This Reader’s Manifesto

Today my first book review for PANK is up.  Please go and have a peek, if you like, and if you have opinions, let me know what you think.


In a moment of furious over-reaching I have decided to come up with a manifesto of what I want to achieve as a reviewer. Yes, I know this is only the first review, and I am getting a little ahead of myself. I want to come at this from a good angle. I want to sort of dive in and be a bit brave. There will be bullet points to make this official. So before I start apologising in advance, here we go.


There are many ways to be a reader. As a reader I have always read with my eyes half-closed, listening and running my finger along the words, stopping, letting the air rush in and out. Because I am not as much an intellectual, systematic reader as one who seeks out the textures of the book, the images, the scents of grass and sickness, the cobblestone and cold high room. How this is achieved in chains of sentences one after the other until the end.


I read not just in sympathy with the character but seeing how they are fitted and made distinct from their world. How they shape and want and touch and shake. With an eye to the layering of time like paint and philosophy and weather and landscape and hurt and thresholds and liminal states and other constructions of instability and evolution.


My aims and wishes as a reviewer:


  • I wish, then, to read well, critically, but must do so with an awareness of what my constraints are in seeing, and therefore with acknowledgement that the tackling of the text is necessarily subjective, perhaps overly colourful. Purple even. I will try not to go overboard with metaphor. Oops, isn’t ‘going overboard’ a metaphor too? Can’t win.


  • And now that I am going to review seriously – not much more seriously, since I am terribly earnest about words – it is important (for me) to set out what, exactly, I’m going to review. In also the hope that I might receive books to read to feed into my churning readerly writerly brain.


  • I will try to read new and newly translated books that are essential, exciting, fierce (my favourite word for books), haunting, nihilistic, loving, cunning, humane, clear-eyed.



  • I will try to read well and write my understanding out. I want to make clear this hazy appreciation of the text, so that others will be intrigued. I want to be kind in the manner of a surgeon. Maybe a little sloppier.


  • I want to read the fine boned literary works. Dense tissue books. Books ribbed in scars. The slim sucker punches, the weird hybrid prose-poem-memoir novels combing their hair with their fingers, the hissing mess, the elegant bombs. I am aware of another Reader’s Manifesto, that struck out against the literary, the ‘plotless’. Well, I love the unabashedly literary. Something that is trying so hard to play to test to cut up to expand and blow apart cannot be elitist. The elite run the tory party, and giant corporations and banks with casual disdain.  Literary writing is effort made to look effortless (sometimes) and made for the people.

Sometimes, yes, there is writing that creates a clique and does little else, but these are not what I read nor wish to here. I also believe there are more than a handful of literary styles out there, and that it is important to seek out both the well made traditionally written works and the experimental.


  • I want to read books mostly written by women. Sorry, though I know white, middle class men of certain milleux receive hardly any attention these days in the press. I know! Terrible shame. But I’d like to be a little biased. I spent a lot of time at university, undergraduate anyway, thinking that women just didn’t seem to have written anything. I have years of the sin of omission to make up for. I will make exceptions for the exceptional. Two exceptions I can think of right now: Patrick Somerville and Steve Himmer.


  • I wish for dazzling fiction, of a type that does not always scream at you from the shelves. I want to read the strange and lyrical and yes a thousand other terms of superlatives from not just British and American authors but Australian, New Zealander, South African, Trinidadian, Irish, Indian, works in translation – a commonwealth of letters.


  • I ask, also, where are the low-lying Scottish female writers of literary fiction of the up-coming generation? Are you hiding in the shadow of all that crime-procedural stuff? Down a close somewhere, picking over the usual murder weapons, shaking your head at the voyeurism, the usualness of it all? Has Alexander McCall Smith cornered you, kindly, for tea and biscuits in 44 Scotland St? Or are you further North, typing away in the village coffee shop while you should be sending out CVs?

I know of prolific Kirsty Logan, who has written some grand fiction, and hope to pick up a collection of hers for review. I just went to a reading given by Catriona Child. But more! I need guidance. Step forward, young lady writers! I’m a reader and I’d like to read you!

Just in case you think me limited, young is also ’emerging’ is also ‘new’ so age is not the key thing here.


  • Books and authors I have loved of late: Green Girl, The Summer Book, The Hour of the Star, most of what I have read of Virginia Woolf, of Jean Rhys, of Toni Morrison, of Anne Carson, The Way Through Doors, Season of Migration to the NorthThe Sound and the Fury, Nabokov of Pale Fire, Pnin, Lolita of course, lots of the 19th-20th century Russians (inc. Bulgakov, excluding Dostoevsky), the Odyssey, the Aethiopika (An Ethiopian Tale), The Golden Ass.


  • Authors for consideration so far: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Catherynne M. Valente, Zoë Wicomb, Lauren Beukes, and Herta Müller and Elizabeth Ellen (with thanks to StuckInABucket and Nouvellist).


  • In my reading pile, to be reviewed if they haven’t been on PANK already: Inferno (A Poet’s Novel) by Eileen Myles, Zazen by Vanessa Veselka.


I would love your suggestions. Please add to this list with titles you think might fit, and I will try to acquire them (not sure how, at this point) and try to do them justice in review.



Filed under 2012, book cover, book review, consolations of reading, consolations of writing, Endless Reads 2012, reading

13 responses to “This Reader’s Manifesto

  1. CJ

    You are thrilling me! Faulkner and Lispector and the pages of Proust–the language I live for, aspire to. Call me elitist and see if I care. Call me old and bury me. It that’s what i want to read too–unsentimental and fierce voices. Be my guide.

    • Thank you Chris. Although I have to say, the end of the first volume of Proust is still eluding me. Slow read, slow reader, some times.

      • CJ

        Have to admit I started smoking while reading Proust. Right before I moved from Oklahoma to LA for art school I spent six months selling my stuff for the trip and reading In Search of Lost Time. Now seems so very fitting, because I gave up painting after art school and started to write.

      • Love this intersection of life and reading.

  2. Even your manifesto is a work of literary art Helen! I bow down to your greatness with words and revel in everything you write…

  3. Helen – I know it’s not fiction, but I would love for you to consider reviewing Heroines for Pank. Which among other things features a close reading of Jean Rhys. Email me?

    Besides that – Suzanne Scanlon’s Promising Young Women coming out through Dorothy in the fall would be great to review, as would Lidia Yuknavitch’s Loving Dora.

  4. Your manifesto is a thing of beauty. I wish I had some names to add, but unfortunately I tend to read from decades past so I’m no help to you.

  5. “I will try to read new and newly translated books that are essential, exciting, fierce (my favourite word for books), haunting, nihilistic, loving, cunning, humane, clear-eyed.”

    Have you read The Savage Detectives? That’s the description I would use.

  6. As usual, your writing is lovely, but more than anything else, I appreciate that you’ve publicly taken a stand and have a well-defined point of view. It makes you a reviewer a reader can trust, even if she might not agree with you. I know I’ll be investigating the writers you mention and following your reviews. Thanks for being so respectful of readers and authors.

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