The Trophy Room

Does anyone here really follow the sage advice “Never read your reviews?” It’s advice nearly as old as the printed word itself (“Gutenberg! Put down that copy of Ye Kirkus Reviews, and don’t believe a word they say about ‘making religion too common…’!”) and while many writers over the centuries have both dispensed the advice and claimed to follow it, the truth is, most of them read their reviews with a devoted fervor. Just like we do.

Do you keep them, though? I’ll be the first to admit to being a packrat and collector — while I finally threw out copies of articles I’d written for my college newspaper, I still have copies of an old Batman fanzine I wrote for back in the late 1980s — but when it came to reviews of my own work, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about them. At the very least, I was going to clip them out and save hard copies in a file some place — unless, of course, they were all bad reviews, in which case I would claim I never read them, throw out my laptop, curl up in the fetal position, and suck my thumb.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. But apart from filing it away, what do you do with a good review? Within weeks of its release, Washington Irving was featured in the “Required Reading” section of the New York Post, and I was so thrilled, I printed it out and framed it. Then came a positive review from the Associated Press. Great, that goes on the wall, too. The New York Times? You bet. The Washington Post Book World? And it was on the cover? Absolutely.

I’m torn about it, though. Because while I’m a packrat, I’m not, for example, one of those people who ever hung up my college diploma. The Big Official Certificate I received when I was awarded a Presidential Scholarship sits in a manila folder in a box in the basement. Even letters I received from several Senators thanking me for help on one piece of legislation or another are languishing in a cardboard box. I treasure them all, certainly, and they’re all saved and valued as important mile markers on the road of my life. While I never put them out on display, neither could I bring myself to throw them out.

I hope, and think, my approach to reviews — both good and bad — will be similar to that of our next door neighbor, a feisty New Zealander, who is not only one of my favorite people in the world, but also happens to be a first class rock and roll drummer. Since the early 1970s, he’s recorded and toured with the best, and he was the drummer of preference for Eva Cassidy, a dynamite, up-and-coming jazz singer who died too young in 1996.

One evening, while Barb and I were enjoying a terrific dinner at his home with him and his wife, I excused myself to use their downstairs restroom, a small half-bath only slightly larger than a closet. And there on the wall of this little bathroom was a gold record he had been awarded for playing drums on Eva’s Songbird album.

A gold record.

In the bathroom.

That, more than anything, should help us all keep things in perspective. That gold record was a beautiful reminder of something he had accomplished — but, as our friend always points out, that was all part of his past. He was proud of it, but was still moving forward.

Reviews and awards are nice — and, I would argue, important. But they’re also a tribute to your past. I’ve looked at mine on the walls for the last half year. But when I move to my new office space, I’ll likely put most of them (most of them) in a drawer, close it with a satisfied bang!, and start typing away on the next project.

How about you? What do you do with reviews and clippings?

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5 responses to “The Trophy Room

  1. Stephen Parrish

    Any bad review you receive is one person’s take on all the years of hard work you put into your book. Any good review you receive is one person’s take on all the years of hard work you put into your book.

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  2. Josephine Damian

    *ahem*

    What am I? Chop liver? I don’t see my review mentioned here. Surely, I rate above the New York Post! Hell, even toilet paper rates above the NY Post.

    The only reviews that will ever matter to me are the ones I write.

    I don’t intend to read any reviews about anything I write, good or bad (and do remind me I said that when I’m in the corner in a fetal position).

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  3. Brian Jay Jones

    Stephen: Nicely put.

    JD: Darn it, I meant to stick yours in there! But of course yours is one of the few that will remain in a place of honor on my wall. (Take that, Library Journal!)

    I agree with the quote from (I think) Norman Mailer on your website, which said something like, “Of course I read my reviews. That would be like not looking at the naked woman in the window.” (Something like that…)

    Like Washington Irving, who claimed not to read his reviews, yet read every word, I read every word. And I have a remarkably fragile glass jaw, too.

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  4. Stephen Parrish

    When I wrote my ignorant, insensitive, fascist comment I forgot Josie D walked the Earth. I would like to adjust my comment: Any review you receive is one person’s take on all the years of hard work you put into your book, unless the review was written by Josie D, in which case, sing joyously each morning when you awake, lest you insult the goddess in whose presence you are but a leftist thudpucker unworthy of fathering Sarah Palin’s poor white trash granddaughter.

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  5. Brian Jay Jones

    Stephen: Can ah git an a-meehen?

    (I made the same glaring omission!)

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