Saturday, January 30, 2010
THIRTY YEARS OF THE BLOOMSBURY REVIEW
For all those who despair that they can’t find reviews of anything but best-sellers and big-push Manhattan stuff, this is what to look for. Thirty years old this year, this newsprint bimonthly located in Denver might be named for the Virginia Woolf Bloomsbury group, but there is nothing specifically Brit about them. They are both regional and eclectic, one foot in the counterculture and one foot in grad school.
They make me mad. Not really angry, but frustrated, because I’ve never really figured out how to interface with them. I LOVE reading the review and go through it carefully every time it comes. I boost it as much as I can on this blog. But I don’t really connect with these people somehow. I don’t know why and I don’t know why it should even matter anyway.
Jim Hepworth is the only one I know personally. I took a class from him at Fishtrap Writing Conference which was fun and valuable and he praised me in an encouraging way. It was about Stegner’s “Angle of Repose” and I had prepared as though I were a grad student -- with one difference. The book is about the impossibility of reconciling an Eastern educated woman with a Western man of the land. At one point she has gone home to the east, while he stays on the land as an engineer. A mounted elk head, yes, taxidermy, is hanging in the barn and it’s a good job. She’s out there and for a moment it seems to come to life. This showed that she DID love the West. I said that.
Everyone sat there staring. They all KNEW that taxidermy is a “bad thing,” that it kills, that it’s false, that it’s politically incorrect. But I’d spent a decade with Bob Scriver living with taxidermy. It has a LOT of meaning to me, none very typical. Jim finally said, “In all the years I’ve been teaching this book NO ONE has ever said that before.” I was proud and gratified. But I was OUT. I did not fit. Our experiences did not match. They were irreconcilable, like Stegner’s parents.
For a while in the subsequent years when I was driving back and forth between the prairies and Portland, OR, I’d pull up in front of Hepworth’s house -- usually at some ungodly hour like 5AM -- and sit at the curb in the dawn light for a while to see whether anyone might show signs that they were up. There was never any sign so I’d move on. That’s the way it mostly is with me and publishing. I never did go back to Fishtrap writing center at Wallowa Lake. They’re an initiated group who love to sit around a bonfire and roar out songs while swilling beer. At least that’s my mental image. I’m not loose enough.
I sort of see the Bloomsbury Review the same way: an NGO of great value and generosity, much bon homie and bonding, but not for me as a participant. They don’t accept my reviews, they didn’t review my book, “Bronze Inside and Out.” Probably have no idea it exists. They know about this blog, I think. I copy them when I talk about them.
Both the attraction of literature and what I might call “the repellancy of literature” is that we all learned in school that it’s a charmed circle. I’m not talking about the commercial goo and greed of Manhattan. I mean something more like a religious denomination where everyone knows the hymns and order of service. Environmental groups are like that. Bloomsbury loves environmental groups. Religion, too, but only if it’s not Christian, mostly.
So many of the books they do review are exactly what I’m looking for. For a long time they were the only trustworthy reviewers of Native American books. (By now the NA’s are writing for each other and are not reviewable for this audience.) They were interviewing Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry before anyone else knew they existed.
Take a look at this list of advertisers’ websites. Very useful. Little guys, going along full of hope and ideas. Boomers. Bloomsbury Review is on Facebook and will soon have a website: www.bloomsburyreview.com. Still boomers. The gray ponytail crowd has found the Internet. The website has advice for people who would like their book to be reviewed. The advice is: 1. send the book and 2. don’t expect anything. So should I hustle around to buy a copy of my own book (I’m out of review copies) to send? Naw. I think I’ll just sit here and pout. What difference would it make? I mean REALLY what difference would it make.
The advertisers in Bloomsbury Review have always included a lot of “regional” academic presses plus some other high grade publishers. I see that they are shifting around. U of Oklahoma Press is missing. Texas took the whole back page. Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Arizona and California are in. Montana has no university press. Montana small publishers create pretty tourist books. Montana is where writers and movie actors come to be ignored. We DO read when we’re snowed in.
Bloomsbury is about the English pattern of “printing” with machinery, not even an iPod. That’s okay. Why should I get all shook up about it? Tim is on a roll this morning, “preaching” about the relationship between social class and books, the American accumulations of books simply piling onto their other mounds of things to own and drag around the country in 18-wheelers or leave in storage units until the rent on them can’t be paid so the books and Christmas ornaments and grandma’s old rocker all go to auction. (With the occasional murder victim.) How publshers are de facto censors.
The English pattern of printed publishing is a capital-based pattern. One must have money -- universities used to have money. Professors, before they were dispersed into adjuncts, came close to being landed (tenured) gentry and what counted in that context was your advisor, who was a patron who could get you grants and positions and a published book. Now that the money is gone, the books have gone as well. What we see on our iPads and Nookies is our consolation. They ARE our professors now. Backpack professors. Who needs a university anymore? Corporations. Quickly sell your stock in textbook companies.
I hope The Bloomsbury Review travels into that virtual world. It has lasted thirty years now. Read it while you still can. On Facebook. www.bloomsburyreview.com.