Editorial: Having Our Say
I've always had a personal policy of never responding to reviews of books that I've published. And in the past dozen or so years, I've seen some astonishingly bad reviews reviews that deliberately mis-characterize a book, reviews that are blatantly homophobic, and even ones in which the reviewer invents things that don't actually appear in a book and then castigates the book and author for those invented passages (for a prime example of this, hunt down the Kirkus Reviews on Glove Puppet by Neal Drinnan). Yet I've always believed that it does no good to respond to such reviews an intellectually dishonest review is almost always obvious to even casual readers and my own bias as the editor of the work makes my response suspect to many.
Well so much for policy. One of my books finally got a review that I find so offensive that I can't help myself. In the February 2nd edition of the San Francisco Examiner, Plato's Garage by Rob Campbell was "reviewed." The reviewer opened his comments with the following statements:
What follows from this is a disingenuous review that completely mis-characterizes the book, is intellectually dishonest, occasionally incoherent, and simply plain wrong. And, in the final twist of the knife, not so subtilely accuses the publisher of, at best, trying to pull one over on the reader or, at worst, homophobia. Since I was the book's editor, and my employer its publisher, I take great offense at all of this. There is so much in the review that is simply wrong, I couldn't begin to address it here but I do want to make a few points:
For a major daily newspaper which has ignored so many major gay and lesbian works in the past to publish an attack on the publisher of those works especially an attack which alleges an attempt to disguise the gay content of a book is to merely to rub salt in the wound. If the reviewer and the paper are so concerned with works about the gay experience, why is the only one they review the one with arguably the least amount of actual gay content.
The reviewer is so intent on making his charge that he actually lies about the content of the book. For example:
The first essay referred to - "Ghost Taxis of Kyoto" - has nothing whatsoever to do with gayness in Japan outside of two brief references to the author's then-current (American) boyfriend. As for the second one, "Paris When It Drizzles," you can read it for yourself and decide if the reviewer's description is accurate.
It is genuinely difficult to publish gay and lesbian themed books at this particular moment in time. Very few mainstream newspapers and magazines actively review them, many bookstores refuse to carry them (their usual reasons being that their "other customers" will be offended or that they have no gay customers), and, at best, they don't sell in the kind of quantities that suit the publishing model of most major publishing houses. To have a major newspaper in a city like San Francisco publish an inaccurate, dishonest attack masquerading as a review is just one indignity too many to suffer in silence.
Speaking of the difficulties of publishing gay and lesbian books, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get some gay and lesbian books even printed. Most recently, we've had difficulty in getting one of our forthcoming books Dirty Pictures: Tom of Finland, Masculinity, and Homosexuality printed. Several printers simply refused to print it because they (or their representatives) found Tom of Finland's work offensive. Or, as it was often phrased, "our workers will refuse to do it."
More than once over the years, a jacket or interior printer has refused to work on one of our books because the cover illustration or the subject matter of the book was one that offended their personal sensibilities. What does that mean exactly? Usually that the book in question was a gay or lesbian themed book. Would the workers at the printing plant actually refuse to work on these books? I don't know for certain. But the people at those plants making such decisions have quite often come back to us and said simply that they won't do the work and the book would offend "the community standards" of the area where the plant is located. And, with Dirty Pictures, it didn't matter that the book was a scholarly look at the effect of Tom of Finland's work on the development of gay culture. It certainly didn't seem matter that Tom of Finland is now widely regarded as a culturally significant artist, one whose work is in many major private, public, and museum holdings.
I'm lucky in that I work at a major publishing house which prints over 1,000 books a year. Because of the volume of work we do with various printers, we have an economic clout that many smaller presses don't have. The end result was that my production department was able to get a printer to accept the job and the book will appear on schedule. This is book that could legitimately be considered a "study in gayness" and I recommend it to all of you.
So, you might wonder, what possible connection is there between the trouble with printing Dirty Pictures and the ridiculously poor review of Plato's Garage? The other day one of my colleagues at another publishing house asked me why I (and my associates) put ourselves through all the trouble and difficulties involved in publishing gay/lesbian books. This has become a rather common question and on a good day I would answer it by saying that, as a literature, I think it is one of the most vital being written as well as a significant contribution to defining and explicating gay and lesbian culture.
On a bad day, much like this one, my answer would be, "I have no idea."
Kahla is the senior editor who calls the shots at Stonewall Inn.
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