The assignment of books for review has always been haphazard. Fellow fiction writers can be tempted either to undermine the competition, or to flatter colleagues who might later judge prizes or provide boosting blurbs. There are no clear qualifications for book reviewing — perhaps publication, but most of all, because reviewers are paid for their text but not for the many hours it takes to read the bleeding books, a willingness to work for atrocious wages.
Mitigating the gravity of this matter? Aside from the authors whose work is on the block, almost no one reads book reviews, and I say that as someone who writes a fair number. It’s a publishing truism that ‘reviews don’t sell books’ — although negative ones can un-sell books. With lose-lose odds like that, why books are ever shipped out for review is anyone’s guess.
Yes, there are familiar tropes readily employed and certain passages that made me uneasy, but there is also much to savour, not least Handler’s clear-sighted exploration of gender politics and the fluidity of sexual identity. Tender and troubling, authentic and intimate, All The Dirty Parts is a thought-provoking read.
Kumukanda is an authentic and convincing book of poems in its many nuanced portrayals and unflinching reflections; rarely is it content to gloss or deceive. Though its music can sometimes falter as Chingonyi’s line of argument, a point to be made, supersedes the poetry itself, these more prosaic moments are evidence of his ambition and determination to use poetry as a uniquely transformative mode of thinking.