Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Should Criticism Sting?

Michael Sedano

La Bloga’s Saturday columnist Rudy Ch. Garcia reviewed Boy Zorro and the Bully (El Niño Zorro y el Peleón). Published in English and Spanish, Rudy calls it “a Latino book” on how to handle bullying, finding Boy Zorro on the whole worthwhile. Click here to read the review and Comments from Rudy's July 26 column.

The publisher and author wrote back, objecting to calling Boy Zorro "a Latino book, arguing that "using Spanish merely makes the topic accessible to more readers". Author, Kat A. expresses restrained anger when she avers,

Rudy. Rudy. Rudy. You practically missed the book altogether. Starting with the misclassification of it as “A Latino Book”. This is a book about “Bullying”. You made it a book about Latinos and then used the book as a platform to go off into different tangents about race, skin color, lack of female representation…are you helping or hurting those who actually do something

The publisher, Katherine Del Monte, focuses on the positive messages the book conveys, only once tangentially acknowledging Garcia’s critique that illustrations paint everyone except one kid and the principal pink.

Mr. Ramos, the principal, does the right thing, stays strong, and all outcomes are favorable – no matter their skin color or race.

The author and publisher’s responses reflect one of those hard facts of writing: once the writer has sent the piece “out there,” it belongs to the reader. And the critic.

Sadly, "criticism" has come to mean its lowest common denominator, fault-finding and punishment, so people hate criticism. Maybe it's part of the national character, to take critique as a personal affront.

To be criticized is good. In its most exalted form, criticism compares a concept of perfection to the work at hand and declares how the piece at hand measures up to perfection. Most literary criticism reflects versions of the latter. It shouldn't sting. Indeed, it's an honor to be compared to perfection.

A reader or critic comes to a title with her or his own expectations for the book and reads it through the lens of expectation, plus one’s capacity for the writer’s style and invention. In writing the critique, the critic will say what he or she likes, what he or she doesn’t like, and offer qualitative observations related to the work.

In Rudy's critique, he likes Boy Zorro for its critically important message. His enthusiasm is tempered by ways the book could do a better job for its readers.

Whatever the assessment—love it, hate it, wish it was something else—it belongs to the critic and reflects that critic's sensibility. A work “means” what the reader says it means, regardless of the author’s or publisher’s intent. We do, of course, share a language, so most of the time, we "get" one another. But now and again a Boy Zorro comes around, where critique and intent rub each other the wrong way.

Favorable or not, taking into account a critic's observations--Rudy's expectation that illustrated children's books reflect a child's world by featuring diversity in gender and skin colors--won't diminish established intentions but certainly enhances the likelihood a future book will attract wider readership and more favorable critical responses.


Anonymous said...

You said most of the relevant cosas, Sedano. (Although your title could've been "Be taken to heart" instead of "Sting." - a critic.)
I also hoped to widen the awareness about new, better approaches for training kids how to deal with bullies. It's not all about snitching. Gracias for your erudition. - RudyG, sometimes a critic

Corina Carrasco said...

When Writers put their work out for the public to consume, they open themselves to critique. Critique is good. It helps us grow. Not everyone will respond to the writing the same way. As Readers, we bring with us our own experiences, feelings, and desires for what we want to see in a book.

As a Writer, it is often difficult to see our creations--our babies that we birthed and nourished--criticized. I know. I have licked my own "wounds" when my own writing has gotten some kind of negative feedback. It hurts. However, if I want to grow as a Writer and keep creating, then I need to welcome all critique, positive and negative, and learn to weed out what I want to take from it and use that for future writing or for revision. I know it's a tough thing but we have to do it or we won't grow.

While I haven't read the book in question, I did read the review. As a Consumer, I appreciate the thorough and honest review of the book. When I review writing, my mission is to improve the work, as well as let others get an idea of whether they want to spend their hard earned dollars on the book. I think RudyG did just that. He gave us his opinion and his reasons, as well as suggestions to make future writing more inclusive and more meaningful to the targeted readers.

Authors, including Kat A, need to develop a thick skin before putting their writing out before the public. If they do, they stand to grow as Writers. If they don't, they miss this opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Wow, true to form, La Bloga deleted my comments attached to the original post of criticism. La Bloga's policy continues: some people count, others don't. My comment offered my humble insight and nothing out of the ordinary. But I guess this comment of criticism will bite the dust, as well, suffering the inevitable fate under La Bloga's elitist and quick finger as it strikes the key board. Too bad. There are other Chicano writers out there who something to say, La Bloga, believe/accept it or not.

Anonymous said...

From LaBlogaAdmin: About the "Wow" comment above -
We didn't delete any comments, so we're not sure what you mean. Possibly your first comment was entered without it posting. You're welcome to try again. Other than that, we have no comment.

Anonymous said...

But I saw it, man. It was posted. A person, however humble he may be, takes the time and effort to comment only to see his comment discarded like an old, tattered coat. I paid my nickel. Someone decided not to carry my comment on the Kingdom of La Bloga.

In the spirit of the post, you could have at least critiqued my comment, telling me of its shortcomings. I'm still learning.

But, instead, it was deleted, squashed, squashed and kicked into the dust pile of deleted comments.

Other than that, I have no comment.

Giora said...

With all due respect, the name of the main character set the tone for the book. If the main character has a Latin name or a Chinese name, then by default it becomes a Latino book or a Chinese book ... even if the storyline is general to all people.

Anonymous said...

Go! Rudy Ch! Go! Yours is a thoughtful review. Admiring the good in a story but wanting more is to be commended. Carry on! Alice Canestaro-Garcia