The Sporadic Beaver

On Raves and Hatchet Jobs

September 23, 2011

Tags: Nowhere Man, John Lennon, reviews, Paolo Palmieri, Oscar Wilde

The best lesson I've learned about reviews since the publication of Nowhere Man in 2000 is that a vicious review will sell as many books as a rave review. And, God knows, I've gotten enough of both to speak with authority on the subject. In fact, since Nowhere Man was published in Italy this week, two more reviews of the book have been posted--a five-star rave on Amazon Italy (in Italian) and a one-star hatchet job on Amazon Germany (in English). These critiques serve as a microcosm of what Nowhere Man has been subjected to for the past 11 years.

What I find fascinating about such divergent opinions is that the reviewers appear to be talking about two entirely different books. It’s a perfect illustration of the Oscar Wilde quote from the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray: “Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.”

Antony, the Italian reviewer, described Nowhere Man as an “excellent” book, and a narrative that “portrays a rock star as very sensitive and vulnerable.” He also said that the author and Paolo Palmieri, the translator, “have made John Lennon one of us,” and that it’s “a book to always have on hand, and occasionally to open and read a few lines to understand the simplicity” of life.

Dulce Erdt, the German reviewer, however, said that Nowhere Man is “confusing” and “revolting,” lacks “sensitivity” and “respect,” paints a “too negative” portrait of Lennon, and then insists, “We all know that John Lennon was not a ‘nowhere’ man, why is this author trying to tell the world the contrary?”

The other good lesson I learned about reviews is to never argue with critics, especially ignorant ones, like Dulce Erdt. But sometimes their ignorance is just too overwhelming to ignore. Which is why I will take this opportunity to point out to Fraulein Erdt that some of us are aware that Lennon’s song “Nowhere Man” is autobiographical. In other words, I didn’t have to tell the world about Lennon’s “Nowhere Man” status. He beat me to it by 34 years.

Fear and Self-Loathing at Swank Publications 2

June 1, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, Nowhere Man, Arnold Shapiro, Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray, Swank

This is my response to the e-mail I posted yesterday.

Hey Alan, thanks for the feedback. Appreciate your perspective and the energy you put into writing it. Thank god you weren’t bored with Beaver Street. As a rule, I don’t argue with critics. Tried it too many times with Nowhere Man and found you can’t change people's minds. So, I stand by what I wrote. The book speaks for itself. I didn’t use Arnold Shapiro’s real name cause he’s not dead—dead on the inside doesn’t count—and he’s not a public figure or even a limited-purpose public figure. (I explained it in the author’s note.) This is the most negativity I’ve received from somebody who’s capable of genuine critical thought. But that’s encouraging, as I’m sure you know what Oscar Wilde said about when the critics disagree. (See the preface to Dorian Gray if you don’t.) I am going to share your critique with a few other Swank alumni cause I’m sure they’ll find it as interesting as I do.

Take care.

Bob