Reviewing the Reviews and Reviewing the Reviewers

Remember Literature class? When your interpretation meant nothing unless it was the same interpretation as your teachers’ interpretation? I always thought that was BS. Unless the teacher wrote the story, or the writer wrote what his/her inspiration and meaning was… although, I still wouldn’t trust the latter, being a writer myself.
Over the years, I’ve taken many writing classes: creative writing, poetry, memoir writing. In college, I was taking a writing course and realized the morning of the class that I had not completed the assignment. Usually I can write a story in no time at all, but I needed printed copies for the class and this was a while back when printers were slow, so I cheated: I handed in a story I had written in high school. Xerox copied.
The story, “Willow”, was about a senior in a small town high school. His mother has been distant since his father left years ago, and he doesn’t have many friends. Then a replacement English teacher becomes his mentor and he is finally able to share that he is gay. The teacher, a young man who had grown up in the town but come back to take care of his dying mother, is gay as well. The teacher understands what the main character is going through and tells him that there are many places he can go where being gay isn’t such a stigma.
I handed the story out and listened to the class discuss it for thirty minutes. They talked about how “deep” it was that there was a willow tree in both back yards. (The assignment in high school was to include some kind of tree. I was on the phone with my friend Adam who had played a game called “Willow” at summer camp. Hence, willows in the gardens. Nothing “deep” about it.) The class further discussed how the willows symbolized the sadness the main character felt. (There was a Willow tree a few houses away from my grandparents house and I always thought that it would make a nice spot to read or write  — if I could get rid of the bugs!)
And on and on for thirty minutes, which can be a long time when people are reading deep meanings into a story which is decidedly not deep. (An often used legal trick done by prosecutors when the victim died from strangulation.  Have the jury look at the clock for the 2 minutes and 56 seconds that it took to kill the victim. Complete silence in the courtroom. Tell the jury to think about the fact that s/he was being strangled throughout the whole time. Easy conviction.)
This brings me to the review part. I’m going to assume we all know what a review is. We read or watch reviews of books, tv shows, movies, clothing fads… it seems that for everything that is created, there is someone with an opinion and they want to share it. While there is nothing wrong with that, what I find scary is when reviewers get to a g-d-like point in their careers, and then it becomes a question of who can produce the most money versus who can produce the most enjoyable product.

However, when reviewing something, say, a book, it is hard to stick to the facts of the book without introducing one’s own opinion. It is hard to “keep to the script”, that is, describe the story without giving away any major plot points, and without giving it our own personal stamp. If generic romance novels bore me, and I’m assigned the task of reading then reviewing the book… my review will be much different from someone who looks forward to the next release date. My review will probably not be as good, either, since I am not looking forward to reading the book, and I am not likely to enjoy reading something that, to me, has no positive literary value. But that’s just my opinion.

 

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