The Controversial Art of Reviewing

Last September I wrote an essay on the “Subtile art of writing a review/commentary” (in French, but it is also available in a machine-translated English version). It is an essay I wanted to write for a long time, explaining how I was approaching the writing of a book or movie review — which I did for twenty years for a magazine. The funny thing is that I discovered a few weeks ago that I had already written that article in 2009 (in English) and forgot about it! I was checking out some old hard drives looking for something and stumble upon this article that I had written for a special issue (PAX #3) of the magazine I was working for, but we stop publication before it was released. It is based on the guidelines I wrote for our staff writers. My views on how to write a review have not change much since then. I thought it would be interesting to share it with the readers of this blog.

Reviewing a media product (wether it is a book, a manga, an anime series or a live-action movie) might seems an easy task, but in reality it is far from being simple. In fact, we are all doing it when we express an opinion to friends, but it is usually done in an emotional and very imprecise manner: “it was so bad, man” or “it was really cool.” In opposition, a professional reviewer—someone who does it for a living—must do his/her best to remain objective, precise and rigorous.

I admit that, if I always try to be an objective and precise reviewer, I am rarely rigorous. I am lazy and tend to keep my reviews short, introducing the subject and expressing my opinion in the most elementary manner. Today everybody is a critic as they can easily post what they think of this or that on their blog , but what makes the appraisal of a professional reviewer more interesting and valuable is experience. I’ve spent about two decades watching videos or films and reading books related to the subjects I review. I have therefore developped a methodology to assess the subject, an understanding of its workings and a set of criteria that—I hope—better equip me to examine and judge a particular media product.

In this article I have attempted to explain how I approach the writing of a review, what I think a review should be and what aspects of a medium I take in consideration when writing a review. I wanted to talked about this for a long time as I think it can offer interesting insights to both our readers and would-be reviewers.

First, there is two types of reviews: the basic or elementary review (the one I tend to favour) and the exhaustive review.

[ Traduire ]
Continue reading

Happy New Year

I wish you a great new year.

My greatest hope for 2018 is to find a better job (in a quieter library or a desk job — but preferably still with books), to read more, to finish repairing and improving the blog so I can finally concentrate mostly on writing, and to keep in good shape mentally and physically (i.e. sanity, health and maybe losing some weight) !

I hope the best for you all, my dear readers, friends and colleagues. Again, may Fortuna smiles upon you!

[ Traduire ]

Happy Holidays to all !

Version 2

Joyeuses Fêtes à tous !

Je tiens à souhaiter à tous mes collègues et ami(e)s, chers lecteurs et lectrices, un excellent solstice (en retard), une bonne Nativité (ou Noël, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Saturnalibus — peut importe ce que vous fêtez) et surtout une heureuse, paisible, saine et agréable nouvelle année.

I want to wish all my colleagues and friends, my dear readers, an excellent solstice (a little late), a good Nativity (or Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Saturnalibus — whatever you celebrate) and especially a happy, peaceful, healthy and pleasant new year.

عطلات سعيدة للجميع
祝大家節日快樂
Feliĉaj Ferioj al ĉiuj
Frohe Feiertage für alle
Ευχάριστες διακοπές σε όλους
Happy Holidays nan tout
חג שמח לכולם
सभी के लिए खुश छुट्टियाँ
Buone Feste a tutti
すべてにハッピーホリデー
Beatus festis in omnes
Счастливые праздники для всех
Felices fiestas a todos
Chúc mừng ngày lễ cho tất cả

L’art subtil du commentaire-critique

On me demande souvent quels sont les critères que j’utilise quand j’écris des critiques (reviews) de livres ou de films. En fait, j’utilise les même critères que j’ai développé au cours des années alors que j’écrivais des critiques d’abord pour Samizdat (un fanzine de science-fiction et fantastique québécois, 1987-1994) et, par la suite, pour Protoculture Addicts (un magazine sur la culture, le dessin animé et la bande-dessinée japonaise, 1987-2008). J’ai été rédacteur-en-chef pour ce dernier pendant plus d’une vingtaine d’années et ce sont ces même critères auxquels je demandais à mes collaborateurs d’adhérer. Je vais donc profiter de la présente occasion pour vous expliquer un peu comment je procède. Et je suggère à quiconque qui désire écrire des critiques de suivre ces quelques lignes directrices.

J’aimerais d’abord définir la critique comme étant un simple commentaire et non pas une critique analytique. Cette dernière cherche à étudier, en profondeur, les moindres aspects d’une oeuvre: les motivations des personnages, les choix narratifs, le message de l’auteur, etc. Une simple critique, quant à elle, n’est qu’un commentaire qui se veut ni objectif, ni constructif, ni négatif : c’est juste une opinion, un ressenti, que l’on exprime. On aime ou on aime pas, et on tente d’expliquer pourquoi, en décortiquant brièvement les impressions que l’oeuvre nous a laissé.

Je préfère d’ailleurs parler de “commentaire” et non de “critique” car ce dernier terme fait plus pompeux et peut aisément être confondu avec son cousin analytique. Un commentaire donne une impression plus modeste. On ne cherche pas a donner de leçon mais simplement à dire ce qu’on en pense. Dans le cas d’un livre, on pourrait parler de commentaire de lecture mais comme on peut commenter aussi des documents audio-visuels (des BD ou des manga, des films (vu au cinéma, en Dvd, ou Blu-ray), ou même de la musique (concert, CD)) je préfère m’en tenir simplement à “commentaire.” Bien sûr, l’approche sera un peu différente selon le type d’ouvrage  que l’on commente (livre, cinéma, musique).

Une autre question que j’entend parfois c’est “pourquoi se donner la peine de faire un commentaire” alors que l’on pourrait bien se contenter d’apprécier une oeuvre pour ce qu’elle est sans trop se poser de question. Je dois avouer que pour moi c’est plus une déformation professionnelle. J’ai écrit tellement de commentaires pour les publications pour lesquelles je travaillais que maintenant je ne peux pas m’empêcher d’analyser et de penser à ce que je ressens au fur et à mesure que je progresse dans le livre que je lis ou dans le film que je visionne. Et tant qu’à avoir des idées ou des opinions, pourquoi ne pas les partager? Car la raison fondamentale d’un commentaire c’est cela: partager ses coups de coeur (ou de foudre!), son amour (ou parfois son aversion) pour une oeuvre, ou simplement donner son opinion. Parfois, aussi, il s’agit de vouloir aider les autres à comprendre et à mieux apprécier une oeuvre ou, tout au moins, à partager la façon dont nous percevons une oeuvre (à travers le prisme de nos expériences personnelles, de notre savoir, de notre vécu). Si nous sommes passionné par un sujet, il est tout naturel de vouloir partager cette passion. Le lecteur (du commentaire) en fera bien ce qu’il veut…

[ Translate ]

Lire la suite après le saut de page >>

Continue reading

How to save the planet

You’re feeling good because you think you are saving the environment by recycling and switching to LED light bulbs? Well,  don’t (feel good, I mean). It is totally useless.

Last week-end, I read an interesting article in The Gazette titled “Want to save the planet?” (also from the National Post via PressReader). A study by the University of British Columbia is showing that what we are told to do to reduce climate change is rarely the most effective way.  We’re told that “making a difference doesn’t have to be difficult” when, in truth, making a real impact demands some major sacrifices!

The most interesting part of the article is found in a graphic that was available only in the print version. What high school textbooks suggest students to do for the environment is not very effective: using reusable shopping bags instead of plastic ones represent only a saving of 0.005 tonne (5 kg) of carbon dioxide per person per year, while upgrading light bulbs saves 0.1 tonne, hanging your laundry to dry in the sun saves 0.21 tonne, recycling saves 0.213 tonne and washing your clothes in cold water saves 0.247 tonne. Small changes.

In opposite, the more effective actions for helping the environment represents only four per cent of the suggestions given to students. The best tactics are eating less meat with a plant-based diet (saving of 0.8 tonne per year), buying green energy (saving 1.5 tonne per year), taking one less transatlantic flight per year (saves 1.6 tonne), and going car-free (saving 2.4 tonne per year — note that switching from an electric car to car-free saves 1.15 tonne per year and buying a more efficient car saves 1.19 tonne per year!). However, the most effective way to be environmentally friendly is to have one less child: you would save 58.6 tonne of CO2 emission per year! I always said that those kids are killing the planet.

I am really happy because I am already doing all those things (switching light bulbs, washing in cold water, hang-drying, using reusable bags, hydro-electricity, having a plant-based diet, no flying, no car, no kid) and I hope you will consider it too. I won’t go as far as some sci-fi shows and suggest, as some sort of Sophie’s Choice, that we should reduce the children population (or even the general population) — it would surely make the environment quieter — but please copulate with moderation (I would say “practice abstinence” but that would be inconsiderate: just don’t have four or five kids and think of it as a planetary-wide one-child policy)! There are already too many people on earth…

That would certainly be a good way to save the planet.

[ Traduire ]

Absurdity of the day (#02017117)

I feel I was born in a parallel universe with a completely different logic system and then absconded here for some mysterious reasons. This place doesn’t make sense at all to me as nobody seems to follow what I consider to be basic common sense. Here are two examples that I witness daily.

In this part of town, people are waiting for the bus in line from the back to the front or the concept of lining-up seems foreign to them. I know many of them are deeply religious (as they read the Bible or pray on the bus, probably going to church every Sunday) and “Jesus” told them “the last shall be first” but he meant it for the kingdom of Heaven, not here! I can’t stand such hypocrisy: they are supposed to be charitable and humble and they are the first to cut the line, steal your place or hate you for daring to stand your ground (sometimes even accusing you of being racist if you complain)! As an agnostic I feel I have more moral values than most of them.

I also don’t understand how an employer can be so callous and disrespectful toward its employees (the people who are actually making things work): I should not have to fight for compassionate leave (it has nothing to do with the collective bargaining agreement: it’s in the damn labor code!) or to work in difficult and unpleasant conditions as the work place was without any ventilation or air conditioning for several days and the room temperature was neighbouring 24 to 27.5 ? (if we were simply sitting at a desk it would probably be bearable but our work requires to be constantly standing or moving — actually, if the ideal comfort zone is defined as 21-23°C, there is NO maximum Temperature Limit set by the labor code) ! And, to add insult to injury, this week they also used the employees’ room (where we rest and take our meals) to store the stinking floor polishing equipment! It is not enough for the employer to trim our pension (unilaterally changing a negotiated agreement), cut some of our leave, reduce the staff and increase the number of tasks so we have to force the pace until we feel we are on an assembly line, but they must also show us a total lack of respect? And, after that, they still expect their employees to be loyal, enthusiastic and performing? The union is no better because, when we complain, they just do nothing (they are masters of collusion). It is inconceivable, unacceptable, completely outrageous!

I don’t understand how this could be completely normal to other people. I really must be from another world…

[ Traduire ]