26 April 2009

How to Be Proved Wrong

Now and then, those of us who write book reviews let our guard down and make generalized statements that could be proved wrong with a single exception. Sometimes we buffer such statements with qualifiers that technically relieve them of being pure generalizations, but I doubt many readers are fooled.

For instance, last year I wrote a somewhat less than positive review of Nisi Shawl's short story collection Filter House. I even said this:
While I find it easy to believe readers will experience Shawl's stories in different ways -- such is the case with any basically competent fiction -- I cannot imagine how a reader who is sensitive to literature's capabilities and possibilities could possibly say these stories offer much of a performance.
I certainly made a point of highlighting my subjectivity here: "I cannot imagine how...", but still. The intent is clear. I spent most of the review saying, in one way or another, that this book seemed to me the epitome of mediocre, and I tried to imply that it's inconceivable (INCONCEIVABLE!) that anyone would passionately disagree with such a rational perspective.

The greater the claims, the harder they fall... Within days, I had learned that Samuel Delany thought Filter House one of the best collections of science fiction stories published in the last decade or so. Delany and I have fairly different taste in fiction, but I deeply respect his readings of things, and even if I can't share his enthusiasm for a certain text, I've never felt like I couldn't understand what sparked and fueled that enthusiasm.

And now Filter House has been listed as one of the 7 best SF/Fantasy/Horror books of the year by Publisher's Weekly, and it has won a Tiptree Award.

While I will admit I still don't understand the acclaim, I have to say I was completely and utterly wrong -- dramatically, astoundingly, INCONCEIVABLY! wrong -- in thinking that it was an impossible book to see as an example of excellence. Plenty of very smart and sensitive readers have found it to be exactly that.

1 comment:

  1. You know that I adore you to the bottom of my soul, but I had SERIOUS problems with your review and have an opinion on why you felt such a way. However, i will keep them to myself because this post makes up for it a little. Plus, I adore you :)

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