Paul Bryant's Reviews > What Pooh Might Have Said to Dante and Other Futile Speculations

What Pooh Might Have Said to Dante and Other Futile Speculations by Manny Rayner
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Apr 25, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: reading-about-reading

Unfortunately necessary postscript added

***


In Manny's foreword he writes about Goodreads

At first I couldn’t really see the point of entering all your books on an internet database, writing reviews of them, and comparing them with reviews other people had written . . . but, remarkably quickly, I found I had become an addict. I have now posted well over a thousand reviews….
So what is the point, you may ask? I’m not quite sure I can explain, but let me try. Your first reaction, if you’re a sensible person, is that it’s silly: how can you possibly think of something new and interesting to say about Hamlet, or Jane Eyre, or even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? But every person reads the book in their own way and has their own associations; to themselves, to the people they know, to other books they’ve read. Writing about a book is a way of writing about your whole life


How true this is. So perhaps this is a good moment to ask what Goodreads is and what it has been doing for the last few years. Which is to say what we have been doing. Or haven't.

For me there are two big things we aren't

1) we aren't professional – the pros come in two sizes, the professional reviewers who you read in the Sunday papers or in the LRB/NYRB; and the lit crits. The first lot are I think getting worried by all this online reviewing. I've read a couple of articles asking if they have a future – why trust a professional reviewer who you know is a novelist moonlighting for extra dosh as a reviewer of novels written by people she might well have had … lunch with that very day - why not trust a fellow reader with no axe to grind? As for the lit crits, you have to have a gun at your head to read most of them.

and

2) we aren't Amazon - there are still many great reviews on Amazon but it isn't a community, and strangely, patchily, goodreads is. I've noticed there are almost no idiots on goodreads whereas you can't move on Amazon for grossly misspelled ranting by people who don't get out much.


More from Manny :

I don’t want to make exaggerated claims for Goodreads. Like
all social network sites, it’s a tremendous time-waster. People
have bitchy conversations and fight for meaningless status rewards
(there is intense competition to see who receives most
votes for their reviews).


Also true. I've even written one review in the form of a begging letter for more votes. And given the enormous popularity of YA and romance fiction unsurprisingly the famous Top/Best lists are sclerotically clogged with YA/romance lovers and the all time best reviews list constipated with Twilight parodies which will remain there until goodreads freezes over. So the lists are only partially useful/fun. In chart terms there have always been R&B charts, dance charts, folk charts, country charts (no one buys enough jazz for them to bother). GR could do with YA top 50s, romance top 50s and SENSIBLE top 50s. What we have at the moment is democracy gone mad.

The vote-grabbing does tend to tempt certain persons into bad ways, though, it must be admitted. My third-most popular "review" is of New Moon, just some cute things Georgia (daughter aged 12 at that point) said about the books and the movies. I have no intention of reading New Moon but I knew people would like to read her observations and they did. And sometimes I think all I do is comedy reviews, which isn't good, or reading something because I think I can get a funny review out of it, which is worse. I should delete those. You can see some people flogging themselves to do a really thoughtful piece on some big serious history book and getting three votes. Must be disheartening.

I'd take issue with Manny about time-wasting, however. Was it a waste of time for him to take the idea of the Celebrity Death Match and transform it into the surreal caravanserai of readerly lunacy it became last year? No – who would not want to reead about Jane Eyre beating down Winnie the Pooh and leaving him stuffed half in and half out of a storm drain?

And in general, speaking for myself, I was always a big reader but I never liked the chocolate-box aspect of reading, just gobbling up one book after another. I like to discuss and debate the thing of words which just passed through my brain. I like to figure it out if I can. But I don't know anyone in real life who also likes to do that. Or if I do, they're reading other stuff. And book clubs don't work for me either because they have so many rules – you have to read a book everyone agrees to – but I only want to read the books I want to read when I want to read them. Is that unreasonable? No! On goodreads someone is always reading the book I'm interested in. Imagine if you're living in a foreign country, you don't speak the language, you're walking along the streets of the capital city, you turn down an unfamiliar road and there sprawled out across the pavement is one of those loud shouty cafes full of people who not only speak your language but grab you and sit you down and buy you a drink and tell you their latest theory about Bram Stoker. That's what this place is like. Something like that.

Oh yes, and Manny's book is really good, but you know you can read all that stuff for free online. Don't tell him I told you.


**

this was written before the GR minnow was swallowed by the blue whale of Amazon, and so point 2 above rings a little hollow now - but still, I'm in the blandly optimistic "they won't kill the goose that laid the golden egg" frame of mind at the moment.
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Reading Progress

April 25, 2012 – Started Reading
April 25, 2012 – Shelved
April 25, 2012 – Finished Reading
December 9, 2015 – Shelved as: reading-about-reading

Comments (showing 1-50 of 84) (84 new)


Manny Thank you Paul!

who would not want to read about Jane Eyre beating down Winnie the Pooh and leaving him stuffed half in and half out of a storm drain?

Yes, I quite agree... the thought of the animals dancing round her burning house singing Hums is indeed strangely appealing...


message 2: by notgettingenough (last edited Apr 25, 2012 11:01AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

notgettingenough I mostly like this consideration of goodreads very much, but I'm not completely comfortable with this:

we aren't professional – the pros come in two sizes, the professional reviewers who you read in the Sunday papers or in the LRB/NYRB; and the lit crits. The first lot are I think getting worried by all this online reviewing. I've read a couple of articles asking if they have a future – why trust a professional reviewer who you know is a novelist moonlighting for extra dosh as a reviewer of novels written by people she might well have had … lunch with that very day - why not trust a fellow reader with no axe to grind? As for the lit crits, you have to have a gun at your head to read most of them.

Firstly, I don't think the picture of a goodreads reviewer with no axe to grind is entirely accurate: we probably almost all have axes to grind. Not only that, but there is an awful lot of 'review my "book"' going around goodreads. Do you really think that these are honest reviews? Since you haven't written any books you probably don't get so much of that, though I would be surprised if you don't get asked to review. But there is a 'we authors have to stick together' argument some of them hit you with. HUH? I mean gee willikers, give me a break.

Of course, it may be good that people get to write something, click a .pdf button and turn it into a 'book' which gets 'reviews' and then some sales. The internet lets anybody succeed. But it might be bad too.

Secondly, it is my opinion that nobody in the public arena is allowed to write honest reviews any more. It is another area of life in which the threat of legal action has taken over. Newspapers almost never have the reviews we used to of restaurants, theatre, music - and, of course, books. I don't think this is the fault of those you call the professional reviewers. Some time society will figure out that it has completely fucked things up by giving this agency to lawyers, but until then - I guess the time will come when they try to make a buck out of suing you on goodreads, Paul...and then we'll see if you can stick to your principles!


Paul Bryant I look forward to the following lawsuits

Chuck Palahniuk

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Fred Rosen

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Mark Morris

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Time Out magazine

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Mary Gaitskill

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

and of course Haruki Murakami, in which I refrained from denouncing his book but simply demonstrated that anybody could write exactly like him for page after page.

Actually HF tells me she thinks I'm so cruel to writers she won't read any of my reviews.

There are still pro critics who will write bad reviews. AA Gill in the Sunday times is famous for it. He reviews restaurants - a couple of flavoursome quotes :

Sunday, March 18, 2012 - We had dumplings that looked like sumo wrestlers' gum guards and tasted faintly of fat boys' bad breath.

I had the now-ubiquitous wagyu sirloin, which I ordered rare, and came medium, verging on well done. It was the only thing that was well done. It gave off the faint flavour of Wonderloaf soaked in warm dripping, and it cost 85 of your English pounds, which makes it the most expensive steak in this part of the world...The kitchen has a swanky charcoal grill from Argentina. Apparently, they delivered it without the instructions.

**

So there!

I very occasionally get spam from people trying to get me to review their stuff. I never do. They cannot buy me with soft cooings and beguiling winks.

The people who do end up reviewing each others stuff on goodreads are going to be wanky YA types, or thriller types, etc. If Vladimir Nabokov was still with us he would never do that.


Manny I LOVE the A.A. Gill quote! And good luck with your lawsuits :)


message 5: by Traveller (last edited Apr 26, 2012 02:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Traveller Gill seems one of those people that you'd pay NOT to visit your restaurant.

Re the lawsuits: a lot of things have to be proven first before they're liable to succeed.

I suppose if the plaintiff is legally insured anyway, it would make sense to try, anyway, and the revenge may possibly simply lie in the legal fees the defendant may be forced to incur.

However, if the defendant wins, it's often with costs, so... not always a good idea...


Paul Bryant wouldn't it be like a great unexpected gift to be sued by Don DeLillo or A S Byatt? I would call you all as character witnesses to affirm by strict literary probity and unimpeachable critical fairness.


Traveller Regarding people asking you to peek at their writings - what's the harm? Unless they're close friends and are going to nag you to finish the damn thing, and their damn piece of crap is so vile that you'd rather break off the friendship than read one more word of that shit.

I have another friend's work which I found some of it a pleasant read, other pieces not.

But re GR encounters; I've taken a peek in the past out of curiosity, and found some indie writings put out there for free quite good actually, though a lot of it, you wouldn't even go past the first 3 sentences.

In fact, I've just finished reading an indie writer's work (don't know the man from a bar of soap) which I found pretty good in the end, and I think I'd like to push his novel, because I'd really like to see more from his pen. ..and ER James, S. Collins, and S Meyer can file a collective lawsuit against me for saying that at least he writes with 1000 x their skill and 1000 x their intelligence.

Life is just so strange, sometimes, because I suppose that's not what counts - what counts is that a gazillion teenagers get kicks out of reading about some chick and some guy getting it together in some or other kinky way.

Write a novel about an alien living in swamp keeping a harem of cheer leaders as sex slaves in some mud hole down in a grotto, and you'd get a bigger readership than writing anything that requires a bit of thought.

(In fact, come to think of it: I'm suddenly feeling extremely tempted to write an "erotic horror novel", just as an experiment, and make it as explicit and pulpy as possible, and see if I get a readership out of it. :X Seriously. I just need to find the time.

Of course, this will take place under a nom de plume.


message 8: by Manny (last edited Apr 26, 2012 02:39AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manny It would be a pleasure to witness in your favour, Paul. "As unimpeachably fair-minded as Paul Bryant" - it's kind of become a cliché on Goodreads.


Traveller Paul wrote: "wouldn't it be like a great unexpected gift to be sued by Don DeLillo or A S Byatt? I would call you all as character witnesses to affirm by strict literary probity and unimpeachable critical fairn..."

LOL.. I'll claim I don't know how on earth GR came to list you as one of my "friends"!

Nah, we could always claim we appointed you as court jester in the halls of GR.


message 10: by Traveller (last edited Apr 26, 2012 02:35AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Traveller Manny wrote: "It would be a pleasure to witness in your favour, Paul. "An unimpeachably fair-minded as Paul Bryant" - it's kind of become a cliché on Goodreads."

It seems I'm much more nasty than Manny, eh? Manny is such a nice person. It's why you're my no.1 around here Manny, you're such a kind person.

Paul, you're second on the list for being a bit less kind,(but hey, that makes for honesty, right?) but still very, very amusing.

Now, I wasn't saying that Manny isn't honest too. Having two people like the 2 of you around makes it very hard to.. erm.. -have you ever had two(or possibly more) children, and both of them say: "Mommy/Daddy, I'm the bestest/most honest/smartest/*insert random claim* child, aren't I?"

When praising one GR friend, you suddenly wonder if the others might see what you posted, and feel excluded. Hrrrmm. Eggshells, eggshells..


message 11: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant it's a good cop bad cop thing. I could be the bad lieutenant of goodreads.


message 12: by Traveller (last edited Apr 26, 2012 04:25AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Traveller Paul wrote: "it's a good cop bad cop thing. I could be the bad lieutenant of goodreads."

Good call. ..and thanks for throwing me a lifeline to pull myself out of that uncomfortable little corner I'd painted myself into. "Phew!"

Seriously though, you guys (including some other GR friends as well) write very amusing reviews, I often have tears rolling down in mirth.

Don't ever stop the comedy, it's healthy to laugh, and I need my laugh a day.


message 13: by Alan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alan Oh yes, and Manny's book is really good, but you know you can read all that stuff for free online - yeh, that's why I haven't bought it.


message 14: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch Regarding writers reviewing their friends for payment in the pages of major newspapers, I find it straight-up sickening. One locally-famous writer in Australia recently included his girlfriend's book in pride of place at the end of his end-of-year best-of list. Ugh! (Same dude who was too scared to say he obviously hated IQ84.) And not a whole lotta humour in his reviews neither. You're gonna review a friend, you're gonna want to do it humorously, and with a major disclaimer attached: 'Now this is my friend so I could be prejudiced here.' Anyhow, long live Goodreads, and thanks for the analysis. I've only just tweaked to all the vote-grabbing and don't quite grasp the etiquette, so all information is appreciated.


Manny Ben wrote: "Regarding writers reviewing their friends for payment in the pages of major newspapers, I find it straight-up sickening. One locally-famous writer in Australia recently included his girlfriend's bo..."

As Paul says, this is the norm. The English satirical journal Private Eye tracks a lot of it and publishes regular updates, if you want more detail.


message 16: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch Nah thanks for the tip Manny but I don't need more detail - it makes me sick, as I said. Besides which these days I read so few professional reviews it really doesn't impact on me personally. But yeah, if it was good enough for Vonnegut and Joseph Heller then I guess it must be the norm (though I'd hope those guys at least provoked few laughs while they scratched each other's backs).


message 17: by Kate (new)

Kate I'm really surprised to be the first to say this but Paul, YOUR reviews should be collected in book form. Really.


Manny You're not the first, Kate! I've said this to Paul more than once, but he just won't listen. Maybe you'll be able to persuade him.


message 19: by Manny (last edited Apr 27, 2012 09:18AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manny Of course, when he sees how rich and famous I become as a result of publishing my reviews, he may think again. Or then again, maybe he won't.


message 20: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant Thanks Kate..! I'm flattered and flustered. In many ways, however, all of our reviews have already found their best possible audience.


David Cerruti Paul writes: “… Manny's book is really good, but you know you can read all that stuff for free online.”

I don’t look at it that way. Time is money.
My time may not be worth the inflated value I give it, but it is more than zero.

The Goodreads website is a very good value, because it’s good and free. But there is much room for improvement, especially in navigation and search. Imagine trying to find your way among all of Manny’s reviews and other writings. Here are some of the best of his reviews in one handy place. Think of all the time you can save. Of course, Manny’s worst reviews might also be worth reading, so one could just read everything, but that would take a long time. And I suspect that Manny writes faster than I can read.


Manny Thank you David! And if anyone thinks that I just included the reviews which collected the largest numbers of votes, that's not correct. In fact, many of the highest-voted reviews aren't included, and some included reviews only have a handful of votes.

Not that that necessarily means the book's better, of course, but it does mean that it contains fewer references to Twilight. So, Twilight-lovers, I'm afraid I've kind of ruined it for you. Sorry.


message 23: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant Oh yes, if I ever collected by favourites together some of them would be real low scoring ones. Big votes is not a sign of quality review - i think we knew that.


Manny Paul, if you get around to compiling that collection, I'm pretty sure I'd buy a copy. At the very least a cheap, tacky PDF.


message 25: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant who said "they make a precarious living taking in each other's washing" ? i think it was Swift.

Thanks - but I would send you a review copy anyway.


message 26: by Laima (new)

Laima Manny wrote: "You're not the first, Kate! I've said this to Paul more than once, but he just won't listen. Maybe you'll be able to persuade him."

Oh, I agree Paul .... and please include the book review on Cows!


Manny Moo! Moo!


message 28: by Yams (new)

Yams I am finding this to be an interesting topic. Is it me? But I find the discussion about reviews, the merits, votes on reviews, to be rare and insightful. I agree that voting on GR has turned into a popularity contest which is counterproductive to the point. I too steer clear of that since I find it to be a waste of time. Reading is consuming enough. I do know some people who enjoy reading reviews and not the books themselves. (I cock my head to the side like a dog when confused)

Thanks for an interesting discussion. I always enjoy your reviews and comedic twists.


message 29: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant I tell you what then, I'll overcome my natural reticence and make a My Top Twenty. Then you can catch up and vote for the ones you missed see if you still think this is a good idea.


message 30: by Laima (new)

Laima Moo Moo!!


David Cerruti Paul writes: ”… I'll overcome my natural reticence and make a My Top Twenty.”

If it includes Ulysses better make it a 2 volume set.


message 32: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant Moo, moo, everyone.

http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/3...

Bon appetit.


David Cerruti Another cheap trick from Paul.
Instead of selling a paper copy or an ebook, he’s giving it away.
Just because I.E. surpassed Netscape with this tactic, there is no excuse.
If any of the links don’t work, I’m demanding my money back.


message 34: by Manny (last edited May 21, 2012 06:05AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manny If any of the links don’t work, I’m demanding my money back.

Me too. And double if Goodreads folds up and you lose all your writing!


David Cerruti I take it all back. That P Bryant guy is clever.
He learned a valuable lesson from What Pooh Might have Said … .
The problem with What Pooh … is one can’t vote for the review without digging through Goodreads.
Paul’s workaround is brilliant. The link does all the digging for you. At the end of the review, there is the like button staring at you. After all that time saving, one feels sort of obligated to click it.


Manny If the PDF version of Pooh/Dante weren't so cheap and tacky, I would have put in clickable links to allow people to vote. Maybe I will bring out a de luxe edition.


message 37: by Traveller (last edited May 21, 2012 07:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Traveller Manny wrote: "If the PDF version of Pooh/Dante weren't so cheap and tacky, I would have put in clickable links to allow people to vote. Maybe I will bring out a de luxe edition."

Yeah! That'll be excellent! I missed a lot of the original reviews.

I guess one could simply go to the book to get the review and vote though, eh?


Traveller Hmm, they're not that easy to find though. Where's The Little Mermaid, for instance?


Manny Traveller wrote: "Hmm, they're not that easy to find though. Where's The Little Mermaid, for instance?"

Here! I agree, not too obvious.

I will see if I can get the de luxe edition put together. Really I would like a foreword from MJ Nicholls.


message 40: by Paul (last edited May 21, 2012 08:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant this is my master plan for overtaking Manny in the top 20! Click click!


Manny If this is an attempt to pressure me into creating the de luxe edition, it might work...


message 42: by Paul (last edited Jul 25, 2012 06:49PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant oh, by the way, my sweet-natured GR friends, the comments in my above review about the general loveliness of Goodreads should perhaps be regarded as a little on the Walt Disney side in retrospect... check out this article about bullying on Goodreads

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stop-th...


Manny I would have taken this piece more seriously if the #1 ringleader hadn't been Kat. I mean, Kat has an acid tongue and can enjoy teasing people, but the kind of psychotic sadist they're describing? Puh-lease.


message 44: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant all kinds of conniption fits occurring at the moment it seems

http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_...

I could provide a lot of links but if you google Goodreads Bullies you'll get them. One of the things this tells me is that there really are different worlds here on GR. It seems this heaving hysteria is a wholly horrible happening in the YA/vampire/romance area, I think, and especially amongst people who review books before they've come out.


Manny I skimmed the first few paragraphs.

Well, if James Austen is using words with "laser-like precision", I hope no one ever gives him a real laser...


message 46: by Noran (new) - added it

Noran Miss Pumkin I really think you are one of those sickening individuals I met going to school-who cheered when essays were signed, and had their term papers done well before the deadlines. You do it so well too!


message 47: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant yeah but did you read all this stuff?

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/9...


Cecily Great review. I've seen very little serious nastiness on GR (though your latest link was worth a read), certainly far less than many other online sites, but as you say, that related to a zeitgeisty YA book (The Hunger Games).


message 49: by Bronwen (new)

Bronwen Extra points for using the phrase "sclerotically clogged"!


Shovelmonkey1 Who hated whom first and where? Where can i get into a goodreads punch up? ;)


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