Great books and an awkward reviewer

I’ve got two books to review and the same problem with both of them. I thought I’d try waiting for a day when I feel more positive, but it’s not coming, so, here we go. Great books do get bad reviews because the reviewer was in a bad place – I’ve had it happen to me and its monstrously unfair, so I’m going to try and handle this well. Bear with me.

The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy, Melusine Draco. This is a funny and clever book, that reads like fiction but to some degree isn’t. There’s a lot of experience and insight underpinning it, so that, without really revealing anything, it gives the newbie or wannabe witch a chance at spotting the fakes and fraudsters. It is also a really funny and engaging book. The problem? That unsettled feeling of being outside of the secret knowledge, outside of the tradition, a bit unrooted. Seeing the fluffier, more permissive Pagans, the ones who lack substance, and feeling much more identification with that, than with the ‘real’ stuff. My insecurity, and my truth, such as it is. And of course it’s the desire to be more real, more worthy of taking seriously, more important that turns a subset of the Pagan community into fraudsters and fakes, lying to get attention. It’s as well to be alert to these things. I am at least honest fluff.

More about the book here –

Iona, Mary Palmer. It’s a really beautiful poetry collection, full of vivid imagery and soulfulness, challenge, quest and difficulty. One of my problems with it was technical – that it is both a poetry collection, and a kind of story. The story is told through little asides that frame the poems, and feature two characters. I had trouble engaging with the characters, and might have done better with the poetry had it not been framed in this way. The problem could well be me – that I’ve not coped with something unfamiliar in a poetry book and just didn’t know how to read it. More experienced readers of poetry may well find this far easier to navigate. It is perhaps the case that I’m too easily swayed by narrative, and that someone more invested in the poetry would not get waylaid in the same way.

More about the book here –

What really threw me – and this is entirely personal and not a flaw in the book at all – was the biographical content at the end. Poet Mary Palmer died in 2009 and the biography at the end of the collection sums up her life and work. It’s written with deep affection and respect, charting what she did and who she did it with, the context for writing, and the life around the work. There are glowing endorsements from others who love and value what she did.

Creative jealousy is a terrible thing. But, in writing this blog I’ve made a commitment to honesty, and to talking about things that aren’t much talked about. It’s an exposure of self to admit the degree to which I’ve been uncomfortable with both books because of the enormous sense of personal inadequacy I feel in face of this work. I think it’s important to air it though, and to look at how it distorts behaviour, because it can be a major factor in terms of how books are reviewed. Titles that cause us to see ourselves in an unflattering light can easily be blamed for the feelings they evoke. It’s hard to face up to it and say yes, this author is more than I will ever be. Perhaps if more of us were able to do it, it would take some of the sting out of the fact that most of us will never be all that we hope to be.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Great books and an awkward reviewer

  • glarawelmagolben

    I think your honesty in why you reacted to these books in the way you did makes these reviews rather special. I am grateful to you for sharing your feelings because I often feel like that too and find myself saying nothing at all. You are right, we all need to be more honest about things like this and I’ll try to follow your example, going forward. I’m also going to get these two books from the library and give them a try.

  • juliebond

    You’re too harsh on yourself, Nimue, you write great stuff! Thank you for your honesty about how it feels from the inside though.

  • Leeby Geeby

    Very interesting insight. The fact that you were very clear about your headspace when reviewing makes it all the more credible. Few reviewers, if any reviewers, are as honest about this as you have been.

  • Psyche

    If you’d ever be interested in reviewing books for Spiral Nature, let me know! We provide the books, and pay (a bit).

    Obviously JHP books would be out of the question due to the perceived possibliity of conflict of interest (which, I know, these reviews should negate, but even so). I really enjoy your writing, and would love to see more.



  • lornasmithers

    I think our reactions to books are always bound to be subjective and reflect where we’re at a point in time. I can’t stand self-help books, even if they’re good, and have turned down review books in the past as I know I just personally won’t like them so wouldn’t be a fair reviewer.

    In terms of reviewing really awesome writers, yes, sometimes inadequacy can be an issue too. I felt that when I reviewed Sharon Blackie as she’s just so intelligent and such a good writer. I feel similarly with Rhyd Wildermuth’s ability to marry the personal, political and mystical seamlessly in the fire of huge amounts of Awen.

    The way I get round that is accepting I can only be myself and make the best of what I’ve been gifted with… No-one else can do what I do. No-one else can do what you do. We’ve all got our talents and niches.

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