Introduction: AEW Reviews

Welcome to my first post tagged #AEWreviews.  I’m going to, for a period of time, review texts recently acquired or in my to-be-read (TBR) pile. This includes fiction and poetry chapbooks, literary journals and mags, and small press texts. This is a brief interlude of reviews-writing, and I’ll only do it until it becomes a chore. I am not seeking texts to review. I have many to read. I’m thinking the best way to attack the pile might be to organize them by presses, which interests me as a sorting strategy.

My review system (no half-stars):

★ and ★★ = DNF or No review/I somehow fail as a reader of this text

★★★ = Much to Admire but Not Quite for Me

★★★★ = Despite my tastes, undeniably worth reading

★★★★★ = Fully recommend others buy and read this work

One thing I’ve always found productive is to read what’s being published and think why. This is something that my mind is constantly chugging through as an Assistant Series Editor for the Wigleaf Top 50, so it will be nice to channel some of that critical thinking.

I’ve written reviews for Change Seven, 3AM Magazine, the Review Review (RIP), and of course here on my own site.  I purchase books from small presses, or directly from authors at live readings. Sometimes I am given books to read and other times I’ll see a press Tweet that they are looking for reviewers and I’ll dm for a copy. I like writing reviews, in some ways they aid procrastination but in others they are educational.

For inspiration, I took a look at some Rules for Readers that Virginia Woolf penned, and here’s the parts I really like:

  • Take no advice
  • Follow own instincts
  • Use own reasons
  • Come to own conclusions

As a reviewer, I want authors to feel they’ve had a good reader in me, and that my response, even if it’s not aligned with their purpose or intention, is worthy of consideration. Life is hard enough. Writing and being published is a rare and celebratory moment between rejections. I’m not raining on that.

So, for each review, I will TRY to:

  • receive with a friendly greeting what the author has offered. It’s like my face is appearing in their Zoom, so I want to get in on a smile.
  • pass some sort of judgment to the best of my ability as a life-long lover of reading
  • to judge fairly based on my imperfect knowledge
  • to remain aware that the things I love are not absolute

Transparency: If I have a connection to the author(s) or press I review, I will tell you what it is. If the copy I’m reviewing is an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) that I got for free from author or press, I’ll let you know. If the book has a note from the author written inside, I’ll share it with you. If I purchased the book, I’ll tell you how and for how much.  If I got it as part of a Twitter free giveaway, I’ll let you know.

I think there’s always a sense of exasperation and distrust about book reviews. We’ve all rolled our eyes, especially when there’s the whiff of friends scratching each other’s backs with praise. I want to write reviews that are not coded with the equivalent of someone saying yes while shaking their head no. I will voluntarily constrain the reviews to eliminate use of the following:

  • tour de force
  • stunning
  • brave
  • necessary
  • original
  • “a little gem”
  • “whip smart”
  • a masterpiece
  • a winner
  • a must-read
  • a page-turner
  • “one to watch”
  • Candle superlatives (blinding, brilliant, illuminating, lucid, luminous, radiant)
  • I guess superlatives in general

Note: if I say I read something in one sitting, I did. I work full time as a teacher, then I write, edit, garden, launder, talk to friends on the phone, write letters, respond to emails, get depressed, snap out of it, cook for a houseful of men, dick around on Twitter, weight lift, go for walks, mix cocktails, hang out with my partner, load and unload the dishwasher, and for a short time will also write these reviews.

I don’t know. Let me know if these seem like decent guidelines. I’m winging it.

Stay tuned. My first review will be of the Diagram/New Michigan Press 2020 Chapbook Series. When I first came to writing fiction, the D/NMP series was the first I’d purchased and reviewed, and I still come back for more. This year the series has five titles in all and I will review each separately. I hope to get those reviews live this weekend, May 22-25.