Tag Archives: Kerry Clare

We’re all being far too polite now

[F]or the first time, authors have been sitting in on the entire Canada Reads process, and I don’t think it’s done the program any good. … authors got so in on the action, that their personalities became inseparable from the books in question. Relationships through social media developed so that it was impossible for many to read these books without a conflict of interest. The books themselves ceased to be the point at all.

What’s more ridiculous though is that no one having this conversation. I’ve refrained from saying anything until now, because I don’t like to talk shit about books, but we’re all being far too polite now, and I fear that authors attending our book club is most of the reason why. It’s why book bloggers are celebrating these books without question, not a word of criticism, though there is plenty to criticize, but how can we  criticize when the author is our friend on Facebook, and our favourite Twitter pal?

Kerry Clare

This. I’ve mentioned I feel like a weirdo on Goodreads because I give ratings other than 4 and 5. At the same time, I’m not immune to what I’ll call the six degrees of politeness. If you like a writer, personally, even if you only know them via social media or reading their blog, it’s really, really hard to say that their book disappointed you or even that you just didn’t like it as much as you thought you would based on how much you like their thoughtful blog posts or hilarious tweets.

On Goodreads, if I realize I’m hedging, I find it helps to ignore the numbers and rate based on the descriptions: “didn’t like it”; “it was ok”; “liked it”; “really liked it”; “it was amazing.” At first, they sounded a little facile, but you know what? You can pretty much stick any book into one of those categories without hesitation. It works, I think, because it makes it subjective. You’re not making any great objective pronouncements about the quality of the book. One-star says: “I didn’t like this book.” Not “this book sucks” or “you will hate this book” but “I didn’t like it, ymmv.”

This, btw, is the same problem I came up against with my master’s thesis. The urge to be kind rather than critical is strong even when you’re “just” a reader, even when you’re doing your best to stand at arm’s length and not develop a conflict of interest. You get to know people through their writing, and if you like them, the urge to protect them is strong. What’s funny, though, even just sticking to reading, I developed favorites (as one does) and I worried that would show through. Obviously, I didn’t want that because the thesis wasn’t about who had I had the most in common with or who had the best friendship potential. Anyhow, I guess I needn’t have worried, because no one picked up on that at all.

(It still surprises me that it was read as a “negative review” so to speak, when my goal was a more positive reading of personal blogs than I’d come across in traditional media and academic writing. In fact, my big concern was providing a positive viewpoint without being uncritical about the aspects I did find problematic. In the reading, though, all the focus seemed to be on the criticisms. Then again, maybe the negative perception isn’t so surprising. We writers do have a tendency to glaze over compliments, regardless of how large, and obsess over criticisms, regardless of how minor.)


Permanent Fixture

I thought about the one story I’d ever done substantial research for, which was set in 1976 when the CN Tower first opened. I have long been fascinated by my impression of the CN Tower as a permanent fixture on the horizon, as old as the universe, or at least as old as the TD Tower, but then to realize that it’s only three years older than I am (but then, don’t we all envision ourselves too as well as permanent fixtures on some horizon, old as the universe?). That, not entirely literally, Torontonians went to bed one morning and woke up to a tower in the sky.

Kerry Clare

It was funny to read this, because I’d just been thinking about my impression that the songs we sang in elementary school choir had been around “forever” (not old as the universe, but you know, decades old) and how disconcerting it was to realize later that these were contemporary songs (maybe not brand-new, but only a few years old). I wonder how many other kids felt the same way? The funny thing is, I’m sure the choir director thought he was being totally cool, picking these  new songs for us to sing. I suppose it’s just that when you’re >10, you really don’t have a concept of scale wrt time. Everything is just divided into three time-groups: “stuff that happened before you were born,” “stuff that happened after you were born but you don’t remember,” and “stuff you can actually remember happening.” I think this is probably a good thing to remember when writing for children or from a child’s pov.

P.S. I had no idea the CN Tower only opened in 1976!

Revelling in the novel

Crimes novels/detective fiction … are the only kind of “genre” that has ever won me over, and I think it’s because these are novels that wear themselves on their sleeves. The same mechanics are present as in any novel, but their workings are much less subtle, and I think that when we revel in detective fiction that we are revelling in the novel in general.

Kerry Clare

A room of one’s own

[My] garret was a bit bleak, actually being the back of my very strange bedroom closet/storage area … but it was a garret, and it had a window, and an outlet, and it was nothing to scoff at, being a room of one’s own. Or at least a corner of an expansive closet of one’s own, which was plenty.

But it turns out that after a day at home alone … spending an evening alone in the back of a closet is bad for the soul. Or so I imagine, having not bothered to try. For the last year, my office has been a chair in the corner of my living room, by the window with my laptop, with my husband busy at his actual desk on the other side of the room. I miss him when he’s at work, and when he’s home I like to be close to him, even if neither of us are talking and both of us are working on various projects.

Kerry Clare

Value in print

I know that lots of interesting stuff is happening online, with short fiction in particular, but I don’t read it. Something about the internet makes my attention span shut off. And as a writer, there is such value in print. Online publication seems lesser to me. Though I’d like to be proven wrong about this, if only for the sake of the trees.

Kerry Clare

I guess I’ll just go shoot myself now. j/k.


The objects don’t tell the whole story though, just as a view through a window doesn’t, or a bookshelf, or any infinite number of Facebook albums– but why are these things so compelling all the same?

I wonder if– outside of fictional realms– such fragments come closer to a kind of truth than anything else can? And I wonder how much of the pleasure lies in making the connections by ourselves.

Kerry Clare

Read it Wrong

I adored [Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna], had previously decided not to pick it up because of bad reviews, then it was shortlisted and I decided to give it a try. And it was amazing– I want to shake the people who didn’t like it and tell them they read it wrong, but that wouldn’t be polite.

Kerry Clare

To covet books as objects

Poetry collections are some of the most beautiful books in my library. They have gorgeous cover designs, seductive embossments, such carefully chosen fonts, wonderfully fibrous paper that sets off the white space,  cut with such crisp edges. A lot of this, I think, is because so many of these books come from independent presses and reflect the care that these presses put into each detail of their books.

It’s shallow, I know, to love poetry for its packaging, to covet books as objects, but I can’t help it if I do. It’s only the beginning of the story, of course, but it’s an important part, and it’s fortunate that so many poets and publishers think seem to feel the same.

Honestly, e-books will never hold a candle.

Kerry Clare