The Apocalypse Reader just got its 8th review on Amazon the other day. One Michael J. Mason of Orlando, Florida, wrote a review entitled “The only book I have ever disliked so much that I destroyed it!” Wow. Okay, well, I can take my lumps. Democracy is great, blah blah. In fact to be totally honest, there was something about the sheer vehemence of this headline that got me really, really excited. As Jesus puts it in the Good King James: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:16.) This guy seemed like he was fixing to boil. Oh boy!
But as I read MJM’s complaint, my heart sank. Turns out he was just another lukewarm asshole, who talked big in his headline but couldn’t sustain his concentration long enough–over the course of his one-paragraph review–to (A) actually describe for us the manner in which he destroyed the book, which would have been interesting, or (B) realize that that sound of one hand clapping was actually me hitting myself in the fucking head, because despite all his bluster and bullshit, he actually liked some estimable (albeit unspecified) percentage of what he read. I’m the last person to bristle at negative reviews, but it drives me insane when people take to a public forum and attack something they didn’t like, not because there was anything wrong with the thing itself, but because the thing itself wasn’t what they wanted. Imagine giving a 1-star review to a portable hard drive because it’s not a dishwasher. Now one of the things I’m proudest of about The Apocalypse Reader is that it happily blurs/ignores/defies the boundaries between genre-lit and mainstream-lit, in the name of Good Lit, period. But the price the book has paid is that it has been consistently plagued by incensed genre-monkeys, for whom I don’t doubt experimental literature (or literature, period) begins (and ends) with Terry Pratchett. (And at the risk of re-starting the Genre Wars that raged recently on this site, I’d like to point out the total number of “literary elitists” who have written in complaining about the book’s genre quotient is ZERO.)
The actual best case in point of the genre-monkey phenomenon is this genius named “E.S.” who, after reading seven–seven–of the stories in the Apoc Reader, posted a 2-star review which read in part “had I ever used acid in my youth, I would think I was having flashbacks.” At first it seems to make no sense to compare the experience of reading a book to what it would be like to involuntarily re-live the sensation of ingesting a particular chemical some years earlier. But then you remember that he never actually tried acid, so he’s just theorizing about that, and he’s read less than a quarter of the book he’s talking about, so he’s really just theorizing about that too. So this “review” is really about his own studies in Comparative Non-experience, and has nothing to do with Dennis Cooper, Michael Moorcock, Jared Hohl, Neil Gaiman, &c. (And btw, E.S., as someone who did do rather a bit of acid in his youth, let me just say–no, you wouldn’t.)
But E.S. is obviously just some sort of addle-brain, whereas Michael J. Mason actually pissed me off. After the jump, we give his review a close reading [his words in bold; my comments in brackets] and learn what happens when people from the festering rotten asshole of the country (say hi to Mickey Mouse for me, Mike) stop being polite, and start making their narrow lives into my problem.
[1 out of 5 stars] The only book I have ever disliked so much that I destroyed it!, August 26, 2009
[Okay, so far so good.]
|By||Michael J. Mason (Orlando, FL United States)|
[Orlando, yeesh. That’s tough, man. I’m really feeling for you. Me and my buddy Pete got kicked out of a Tenacious D show at the Orlando House of Blues once, for sneaking our own booze in, though at those prices, how could you blame us? The cops were seriously dicks–though, luckily, they didn’t run a check on the fake ID I gave them, so me and Pete didn’t end up spending the night in jail, which arguably (though not necessarily) would have been worse than what we did instead, which was wait around in Downtown Disney, knowing every cop there was watching us, because we were ticketless and drunk in Downtown Disney, until our other three friends got out of the show.]
The Apocalypse Reader was such a colossal disappoint that it has become the only book that I destroyed because I disliked it so much.
[Yes, you’ve said this once already. I’m still waiting to learn about the manner in which you dispatched it. In a pyre, one assumes/hopes.]
The book’s thirty four stories of doomsday and the end of the world could be shortened to thirty be removing the one/two page “flash” stories that are so short they don’t really contribute anything.
[I actually count eight short-shorts, so we could have saved maybe as many as twelve pages, and gotten the story-count down to 26. I should mention though, that that figure does not count Lucy Corin’s “Sixteen Small Apocalypses,” which is about four thousand words long, but only because it is composed of sixteen pieces (since you destroyed your copy of my book, if you want to refresh yourself on Corin, check out PEN America #10, where several of the Small Apocalypses were recently reprinted), or Joyce Carol Oates’s diptych, because the two parts together add up to more than short-short length. So I guess actually we could delete as many as 10 stories, or 25, if you count each of Lucy’s 16 as an individual story, though if we’re doing that then we should really be subtracting from an original count of 50, not 34, but we actually do better the other way, since 50-25=25 and 34-10=24. I assume we’re scoring according to golf rules here. Remind me why we’re doing this again? Oh yeah, because you don’t understand what flash fiction is or how it functions, which is why you judge these works not on their merits but on their lengths (“so short they don’t really contribute anything.”)]
The author even boasts in his introduction that at least one these aforementioned stories was originally published as a poem.
[That’s true. He’s talking about Tao Lin’s piece, “I Am ‘I Don’t Know What I Am’ and You Are Afraid of Me and So Am I,” which I reprinted from his first poetry collection you are a little bit happier than i am. Tao had sent me the first story in Bed, but I liked this better.]
That in and of itself would not disqualify a story but gives the reader of this review a better idea how short some of these stories were.
[So wait. The “originally published as a poem” thing is or is not a problem for you? Because if it is, fuck you. And if it’s not, why are you still talking about it? Also, we’re back to the length thing again. What is it with you about this, Mike? What exactly do you think would have been printed with those 500 words’ worth of ink, on those two facing pages of paper, if Tao’s story/poem hadn’t been in there? Do you think it would have been a sweet picture of some sweet tits? Because it wouldn’t have been. And it wouldn’t have been an Orson Scott Card poem either.]
Don’t get me wrong, there were a few rays of hope from this collection, namely “These Zombies Are Not A Metaphor”, but the good stories are so few and far between as to not redeem the book in any way.
[So wait, you actually liked some of the stories? Gee, that’s news. Talk about burying the lede. Too bad you’ll never get to read Jeff Goldberg’s “These Zombies…” ever again, since you fucking destroyed the book, which, by the way, is a hell of a thing to say before telling people to not “get [you] wrong.” What were those other “rays of hope,” btw? No reason why you’d want to share that kind of information in a review of the book. Totally irrelevant, am I right?]
The book lacks any order or introduction to the individual stories leading to a confused reading of a random order thought appropriate only by the author of the collection.
[No, individual stories are not introduced, because it’s not a book designed for use in public high schools (though they’re certainly welcome to it). I’m sorry to hear you had “a confused reading,” but after spending a paragraph of my life in your prose, I feel assured that this was bound to happen no matter what, and has little if anything to do with me. Also, given that I was the editor (which is a little different than being the “author,” Mike; but I’ll explain this to you some other day) of the book in question, how could it possibly be arranged in any way other than an order that I found appropriate? Finding an appropriate-seeming order was one of the things that they paid me for. (They didn’t pay me very much for it, but I tried to do a good job anyway.) In fact, the book does not “lack any order.” It has an order whose logic is explained in the general introduction to the book, which you seem to have actually read, and so I can only assume are ignoring, or else have forgotten about, but of course you can’t re-consult the original source because you drowned it in your outhouse, or laid it on the tracks of the Magic Kingdom Monorail, or whatever. Anyway, what you’re really saying is that you don’t like the order I chose, and/or my method for choosing it. Well, everybody knows there’s no accounting for taste, so I guess all I can do is refer you back to something I said earlier, in a different context: fuck you.]
Save your money and watch an old zombie movie instead, you’ll be happier.
[Touche. Indeed, I wish that you had. But since your review is now over, and I’m still pissed off, let’s see what else you’ve reviewed on Amazon… Ahh, Captain America Volume 1: The New Deal HC and How to be a Villain: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans, and More!!! Of the latter volume, MJM writes “Wondering where you should base your evil operations? How to defeat that darned do-gooder? well wonder no more!” Of the former–which I should point out is not classic Captain America, but rather a collection of the Captain’s post-9/11 superheroing–he writes “This was just fantastic, it had great art, though with a story like this you won’t be caught up gazing at the pictures. The artwork is just amazing (though I thought they made the chainmail in Caps shirt too overstated,) the story keeps you turning the pages.” Fascinating, Mike, though really, aren’t you obliged to disclose your relationship to the title character? That’s just good form. I mean, you must be on pretty familiar terms with this fictional character, since you refer to him by his nickname. Also, there’s this in the world called an apostrophe (“Caps shirt”), but maybe that’s something else we can talk about another day. Our intrepid critic gave both of these books FIVE STARS.]