The OF Blog: So, a funny thing happened the other day...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So, a funny thing happened the other day...

I was talking with some students while they were working on an assignment of mine and I mentioned a bit about grad school and just how strange of an experience it was at the time. I began my MA program in German History when I was 22 and most of my classmates were several years older than me. I remember vividly learning that whatever harshness a professor might write on a paper of mine (even though virtually all of mine were B+'s or A's) paled in comparison to seminar discussions where each grad student would take the opportunity to dissect opinions and arguments. In some ways, it became almost an art form, listening (and participating) in the eviscerations of inadequately-supported arguments or theories. Sometimes, I was on the receiving end, while on others, I was the one having to dish it out.

It was an invaluable experience, one that has shaped me quite a bit. So it was with some interest that I read the comments to that little post I made yesterday dissecting another's review. While the comments on this blog were mostly supportive of my stance (home-field advantage?), I took more interest in those comments here and elsewhere that were not as complimentary. Here are a few of the highlights, followed by my commentary:

I find Larry from OF Blog of the Fallen a bit on the nose with his haughty attitude to reviewing, but then to each their own. He certainly is not a fan of Pat (click my name to link to his review of Pat's review)
Ah! The first ad hominem! While it is sad that my nose needs some repair work (severely deviated septum from an errant elbow thrown while playing pickup basketball several years ago), the "haughty attitude" bit is something else. I've made it quite clear in several places over the past year that I strive to push for there to be a higher quality in reviewing, not just for blog reviews, but also for more traditional venues. If that is "haughty" then I guess I'm guilty as charged!

Yeah, Dylanfanatic climbed on his soapbox and whined a bit. But when all is said and done, no one really cares.
I'm guessing this is someone from a forum, likely the Westeros one. How nice of this "Annabelle" to use my handle there instead of my given name (considering I sign all of my blog posts now with my first name and I would have switched handles to my given name on all sites if it weren't such a hassle). Makes it feel oh so personal and distant at the same time, no? Thing is, I wasn't "whining," far from it. If I were to whine, I'd complain about how unfair things were, how the world hates me, and how I ought to cut myself while listening to Evanescence, while dying my toenails black while waiting for my hair dye to dry. Instead, I critiqued. Was it harsh? Perhaps, depending upon one's interpretation. Was it a "soapbox" thing? Maybe in the sense of pushing for improvements, but hey, that's just me and how I roll.

For Christ's sake, I think the review is clear enough. What ever could be confusing here???

Sometimes I feel that some people are dense on purpose...
Dear "Beth," who just posted this within the past hour or so over at Pat's blog, it wasn't a matter of "confusion"; I understood full well that he disliked the book. That was not my argument. My point was that Pat failed to address the book as it was, instead choosing to make broad, sweeping generalizations without any evidence from the book itself to prove his points. It is an easy trap in which to fall and he did.

I'd expect only book porn posts. At least they're not strawmen like this comment on Pat's blog post, and they don't require competence, which makes them your best posts.
This one, posted by a pseudonym called "aegon6," perhaps is my favorite of all. A "strawman" comment tossed about (with no evidence to support this assertation), followed by the sort of comeback that a middle school kid might think would be effective. Yeah, and yo mama too! Whatever...

But this last quip, lacking as it is, contains a kernal of something that I do wish to see from others reading my commentaries and reviews here and elsewhere. If there is a "strawman" in any of my arguments, I want them pointed out with detailed evidence. This ad hominem puerile nonsense doesn't benefit me; it certainly won't convince me to "see the error of my ways." I know there are reviews of mine that are weaker than others; challenge me on those to improve the quality of my writing by noting the things that need shoring up. I'm willing to man up to those faults and the rare times it has occurred, I have learned from it.

Finally, for those who might think it's a "sour grapes" situation, think again. Despite what some might think from reading just that review, I have nothing personal against Pat, but I do have a lot against what I see as shoddy reviews. After all, one can take the grad student away from grad school, but good luck trying to take the grad school out of the former grad student. Upwards and onwards, no?

17 comments:

Myshkin said...

Larry,

Listen man, while I agree with much of what you said about Pat's review (and general review style), it's hard to miss the haughtiness of your last post, or the defensive aloofness of this post. You know it's never a very good idea to respond to, let alone attack, your detractors. In your post about Pat's review, while your criticisms were valid, you came off as harsher than necessary, and strongly implied that you could do better. While that might be true, it is a bit haughty to broadcast it in the way you did. You, and I, both tend to be a little aloof, and both even tend towards pretentiousness. You know this about yourself, so you shouldn't attack those who call you out on it. As a highly intelligent man your response to attack is to pick apart your attacker, but that doesn't make you right.

As to your response to some of your detractors, well I think you may have stretched a little to come up with your responses. The "haughty attitude" was not an ad hominem as it went directly to the reason for his dislike of your post. You call out "Annabelle" for trying to retain distance by using your "Dylanfanatic" handle rather than your given name. The thing is, Annabelle probably knows you better as Dylanfanatic, and so her use of that handle was not an attempt to distance herself, but simply a more familiar handle for her to use. I refer to you as DF for the simple reason that most of our interaction is on the westeros board, where you are known as DF. It actually seems more personal for me to call you DF, because that's how I know you. You also call someone out for using a pseudonym. agon6 is a member at westeros, and so probably thought that using his westeros handle would allow you to know who he is. After all, if I posted this comment under my given name you'd have no idea who I was. This post has gone far longer than I intended it to. I'll just finish of by saying that while your post about Pat's review may have been a little haughty, it was still a fine and informative post. This post, however, is a little over the line.

I'll sign with my given name,
Casey Buell

Larry said...

Casey,

Point taken. I think I started to realize it at the end, but just couldn't be bothered at the time to edit it out. Well, I'll certainly keep this in mind for the future. Thanks for giving an alternate explanation for some of the comments, as I do know (even if sometimes need to be reminded) that my farts don't smell like roses!

Elena said...

something to bring you lolz from one person who regularly gets accused of pretention to another. I told you you would have made a great Plan II major. :)

http://despair.com/elitism.html

http://despair.com/pretension.html

PS i hope these don't make anyone else accuse *you* of pretention. this one's all me, ok yall?

Larry said...

Ha! Thanks for those links, Elena! Loved them! :D

S.M.D. said...

Remind me never to tell you where to find any of the reviews I've done... :P.

But seriously...don't read my reviews. You'd probably stab me! I unfortunately am not at your level of reviewing...

Martin said...

I took Beth to be responding to gav (nextread).

It also looks like the comment by aegon6 was deleted.

Charles said...

Hi Larry.

I don't think your previous post was "sourgraping" or haughty or whining. You were critical and explained your reasons why you thought it was a bad review.

Although what Myshkin said about your forum username makes more sense--the same way that people usually refer to me as "The Bibliophile Stalker".

Personally though, I do think Pat's reviews do serve a purpose and an audience. Again, it might not be the critical audience like you, but his technique/style does appeal to a certain demographic. (I'd like to think of it as him using informal terminologies that a select people know; granted it's not for a general audience but it's in the same tool when some reviewers call a book Borgesian or Kafkaesque although clearly Borges and Kafka are probably more well-read or more recognized than -insert mainstream fantasy author here-)

In that vein, I also think you'll dislike my own reviews, but that's by design (trying to limit the review to a few hundred words, avoiding spoilers, etc.).

Larry said...

Shaun, Charles:

Good points, except it's not like there's anything to fear in having anyone ripping through one's reviews! I'm wanting more of that done to my own, as sometimes, I can't help but to feel that my review was lackluster, but I'd like for another to call me out on it in a fashion similar to what I did the other day.

Yes, the audience I guess ought to be considered; perhaps it's time to realize that paying attention to that one particular audience would be only an exercise in irritation to me ;)

Charles said...

Larry: I understand you as I'm that kind of guy (feel free to criticize me) but you have to understand that other people don't see it that way (i.e. that's what got me into some trouble before). Usually unless people are inviting you to criticize them (obviously it has to be said that films, books, etc. are meant to be criticized since they're things people review), other people perceive it as simply being antagonistic. And I think that's how the Pat supporters feel, that Pat's reviews shouldn't be reviewed because he didn't ask for it. Doing so makes you come off as a jerk to them even though I know you're not (at least based on your criticisms) and that the feedback you give is in the interest of improving and honing one's craft.

As for reviewing your reviews, see my comment in the blog entry before this. (It's best to judge you based on your latest work after all, not your earliest.) =)

Larry said...

Nothing to say, but you're right, Charles.

Eddie said...

Larry, long time listener, first time commenter :P. I think you're actually fair enough in both this post and the previous one. In particular, without commenting on Pat's taste in books (I overlap a little, but not much with his taste), I think you were quite restrained on the misogyny. If the tone of your reviews/posts is pretentious, and deserves to be called out for that (maybe it does, lol, matter of taste after all), the general lad-mag tone of the reviews and Pat's comments deserve to be called out, too.

As a gay guy, I feel a bit uncomfortable with a lot of the tone over there. This isn't to say that Pat's a bigot, I don't think he is, but the reviews do sometimes read a bit teenage-boy-with-a-skin-mag. Hot polish chicks! Grit! World-building! Scores between 6.75 and 10! This does not make a review.

So by all means, Larry, be pretentious, be haughty, actually *gasp* address the text of the book. If its a book I've read, I might even argue with you about it...

Finally, having just got out of grad school, I know exactly what you mean about brutal peer workshopping. Good fun!

Larry said...

Eddie,

Thanks for the kind remarks. Yeah, some of that tone is off-putting at times to me (being in my 30s and not seeking to relive my teen years), but I mostly just shrug it off as being different strokes for different folks.

So, did grad school leave its claw marks on you as well? :P

Eddie said...

Well, not really. I just finished a Masters of Laws - I'm already a lawyer, so hypercritical argumentatitiveness was already part of my makeup. Grad school just gave me a fun venue to practice :P. And use the word "normative" a lot.

Larry said...

Normative, huh? At least you didn't spend years excising "hegemony" out of everyday speech!

Eddie said...

Perhaps the two could be combined into an international relations thesis topic: The normative implications of the decay of American hegemony.

100k words in that?

Or is that arrogant/pretentious/haughty? (I'm going for all 3 :P)

Larry said...

True, but would it arise out of functionalist or intentionalist models to explain the discourse that would arise from exploring those three areas? ;)

The Witchfinder said...

Seems to me that every reviewer who makes a conscious effort to aspire for "more" in any field that is normally seen as synonymous with entertainment, is at some point called out as arrogant/haughty/elitist/snobby/whatthefuckever. It happenes to Walter Chaw from Film Freak Central, it happens to Spinoza Ray Prozak from anus.com, and now it happens to Larry.

I say embrace it like it was a badge of honour.

 
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