why I write fiction and not reviews.)

    Ordinarily I would just withdraw, which indeed I find the safest course. But since this is about a book I edited, I feel I have some duty to stick my head in. But I don't see an automatic defence of my contributors in extra-textual arguments as an editorial duty. That strikes me as a little patronising; it suggests both that they are unable to defend their own work, and that I am in a better postion than they to do so.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    September 17th, 2010 @17:27 #
     
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    You must be the Ideal Husband, Louis!

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    September 17th, 2010 @18:08 #
     
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    I’m totally bemused at how a post about the work of a reviewer has morphed into a personal insult/cattiness/clawing/below-the-belt/dig/whatever to the author of one of the three stories referred to in the *critique of what the reviewer wrote*. Or (goddess forbid) the other two authors are yet to drop by and declare themselves insulted too :-(

    I don’t really mind being strung up in the pillory but it’d be cool, if not sort-of fair, if those chucking the squishy tomatoes would explain what it is I’ve said to offend anyone other than, perhaps, Tim Hopwood.

    And (pretty pretty pretty) please, base any explanation on a close and careful reading of my posts in this thread. Unsubstantiated emotion/opinion is of as little use to rigorous discussion as it is to book reviews.

    imvho

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    September 17th, 2010 @21:48 #
     
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    Moira, here's a close and careful reading, as requested. In writing "What does ‘stunningly written’ mean? Understated? Elegant? Short club-like sentences? That the reviewer wants to flatter the author? Her husband?", the last two rhetorical questions imply (whether mischievously or not) that the reviewer was only praising Karina's story in order to suck up to her or her husband (a famous man). The less evident corollary, but a corollary no less, is that Karina's story has no intrinsic merit. This introduced a personal and "claws-y" tone to an otherwise sensible comment. You're an intelligent woman -- surely you can see this would be needlessly hurtful, and without merit in the overall debate about reviewing. You could have made yr case equally well by leaving out point 3, or even stopping at "short, club-like sentences" -- hence my charge of "unnecessary".

    Your most recent comment suggests that you feel under attack and don't understand why. I hope this helps. Imvho, everything else you've said above falls within the free and fair nature of debate -- but the trouble with personal swipes is that they do tend to taint otherwise valid arguments.

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    September 17th, 2010 @23:56 #
     
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    Hiya Helen - thanks. Perhaps I should have asked for a close and careful reading of what I wrote *in conjunction with* a close and careful reading of the review I was critiquing. Some bits:

    1. Mischievously or not, and again, I was pointing out the pitfalls *for a reviewer* of a reviewer using hyperbolic and unsubstantiated praise in a review.

    2. I disagree that corollarisation - I pointed to two positive interpretations of the reviewers phrase I was picking on, and to two negative ones. Is there any reason why one or two negatives should trump two positives?

    3. The reviewer (in his review) also offered other praise of the third work that I picked up on - quote: " the most brutally honest and also the most disturbing." I didn't argue this because I considered it substantive (my whole point in this, to reiterate, being the uselessness of unsubstantiated or vague opinion, positive or negative, in a book review). How can it be inferred that I'm suggesting the work has no intrinsic merit?

    4. By the same method, I also pointed out the pitfalls (for a reviewer) of a reviewer using unsubstantiated disparagement in a review.

    No-one has voiced exception to my mentioning the possibility that it be inferred that the reviewer dislikes or is in competition with the authors of the 'silly' and 'odd' stories.

    5. I didn't argue any of the many other substantiated points the reviewer made about texts in the book because (as I made clear above) I was making no comment at all on the original text. My whole post was about reviewers and reviews and about the unsubstantiated parts of the review under discussion.

    6. Again, my question is why what I agree may be construed as a personal swipe at Tim Hopwood, is being interpreted as any kind of swipe at the author of the ‘stunningly written’ piece?

    7. Am I disingenuous, in the light of all the posts above, to wonder why the authors of the 'silly' and 'odd' stories are advised, as a necessary evil of being an author, to merely grin and bear the direct, not even less evident corollary, unsubstantiated opinion-posing-as-review comment on their work?

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    September 22nd, 2010 @09:25 #
     
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    O mag isn't going to use my story, 'Warm Arms of Kampala' after all. At least I got paid, but am left wondering which I would have preferred if I had been able to choose, the money or being published in O? Hmmm. Well it wasn't up to me.

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    September 22nd, 2010 @09:46 #
     
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    I'm sorry Colleen :(

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    September 22nd, 2010 @19:30 #
     
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    Sorry, Colleen. For what it's worth - I did have the opposite experience. My Home Away story was printed in Elle a few months ago and the subject of payment never even came up. Personally, I think the payment is quite a big consolation :)

    You know how it goes on magazines - stories get spiked for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their merit.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    September 22nd, 2010 @20:23 #
     
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    Cash is Queen

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  • <a href="http://www.itsnotmytree.co.za" rel="nofollow">Annette</a>
    Annette
    September 23rd, 2010 @11:19 #
     
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    I'm no reviewer, just the average pleb reader and I absolutely loved every last one of the pieces in Home Away. So much so that I haven't had the heart to put the book on the shelf, it's still on my bedside table months after I bought it and I dip into it from time to time. It makes me patriotic and proud. It's like (borrowing from Helen and Forest Gump) a box of chocolate. Each piece deliciously original, authentic and a real treat. Well done, y'all.
    Perhaps I should start writing reviews. Perhaps some reviewers should just take their carrots and sit on them....

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    September 23rd, 2010 @12:05 #
     
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    Thanks, Annette - what a kind comment. The reader is queen in our world.

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  • Maire
    Maire
    September 23rd, 2010 @18:53 #
     
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    I’ve just read this thread and am surprised by how Moira’s comments have been misconstrued by certain posters (imvho). The way I see it, she hasn’t made any personal attacks. She doesn’t comment on *any* of the stories in Home and Away because she hasn’t read the book (not a prerequisite when commenting on the value of a review, last time I checked).

    What she has done is to put herself in the shoes of a Herald reader ...

    There she sits in her flat in Port Elizabeth, skimming the newspaper. She comes across a review by Tim Hopwood. Hmmm, she thinks, let’s see what Tim has to say this week. ‘Pshaw,’ she then mutters, after reading a review of Home and Away. ‘Another really sketchy piece. I wish he’d lose some of the hyperbole and give me something meatier. Why does he bother? He never seems to have anything substantial to say. I wonder why he said what he did about this book? Could it be because ...?’ (Insert any of the reasons posited hypothetically by Moira.)

    Fact of the matter is, Karina is a literary name married to another literary name. (So were Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Zelda Scott – it happens.) Is a person reading a rave review of her story likely to wonder whether the reviewer is trying to curry favour with her spouse? Possibly. Possibly not. Is Karina’s story stunning? It probably is. But, as has been pointed out, our hypothetical reader doesn’t know this because she hasn’t got to reading the book yet. All she wants to know is whether the book is worth buying, and she's frustrated because the review is so sketchy. (And in fairness to poor old Tim, we don’t know whether what he submitted was chopped to fill a few inches of free newspaper space.) The possible responses to this review are reasonable, given the fact that the reviewer hasn’t , in Moira’s words, ‘really engage[d], in depth, with the work of another (different from you) human being, and attempt[ed] to convey some of this experience to others.’

    Moira is criticising a shoddy review. Imvho.

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