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Moronic Ox Literary and Cultural Journal - Escape Media Publishers / Open Books
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CONCERNING LITERARY CRITICISM,
MARK TWAIN'S WISDOM PREVAILS
David A. Ross
Having recently released my sixth novel, one might think I would, by this time, be immune to poor reviews. But the simple truth is that no writer ever grows accustomed to criticism he feels is undue.
The Virtual Life of Fizzy Oceans was published on January 6, 2011, my fifty-eighth birthday. Three and a half years in the writing, I had (and still have) great hopes for this novel. I feel it is a highly original work of fiction and contains many important observations about our times and the human condition in general. What' more, it is the culmination of my fifty-year writing effort. Needless to say, I am proud of the work and have looked forward to the day that I could share it with the public.
But not so fast! Every writer knows his work will be subject to reviews. He also understands that a good review can be a tremendous advantage for sales; whereas a poor review usually makes little difference. Yet the very idea of subjecting one's work to literary criticism strikes fear into the hearts of some writers: it is akin to standing naked in public and waiting for a pummeling with overly ripe tomatoes, or perhaps like sending out invitations to one' own crusifixion. Nevertheless, it is a necessary element in the equation of publishing and marketing, so we do it, albeit with a lump in our throats and toughened skins.
As it turns out, the first two reviews that my dear 'Fizzy' received were, shall we say, less than positive. The first reviewer gave it three stars of a possible five but never bothered to write a single word about the book; the second reviewer lambasted my effort even while admitting that he'd read only thirty percent of the book. Thankfully, since those first two non-review reviews others have come forward to applaud my effort and refute the nay sayers. My gratitude goes out to them for balancing the scales and for the damage control.
As I said, no writer I know relishes this process. My own reviews, over time, have usually been quite positive. I thought I was immune from anxiety over poor reviews, but of course that is an easy position to maintain when most reviews are appreciative. Still, the two negative opinions got me to wondering what others have gone through concerning reviews, so I decided to do some research on the subject. Using Amazon.com as my source, I looked up some very highly acclaimed books to see what today's reviewers had to say about them. The two titles I looked up were Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow (a personal favorite) and Even Cowgirl's Get The Blues by Tom Robbins (a very popular and well received book during the eighties). What I found was a bevy of very negative comments on each. One customer reviewer even called 'Cowgirls' the 'worst book he'd ever read' and demanded the last two weeks of his life back!
So I guess I'm in adequate company...
Mark Twain is today considered the essential American novelist. He is certainly the most well read one worldwide. But it was not necessarily the case in his time. Like many writers today, Samuel Clemons was simply a guy trying to get along as a writer, and it wasn't always easy for him. In fact, when he turned his pen to political satire in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavares County and Puddin' Head Wilson, the critics were so harsh with him that their reviews literally drove him into financial bancruptcy, a condition from which he never recovered. Even as such, Mr. Clemons kept his tradition witt and humor concerning literary criticism. His comment when asked his opinon of negative reviews: "Who am I to diagree with the critic?"
Having achieved nowhere near the acumen or the notoriety that Mark Twain did in his time and beyond, I find I must agree with his analysis. It' the only way to stay sane as the fruit comes flying one's way.
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About the Author:
David A. Ross is the editor of Moronic Ox.