Deconstructing Goodreads 'reviews' – or the not so Great Leap Backwards!

I just read through all the reviews of my books on the Goodreads website – and a lot of the negative ones are premised on the retarded assumption that realism is the only valid form for ‘fiction’. I’ll begin with some examples of this from Goodreads ‘reviews’ of my anti-novel 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess:
J.C. Moylan: “stewart home needs to learn how women think if he’s going to make his protaganist (sic) a woman.”
What a plonker – and dig the lower case spelling of my name, although I doubt this is an e. e. cummings fan.
Likewise, C. Vance: “very few men can write from a woman’s point of view.  very few men can write from a woman’s point of view this poorly – especially the first-person recollections of sex. after the narration of her ‘meat curtains’ and his ‘fuck stick’ i was done. inane nonsense with regurgitated lit theory to try to make it seem like legitimate fiction instead of another smut book.”
Which leads us on to the same error made from the opposite perspective by Tess (no surname give) on her Goodreads ‘review’ of Dead Princess: “too many references to pulp fiction get in the way of this book actually BEING pulp fiction, which is what I percieve (sic) as the author’s intentions.”
What I’m actually trying to do is render all genre boundaries meaningless – and not just those between pulp and literature, but also fiction and non-fiction –  none of which are actually real, but they are nonetheless perceived as ‘real’ by those in thrall to them. It should go without saying that genres evolve over time, and that what is included in any particular genre also shifts historically. Given that I’m going beyond literature, I’ve no interest in the straight production or reproduction of other genres either. Literature is in part created by its division from pulp, these two categories both conjure up and buttress each other – what I want to do is overflow canalisation of this type. While those who berate me for failing to write realist literature tend to be way more obnoxious when giving vent to their ridiculous opinions, anyone who tries to understand my anti-novels as pulp has also failed to grasp what it is I’m doing (and is therefore unable to pass worthwhile judgements on my books).
Returning to Dead Princess but moving onto another common misunderstanding when it comes to my writing (and, indeed, the work of all those who have grasped that literature is dead), we get this from Alberta (no surname given):
“disappointing… the writing seemed too rote… like he was anxious to get everything down but he didn’t care how he said it. ”
Which echoes but is less explicit than a comment I noticed on a Goodreads review of Steve Beard’s Meat Puppet Cabaret:
Becca  “… i think that a book which strays so far from conventional narrative, it should have more exciting language.”
The complaint that I suspect is being made here is that the language isn’t literary – unfortunately many  ‘reviews’ on Goodreads are so short and/or poorly expressed that it is often difficult to understand very precisely what the poster is trying to say. That said,  I have been told numerous times that I can’t write because I don’t use flowery literary language. Those who make this claim simply don’t understand I want my words to flow so I make my sentences as simple as possible to achieve the effect and ‘meaning’ (or in many cases disillusion of ‘meaning’) I’m aiming at. Mostly complexity in my books comes from a piling up of concepts, not from individual sentences. That said my prose is worked at – you don’t get smooth and rhythmic sentences from a first draft – and obviously I am not aiming for literary effect (since that would mitigate against what I set out to achieve – the supersession of literature among other things).
The problem with Goodreads – and Amazon ‘reviews’ too for that matter –  is that many of those who presume to pass judgement on my writing lack the skill and knowledge to do so. A ‘good’ proportion of these would-be ‘critics’ have been brainwashed into thinking that all books should be judged by conventional and hackneyed nineteenth-century literary standards. While I don’t doubt that readers of this type dislike what I write, were they able to understand my books I might yet groove them – but even if after gaining a little relevant knowledge they still loathed my prose, it would be better if they were able to express an opinion about my writing without making complete fools of themselves. Those who’ve never encountered tripped out post-fiction in all its (un)originality – and haven’t yet understood the nature of modernism’s break with realist tropes – aren’t so much reversing into the future as plunging headlong into the past!
Of course I wouldn’t stop these ill-informed bozos from adding their reactionary inanities to Goodreads – after all their failed attempts at putting down my books simply add to my credibility.  The question is to what extent we should bother to engage with small ‘c’ conservatives who base their criticisms of 21st century post-fiction on the conventions of nineteenth-century realist prose? They might learn something from us but should they fail to do so, then having anything to do with these imbeciles is just a complete waste of time.
Just in case you want to see it here is my author profile at Goodreads –
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by TB on 2011-12-28 23:01:55 +0000

I like Goodreads because I can keep track of my book collecting/reading. I rarely communicate with people on there – and some are actual friends (like you). But yeah as an author it must be weird to read about your work. And it is just people writing away…

Comment by Steve H. on 2011-12-28 23:33:16 +0000

Nice essay. I think much of the trouble stems from English Lit class at school – all those English Lit grads regurgitating the hackneyed views of profs that havent got a clue about actual writing. All those idiots that think (B)Orwell is a “great writer”. Also generally people assume that if they can’t understand what you’re saying, you must be stupid.

Comment by RSA on 2011-12-29 00:00:16 +0000

Why do you read reviews on the internet? It can never be helpful.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-12-29 00:29:30 +0000

I guess I’m interested in Web 2.0 – and reading reviews of my stuff online is one way into it…. Hadn’t looked at Goodreads properly before and I was trying to understand the site…

Comment by Michael Roth on 2011-12-29 00:35:20 +0000

On the Interwebs, everyone is a critic (unfortunately)!

Comment by Michael Roth on 2011-12-29 02:23:40 +0000

It’s interesting that Dead Princess has the most reviews and is the one being singled out, for the most part, for a lot of this criticism. It’s in part a book about books (their structure, narrative, history, etc) and draws on a wide range of sources (Ann Quin, B.S. Johnson, Trocchi and loads more). I found myself taking copious notes for future reading! Avid readers should be rejoicing. I think among those bad reviews, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what you were doing in that book combined with an inability to articulate this criticism (and a willingness to write it down in spite of all this.)
Then again, maybe I got it all wrong. I still thought it was a fun trip. In the end, at least people are reading your stuff.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-12-29 12:08:55 +0000

Dead Princess sold better than my other novels in English – it’s a different story with the translations… so that’s why more have commented on that than the other books….. It is the worst there for dumb comments and misunderstanding – and worse than most of the more interesting books by other contemporary writers I’ve checked… Maybe I should be rejoicing because it means I’m reaching a wider audience than my peers….
Nonetheless it is frustrating because it seems unlikely the clowns making the comments would criticise an abstract painting for not being a still life or landscape or portrait or whatever; so there aren’t really any good reasons why they should try and apply realist criteria to attempts at criticising non-realist writing…. It reflects something in the culture – and I think particularly WASP culture – and is clearly broader than just my books, which is partly why I thought it was worth bringing up.
The arguments about how ‘women’ think also really stick in my throat. It isn’t singular anyway. It’s like those making these comments are completely unaware of the arguments about white middle-class women attempting to dominate the feminist movement and assuming all women think the same way as them (which obviously isn’t the case). The usual case of the over-privileged being particularly stupid and obnoxious with these reviews too I guess….
But I noticed similar essentialism in arguments elsewhere. There was a review of No Pity which claimed I wasn’t gay so the review seemed to be suggesting I shouldn’t write about gay sex. The ‘review’ also completely missed the fact that the gayness of the characters in question emerged from my parody of early Class War: since in that group at that time the arguments in favour of a polymorphous perversity emerged from people who were on the whole (not entirely) straight – so it was done for humour and emerged from for the material I was dealing with and was not related directly to me….
Other reviewers missing the point include a review of The Assault On Culture which says it doesn’t understand who the book is aimed at because the information is known to those interested in the subject. The reviewer here misses the point that the book was first published in 1988 when these things weren’t so well known and a lot of the information was new to many of the people interested in the subject. The fact that the book can now appear redundant might thus be read as a measure of its success…. It’s like the reviewer can’t see beyond the end of his nose and is unable to grasp the process of historification….
And I could go on but I won’t (for now)! But all in all it doesn’t make Goodreads look very useful as a site…

Comment by Michael Roth on 2011-12-29 13:11:22 +0000

Unfortunately, I think some people DO criticize abstract paintings for not being realistic. Oh well.
You’re point that it is a reflection of the culture is certainly true. There are a lot of things going on here (uncritical thought, online narcissism, education, upbringing, etc) but when you boil it down, the conservative nature of the culture comes through. Criticizing you for your inclusion/portrayal of gay or female characters because you are not gay or a woman is silly. It’s hard to argue against because of how ridiculous those assertions are. (At least I don’t think you are a woman. I know Tony White is not a woman, as I’ve seen him in the Stewart Home videos).
I’ve poked around Good Reads a few times over the past few years but I have not found it particularly interesting or enlightening. As an author, at least it presents another channel to promote your work. But in terms of social networking, for me it’s a bust.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-12-29 15:44:06 +0000

I don’t think there’s much on Goodreads even for authors – a matter of the old in and out to do the promo… I’m using it to link to stuff I’ve done elesewhere via reviews etc… Having looked at it quickly over the years ever since getting my first invite to join, I’ve never felt it was very interesting. And when and having finally taken the plunge I’m less than impressed… You’d hope the discussion would better better than Amazon reviews – as it isn’t a consumer sales site – but it isn’t. Forward to LibraryThing? Or the more obviously into consumerism and sales – but currently less successful – Sheflari and aNobii? BookArmy already proved a flop for HarperCollins!

Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2011-12-29 15:57:54 +0000

I think ‘This book is fucking stupid’ would make a great title…. maybe I’ll plagiarise it!

Comment by A Psychiatrist Writes… on 2011-12-29 16:54:38 +0000

C. Vance sounds uptight, middle-class and seriously repressed. Going to a few orgies might help this individual get over their hang-ups!

Comment by Jimmy The Ferret on 2011-12-29 18:46:51 +0000

My guess would be that all those criticising you for not knowing how women think are het up hetrosexual transvestites with even less of a clue than you…. Cross dressers of the world unite, you have nothing to burn but your bras!

Comment by Tessie Talk on 2011-12-29 19:34:56 +0000

Men in skirts rock! So jump into your glad rags buster!

Comment by Christopher Nosnibor on 2011-12-29 20:44:41 +0000

…and of course, one could argue that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. So, while the majority of contemporary readers seem more unwilling than ever to embrace any literature that challenges their increasingly narrow perceptions of ‘literature’, they fail to appreciate that writing that’s actually worth the paper it’s printed on won’t conform. Provoking a response of any sort in a climate of apathy equates to success where writing is concerned – even if those reponses are ill-informed and only semi-literate.

Comment by Candy Darling on 2011-12-29 20:48:35 +0000

If you’re a tranny or a drag queen it’s more important to learn to walk like a woman than learning to think like one…. if you’re a transsexual you’ll be thinking like one already….

Comment by Lieutenant Valeris on 2011-12-29 22:38:34 +0000

And if you wanna walk like a man then the first thing you gotta do is learn to think with your dick!

Comment by Ned Ward on 2011-12-29 23:40:38 +0000

I’ve checked the profiles for C. Vance and J.C. Moylan and they both appear to be geezers (and neither is wearing make-up or got up in women’s clothes)…. I suspect they are rather unskilled and inexperienced cocksmen who have deluded themselves into believing their talk of ‘how women think’ will impress the ladies and enable them to get their ends away – some chance, they are clearly jibbering idiots!

Comment by Suzanna Lopez on 2011-12-30 11:19:28 +0000

What the fuck C. Vance is banging on about? I could see myself thinking of meat curtains and fucking sticks and I’m a woman… And I could think of myself in some sex scenarios that I assume will make me a monster on their eyes then…

Comment by MK on 2011-12-30 11:53:53 +0000

There’s art to the artlessness in your books, however. Firstly, the prose might not be ‘fine writing’, but it is not just thrown on the page. Secondly, the absence of certain literary qualities means the intelligent reader looks elsewhere for what’s interesting. The generic sex scenes (which read as if plagiarized) for example. The don’t reveal the character’s true being. They ‘reveal’ that they aren’t characters.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-12-30 15:29:31 +0000

I couldn’t have said it better myself!
@ Suzanna Lopez – I guess C. Vance just has no idea of how women actually think. His comments indicate that he’s some uptight reactionary who’d like to think women are demure. And actually I think the phrase I used was ‘beef curtains’ rather than ‘meat curtains’.
@ Christopher Nosnibor – yes I didn’t quote Jessie, but it is a great title. For those who haven’t seen it her ‘review’ runs in full: “This book is fucking stupid. It’s not so much a story as it is a paragraph of weird sex and then four paragraphs about what this old guy thinks about various books. Fucking stupid waste of time.”
And I agree you can say there is no such thing as bad publicity. Certainly the negative comments could lead people to view those making them as poorly educated and perhaps a little thick…. It would of course be possible to be critical and have some insight into what the book is doing, but there isn’t much evidence of that happening on Goodreads (which ends up looking more like a trolling site than one dedicated to the appreciation of books)….

Comment by Michael Roth on 2012-01-02 07:18:11 +0000

Actually, there is an upside to Good Reads. By scrolling through your “Read” list, I’ve found a couple of interesting books that I had not heard of and will definitely check out. In particular, Fascist Modernism and the Zeev Sternhell books. Woo hoo!

Comment by raymond anderson on 2012-01-02 14:41:38 +0000

Taking notes on the reading list in dead princess? I was taking notes on all the sexual techniques. Ended up repeating myself a bit which was strangely liberational. Wait till folks start assuming you mean it man, like the work represents the REAL you, which it sort of does in an overflowing sort of way. I CAN reveal Mr Home uses the phrase “meat curtains” in everyday conversation. I heard him use it in a vegan restaurant with hygiene issues. I have upset quite a few of my friends with Stewart Home works because they come in with all those old grandad dance steps when they should hang back and wait for the rhythmic groove to take them!

Comment by Tessie Talk on 2012-01-02 15:49:06 +0000

Is C. Vance the new Kate Muir?

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-01-02 17:35:30 +0000

I think C. Vance could well be the new Kate Muir – for those that don’t know about Muir, check here:
@ Michael Roth – glad you found those books, they’re good! But you haven’t been reading this site with attention – as they all get mentions here (not sure about on the blog but for sure in the main part of the site – but not as stand alone reviews, mentioned within other articles, since they are key texts for me)!
@ Raymond Anderson – and it’s ‘meat curtains’ for anyone who doesn’t laugh at my yolks!

Comment by Michael Roth on 2012-01-03 05:12:44 +0000

@ Stewart Home – I recall the Fascist Modernism being mentioned but the title slipped my mind until I saw it listed. Besides, with the advent of Web 2.0 I can no longer read any sort of content online. I need to have it repackaged as social networking chit chat before I can even take notice. I can’t wait until Web 3.0!
@ Raymond Anderson – You’re right. I should have made notes of the sexual techniques in the book. It would have helped me a lot. My Ann Quin (Quim?) monologues in the bedroom were becoming monotonous.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2012-01-03 11:09:29 +0000

Hi Michael – yeah agree with you completely, I can’t wait for Web 3.0 coz I’m looking forward to all that three in a bed action that is promised to come with it; with Web 2.0 I’ve been very happy with all the one on one fun but adding that extra sex partner to the two in a bed scenario we currently have will not only spice up our sex lives but increase our pleasure exponentially! It will make Goodreads much better, even if it means we no longer have any time at all for reading books!

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