Some things I'd like potential reviewers of Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth to know
Sometimes I don't think press releases quite do the job. Tends to be, you see, when a book is sent out for review, it comes accompanied by a press release and, nine times out of ten (or maybe even more than that, maybe something like nine-and-three-quarter times out of ten) you get a sort of plot synopsis and some author information and one or two pre-release review snippets (or reviews of previous books to give you a kind of 'from the people who brought you...' sense of anticipation). I'm reading Roberto Bolaño's 2666 at the moment and the press release that came with that — whilst fulfilling what you'd expect from a press release — was woefully inadequate in terms of giving the reader a way into the book. (I'm reading 2666 and careering wildly between thinking, 'Egads, this is the greatest book I've ever read, I'd like to simultaneously read everything this man wrote before he popped off this mortal coil!' and, 'Arrrghghgghggggghhhh, why I am reading this book? What is the point? What does it all mean? Why I am reading about what Mexican writers are like/deranged geometry being taught a lesson by hanging on a clothesline/a former Black Panther giving recipes in church as a kind of sermon?') Ideally the press release of 2666 should have been two words in 76 sized point:
That would've helped me somewhat. But thinking this way (and you can blame Roberto Bolaños for this) got me thinking about Noise: Fiction inspired by Sonic Youth. You see, the two 'Fiction inspired by...' books published to date have both come in for a certain amount of stick in some quarters ('stick' being a slangy English word for critical brickbats) sheerly because — and I kid you not — short stories are not songs. Moreover, short stories by a host of different people — anthologies, if you will — are not a smooth and easy read, they are in fact somewhat 'disjointed' — which is, for me, part of their charm but is (for other people) something surprising. I say 'something surprising' and it sounds okay, doesn't it? But it's not. I've had reviews where reviewers say things like, 'Reading this collection of stories by different people is not good because the reading experience is all disjointed.' Which makes me think, would you really expect a bunch of stories by different people to all be the same? But, what's worse is, certain reviewers have then criticised the disjointedness of the anthology by comparing it to Sonic Youth — 'How could this disjointed anthology of discordant stories ever pretend to have a relationship with Sonic Youth?' Part of me wants to say to these people: listen to yourself! It's all discord, baby.
But there's a larger point to be made. It kind of comes back to what I was saying about press releases. It seems to me that the 'fiction inspired by' series really needs a guidance note cum erratum slip inserted into all review copies. The guidance note cum erratum slip will say:
1. You hold in your hands an anthology of short stories inspired by [insert band name here]. This is an anthology of short stories. Not a new album by [insert band name here]. Don't blame the book for not being an album. And don't blame the short stories for not being songs. They're completely different things.
2. As is clearly indicated on the front of the book, this is fiction INSPIRED BY [insert band name here]. Not fiction ABOUT [insert band name here]. If you are buying this book because you would like to read about [insert band name here], you might be disappointed. Unless you're a fan of short stories, in which case you might get a kick out of it.
3. Even if you are a fan of short stories — if, for example, you bought and purchased the very excellent short story collection by Miranda July called No One Belongs Here More Than You or the (equally excellent) short story collection by Simon Van Booy called The Secret Lives of People in Love — you may still find reading this anthology of fiction inspired by [insert band name here] somewhat disorientating, because these are short stories written by different people — each of whom have individual writing styles, thoughts, heads, hair styles and human hearts. Part of us wishes to apologise (to you, the potential reader, and to each of the contributors who gave up their time to contribute to the book) because — and I'm sorry but it's true — IT'S MORE THAN LIKELY YOU WON'T LIKE EVERY STORY IN THE BOOK. Just as, if you went down to your local record store today and treated yourself to a compilation — maybe one of those nice Nugget compilations you've always wanted to pick up — YOU STILL WON'T LIKE EVERYTHING. But you might like something and it will be something rare and true and different and individual and maybe it will turn you on to a new writer you will like (or, if you picked up the Nuggets compilation, a new band you can go find everything else by).
4. Don't get too hung up on the 'Fiction inspired by' thing. If you are a fan of [insert band name here], then imagine you're reading a collection of stories written by people who are, hey, more or less like you. They've been into [insert band name here] for as long as you have. Or maybe not as long as you have but, you know, for a while. Or longer. Maybe longer in some cases. Some of these people are hardcore, brah. Just remember. These people haven't contributed stories to a book in order to antagonise you. Nobody wants to trick you. They like you. They think you're great. You, particularly. (Not those other people, we're singling you out right now. You know who we mean, don't you?)
5. If you feel yourself getting worked up — if you feel, as some reviewers in the past have felt, that the very idea of asking writers to be inspired by a band's musical output is an atrocity on a par with thinking, on a Sunday afternoon, 'Do you know what? I might invade Poland tomorrow for a jape' — put the book down and take a deep breath. Maybe open a window. Have a sip of lime cordial (in India they say this is tremendously good for the soul). Put your coat on and take a walk around the block. When you're walking, plunge your hands deep into your pockets. Hey, you've left your iPod in your pocket with the headphone wire wrapped tightly about it! Why not listen to something as you take a turn about the block? Why not listen to [insert band name here]? Ahhh. That's better. You particularly like [insert seminal album track here]. [insert band name here] really knew how to cook it up way back when, eh? Ahhhh. That's better. Now. As you're feeling slightly better, think about the book some more. It's just a book of short stories. An anthology. Different people. Different voices. It's okay. It's good. No-one is out to hurt me. It's just entertainment. If I don't like it, I can always do something else. Battlestar Galactica is back on the TV soon. All is good. All is good.
And then, at the bottom of the guidance note cum erratum slip it will just, in the style of all the great rock'n'roll sign offs, keep repeating All is good all is good all is good until we arrive at the words (Repeat to fade...)