3.03.2010

Reviews, and the End Thereof

I imagine anyone who WAS following my descriptions of the images in the banner of this blog has since lost interest. I apologize - I have a long standing tendency to begin things, and then not to finish them. I am writing today's, simply, because I need to write on the topic anyways. But my thoughts (as is the average for me), are unfocused, so perhaps a picture will help maintain some cohesivity throughout this .

The image underneath reviews above is a Polyphemus Moth. Moths of all animals are the ones I've identified most closely with. As a child, I remember seeing the moths at night, the way they threw themselves over and over at the porch light bulb. The mothe would circle, wildly, blinded I imagine by the light it was so attracted to, then throw itself against the heat, startle away, circle, throw itself against again. I remember wondering when they left - if they'd eventually give up, or if they waited, entranced until the light dissapeared. I remember, and I don't know when, one morning seeing the dessicated corpse of a dust moth, clinging desperately to the bulb.

It's that relationship with light and warmth that attracts me first to the moth. My life is more or less a long series of things I've fluttered blindly around, beat myself against, fluttered blindly - this is sort of the internal battle around the pattern I mentioned before - the beginning without the end. I have a tendency to love great works - works that are, unfailingly greater than my own capacity to perform them. This is how I review books. I don't like writing the classic starred review. I'm not opposed to these types of reviews, but they don't meet my needs as a writer - I'm too selfish to review for the benefit of my readers. The problem is that the only other way to write a satisfying review is something that I can occasionally imitate, but never accomplish, and frequently not even approach. At the moment, to offer perspective, I have 9 books that I haven't reviewed - which since I'm am much slower reader than most of my compatriots in the book blogging world, is a whole lot. Some of these books I loved. And, when I sit to review them, I stare at the lighted screen, beat myself against it for a while, produce nothing, flutter about, try again. It's not simple blogger burnout - it's simply that I want to be a reviewer I'm not capable of being.

The other thing that attracts me about moths, uncreatively enough, is the transformation, the cocoon. As a child, the more classic image of the butterfly meant more to me. Life, to me, has always felt cocooned, wrapped too tight and warm, a little crucible that noone can see inside of, and there's something irresistible in believing that, though the dark of the crucible hides it, that if one struggle hard enough to crack the cover, one will find struggle had SOME purpose, that there is a brightness and perfection that people will see and know.

I'm past those days, now. I don't even want to be bright winged and visible anymore, I'd like to be something small and dusty and quiet, to break out simply so as not to be wrapped so tightly, and flutter off unnoticed. A nuisance to the gardener, perhaps, but more or less inert, a quiet little creature to live it's day and lay it's eggs and quietly dissolve someday.

One way or the other - cocoon or dust moth - the way I review now (or the way I do all my great grand projects. Ask about my writing sometime, I'll laugh long and hard) is unsustainable. I'm no butterfly. When I TRY to be a butterfly, I become arrogant, stuffed-shirted (witness a rather snotty generalization I recently made on Ms Emily's blog, regarding experimental literature), as well as very insecure at being discovered as an imposter. I'm a smaller, drabber creature (thank god, I'm not made for the responsibility of great works). So, and I hope I don't offend or irritate anyone, but if I bore and drive away, I'm willing to accept that: I don't think I'll write reviews anymore. This will probably actually INCREASE the amount of writing about my books that I do, because I will be able to write little quiet dispatches of my experience reading, instead of trying to build grand constructions of budding wisdom. But, I can understand these dispatches may be less interesting. I am not a good place to come if you are looking for recommendations to read, or deep and meaningful insights into thought (for either, I can recommend a number of excellent resource - Ms Emily, Ms Nymeth, and my own Amanda all come to mind immediately, and many others I could also list). I'm really not sure WHAT you might get from my bookish thoughts.. But if you'd like to watch the moths around the bulb, I won't hold it against you. :)

From a business perspective, I'm not sure what this means for challenges I've signed up for - honestly I've done a rotten job of remembering them anyways, so I'm not much of a loss. Most challenges are rather review-centric, so I'll figure out how to manage that - but in short, I apologize for the irresponsibility of a mid course bearings change, to all those who I've committed. Who knows - I honestly have a long history of thinking I've figured out something, only to realize I'm being stupid: to flutter about blindly, as it were. I am still a moth, and I'll probably never escape the fatal desire to overreach my bounds. But I suppose I'll wait and see.

25 comments:

Aarti said...

As someone who is pretty frightened of butterflies, this picture freaked. me. out. I can't even look at your description because I am so stressed by it. I'm sure it's a very good story, but those wings! And I can just imagine it getting up and flying around in a haphazard way after me... ahhh!

Jason Gignac said...

Wow, I had no idea, Aarti! Sorry about that! If it's any comfort, it's a moth, not a butterfly :D. Have you always been scared of butterflies?

Emily said...

Aww, I don't think you were stuff-shirted or snotty! (Even if I disagreed with the point you were making, I was glad you stopped by! :-D)

Anyway, I think "little quiet dispatches of [one's] experience reading" are some of the best & most beautiful types of writing about books, so I don't think you should feel like you're letting anyone down. The more I correspond with people around the book blogosphere, the more I realize that lots of people don't think what they write are "reviews." I don't identify with writing "reviews" - there's no star system, and I don't care about making a judgment about adding works to the canon or taking them away. I'm not trying to persuade other people what to read or not to read. Amateur Reader said the other day he doesn't feel what he writes are reviews. I guess what I'm saying is, you're not alone. :-) I look forward to reading whatever you decide to write.

Jason Gignac said...

Ms Emily - Thank you for saying so - *I* thought I sounded stuffed shirt and snotty. But I *am* glad I didn't offend you :).

Amanda said...

I would worry about the challenges and stuff, Jase. People quit challenges all the time. Just let them go if you don't want to do them; it's no big deal. No need to make reading into a chore for yourself. I've seen how stressed you get about all this, and like I've been telling you for a year now, if you don't want to review anymore, then don't. It's okay. I hope you still keep your blog around to talk about whatever comes to mind, but if it's not books, that's fine. :) Love you.

nicole said...

I read a mediocre but not terrible book a few years back called The Sister that had a lot of information about moths, which had long been one of my most feared animals (something about their blindly flying into you as they buzz around your bedroom at night, and being soft and furry, is too much for me to handle). But a description there of moths' pupal stage gave me a bit of new perspective. And your photo here is certainly lovely.

Regarding "reviews," I can relate to so many of your thoughts here. I'm past those days, now. I don't even want to be bright winged and visible anymore, I'd like to be something small and dusty and quiet, to break out simply so as not to be wrapped so tightly, and flutter off unnoticed. But then, sometimes I don't want to be too dusty. Ah, the constant minor dissatisfactions of life!

Also, I agree with everything Emily says. I don't write "reviews," not normally anyway, and many of the bloggers I read don't either. I want to read writing about books, not "reviews." And I want it to be good, not to a formula. So go with your feelings on this, especially if you've been feeling dissatisfied as a writer. That's no good for anyone.

claire said...

I really love the way you put your thoughts into words. Your statement, "I want to be a reviewer I'm not capable of being" speaks about how I feel most of the time. I also do not consider my posts as reviews because I've always thought reviews give enough of a synopsis (which I don't), give unbiased opinions (which I don't), and be able to critique the book effectively (and I never know how to). My posts will always be subjective and sentimental. But most of the time I just want them to at least give a semblance of good critical thinking, but as I have a hard time with English I cannot articulate myself well enough. I've often thought about stopping blogging. Sometimes I wish I could just read and not be bothered with writing about them. But then what keeps me here is the connection to other readers which I will surely miss if I stopped posting. I have no reader friends (at least, readers who are as passionate about it) in my physical life, except for my youngest sister who is far away, and my 7-year-old son, who I see myself in so much when I was a child, so book blogging friends have become important to me. Now my posts I cannot still bend and mold the way I want them to in my mind, but keep reminding myself why it is that I began blogging, and that is to help me remember favourite passages, to take note of my emotional attachment to each title. I don't think I write posts (reviews) that people want to read anyway. It may appear selfish but they're geared towards me (for posterity) than for the benefit of others, but then that is the only way I know how to write. I wish I could be better, though. So many feelings of inadequacy crop up when writing. Even for me, who considers herself only a reader, not a writer.

Anyway, so sorry for the selfcentric rambling. I do hope you still write (I rather like reading non-reviews more than the usual ones).

Jason Gignac said...

Amanda - Oh I know - I don't like doing a thing that's just for my own egotistical benefit, and I was afraid that's what my babbling would turn into. I don't know, maybe it still will :/. Thank you for your love and support ALL the time.

Ms Nicole - Honestly, I had no idea there was so much antipathy toward moths in the world! I just never thought of it that way, it's been an interesting revelation! As for dissatisfactions - I understand completely. I think the problem for me is that I spent a very long time pretending I already HAD colorful wings, when I didn't. There's a tendency when you arent who you want to be, to try to 'fake it till you make it'. The problem is, you can't become who you wish to be until you know who you already are.

Ms Claire - Oh, don't apologize, I LOVE long comments :). Now I know I don't have to feel bad if I leave one on your blog! I have the good luck to be married to a supergenius, but other than that, don't know anyone who really loves reading, either. Reading and the internet are such an interesting place to exist, both are at once very liberating and very dangerous, you can be anyone and anything in either place - but you have to be that thing, whether you know how or not...

Amanda said...

I just want to state for the record that I am FAR from a supergenius. In fact, I'm one of those people who reviews books in the way everyone's saying here they dislike. I give a summary, I talk about what I liked and didn't like, I tell how I feel and what my experiences were, I analyze the content and the writing...this is just what I do. I write reviews, and i love doing that. No supergeniusness involved.

Valerie said...

Jason, write what you feel like, when you feel like it. Let your blog fit your own personality and style. I look forward to where this will go!

And, for what it's worth, I don't do many challenges myself. I enjoy reading about people doing them and what they're reading for them, but I already know I can't keep up with challenges.

Jason Gignac said...

Amanda - No, I didn't say I dislike it! I'm just compeltely inept at doing it myself! People like you and Nymeth who can review a book in a way that I know what it is, and can inspire me to want to read it (or effectively warn me against it) are completely AMAZING to me :D. I can' maintian one train of thought that long :D.

Amanda said...

I didn't mean to say that YOU disliked it, I just meant to comment that some people like one kind of review, and others like a different kind. Most of the people commenting here have said they prefer your way to the way that I do it, for instance. And that's fine! That's wonderful, really, that so many people can love so many different things. There is room for all of us.

Nymeth said...

I've always loved the way you write about books (maybe I DO enjoy watching moths fluttering around lightbulbs - so what?* :P), so I'll really miss those posts. But if the process was making you miserable, then this is certainly the right decision - I certainly don't enjoy watching my friends be miserable. I look forward to those quiet little dispatches about your reading, which I'm sure I'll also enjoy.

I also wanted to say that I very much agree with Emily's comment - honestly, I've never felt that what I write are reviews. I just call them that because everyone else does. They're just collections of thoughts, and very often I feel completely inadequate about them. But at the same time, I enjoy the process of writing them immensely. I don't wish I didn't have to be bothered with the whole "reviewing" thing once I finish a book - these days, the process of writing finalises the reading for me. Weird, uh? I guess that what I'm trying to say is that I'll never feel like a reviewer, but even if I wasn't blogging I'd probably keep a private reading journal.





*Actually, I have a bit of a mothphobia. Your avatar doesn't freak me out, but real moths do :P

Jason Gignac said...

Ms Valerie - Thanks for the encouragement.
Ms Nymeth - Really? Your reviews (or what have you) are like what I'd want to read in the newspaper back when I would have had one - By the end, I know what the book is about, I know what you though of it, I know a good percentage on whether I'd like it, AND you throw intelligent, thought provoking ideas to boot. So there. :P. Context + analysis + cool reader = good review :). I think for me, more than anything, I get kind of nervous attaching the title to my rambles - like I know I can't say everything I would about a book, and so I feel bad giving that mark of finality to it, you know? It's probably a silly fear, but it intimidates me, anyways. At least I'm writing about dead people, alive people would be worse... and I'm completely boggled by the much Moth fear in the world! Moths just seems like such harmless little things! Maybe I'm NOT inert! *worry worry ;P*

Debi said...

Jason, I don't know what to say. I can't believe the way you seem to be beating yourself up. And all because you don't write a book review in the manner of a newspaper book reviewer or something? The way you talk about books is special, Jason. I adore reading your posts, even when I leave here feeling more stupid than usual. Because yeah, your posts are intelligent!!! Insightful. They look at things from unusual perspectives. You know, I know you didn't mean to, but you made me feel incredibly pathetic for even mentioning books on my blog. Because I can neither write a gorgeous review of a book like Ana can nor can I put my feelings into such beautiful prose as you do. No, I pretty much just suck at talking about books period.

Moths...something you and my darling husband have in common. Except, of course, he doesn't think so philosophically. No, ever the science geek, each summer he hangs large sheets of white cotton fabric over our garage doors where he shines his extremely expensive special lightbulb to attract moths. He turns the light on for an hour or so each night so see what moths he can attract. (They're easy to see and photograph on the white fabric.) Then he turns of his extremely expensive special lightbulb so all the moths will fly off and enjoy their night. :)

Nymeth said...

Oh my god Debi, remind me to NEVER go visit you in the summer *shudder*

Um, sorry, Jason. As you were :P

Trapunto said...

The end?! I just got here!

I have been enjoying your blog precisely because your reviews are unlike anything else I've come across on the internet so far. I can see how much thought goes into them, and understand how that kind of effort could become a burden, so no need to apologise for a change of course. Please don't worry about driving people off. And give your readers the compliment of expecting them to be able to spot an impostor, which you are not! The whole thing about blogging is that everyone is stretching out to the limits of their foggy knowledge, in order to have something in common with each other. It's a given. It's almost impossible to talk about loving books and ideas without sounding like a stuffed shirt. Any book blog that *doesn't* sound a little stuffed shirty sounds affectedly casual. It's one or the other. Or like me, swinging between the two extremes!

I look forward to whatever way of talking about books you find next.

For the record: another slight mothophobe. Goes back to when I had to make an insect collection for a biology class. The trauma of trying to get a 3-inch moth into a killing jar made me inform the teacher I was abandoning the project, and take the dock to my grade.

Debi said...

Ana,
Never you fear...he'd gladly take a hiatus from moth watching if we got your company in return! :)

And Jason, I'm with you...I had no idea there was so much moth fear in the world...they're such pretty little creatures. Now centipedes, on the other hand...*shudder*

Jason Gignac said...

Ms Debi - I already panicked all over you on email over your comment, so I won't repeat her e:). Put Centipedes... yeah... it's all those little legs...

Ms Nymeth - you're always welcome to 'interrupt' my comment stream. I feel like I should set up a support group for you guys about moths... :D

Ms Trapunto - I will keep writing, thank you. NO!!!!!!! DON'T KILL THE MOTHS!!!!!!!!

Rebecca Reid said...

I have often wondered why you have the moth image.

As for "reviews" I'm with the others in that I really enjoy what you share about your reading experiences. I don't care how people write about what they're reading: I like how everyone has their own style. I'll miss your ramblings if you stop completely!

I'm like Nymeth in that while it would be nice to not have to write things once I'm Done with a book, I like the closure it gives me.

claire said...

Dear Amanda.. I love the way you write your reviews. In fact, I wish I were able to do my own that way. But the reason I don't is not that I don't want to but that I don't know how to. You critique books very well. I am really bad at it. But I guess it has to do with you being a writer as well. You two are both married to supergeniuses. :D

Amanda said...

Aw, Claire, that is so sweet. I actually love the way you write your thoughts on books. :)

Jason Gignac said...

Ms Reid - Thank you so much! At least so far, I've honestly probably been talking TOO MUCH. Though, I'm also known for being notoriously inconsistent, so take that for what it's worth...

Amateur Reader said...

The more review-like my writing is, the worse I feel it is, almost always. Although, come to think of it, I'm never too happy with my non-review-like writing.

Anyway, I sympathize, a lot. The best thing about blogging is the freedom available. The question is how to use it.

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