Friend of mine emailed: “Great review in the Globe today.”
I phoned him back. “So it was a good review?”
He was aghast. “Yeah, it was in the paper you write for? Are you telling me you haven’t read it?”
“I haven’t read a review of my work since 1996.”
I went on to explain why. I mean– it’s just human nature. But even the most positive, glowing reviews– at least with my work, I don’t know, maybe I push people’s buttons– are interlarded (at last! I get to use my favourite word in my blog) with all kinds of hidden barbs, zingers, passive-aggressive cracks, “insultiments” (insult + compliment = insultiment), and all kinds of other material which will cause me to toss and turn for the rest of my life.
I’m serious. I remember lines, from back when I used to read reviews, that will only be erased from my memory banks when Papa Death comes to take me.
My books are like: my soul on a plate. Offered up quivering and hopeful, like foie gras, to a cynical and mocking world. When people make little cracks about them, it makes me want to climb through the critic’s window with a balaclava over my head.
Believe it or not, I never even read the New York Times review of my callow, jejeune (but funny) first novel, Chump Change. Supposedly it was a good review. People said “Hey, congratulations, you got a good review in the New York Times.”
“Great! Fine! I don’t want to hear anymore! Thank you!”
And all but clapped my hands over my ears and started going “La la la la…”
Because once you hear it’sa good review, it’s all downhill from there. Chump Change is kind of a coming-of-age story about a drug-addled man-about-town in his twenties, trying to kick day jobs and avoid student-loan creditors and become a writer– a little bit in the mould of Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. But not really. And set in Toronto.
When I was in Seattle on tour with the book, a dude came running up, waving a copy of the New York Times. “Hey, check it out! You got a good review in the New York Times!”
“O.K.! Thank you! Don’t show me!”
He kept on coming, as if in a nightmare, brandishing the paper. “No, check it out, dude! What’s the problem?”
“I’m serious! Take it away! I don’t want to see it!”
With a puzzled look he took it away. But not before I caught a glimpse of the headline:
DIM LIGHTS, MEDIUM-SIZED CITY
Even friggin’ headline-writers are zinger-meisters.
So to Jason Anderson, apparently the author of the review: thank you for your kind words, whatever they may be.
And sorry: I know you probably worked hard on your review. But I will never read it. I can’t read negative reviews, and therefore I don’t want to read positive ones either.
It’s all part of my program to achieve a Zen mental where, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, I can “meet with triumph and disaster/And treat those two imposters just the same.”