Book Review: Manny Rayner, What Pooh Might Have Said to Dante and Other Futile Speculations

Book Reviewed: What Pooh Might Have Said to Dante and Other Futile Speculations

by Manny Rayner

Very early into the forward to Manny’s book he poses a very sensible question: What’s the point to Goodreads?


In a sense, it seems Manny shares my generation’s bafflement with sites like Facebook and Twitter. Does every person on the planet really need a forum to make their opinions public? Wouldn’t these forums be the intellectual equivalents of idea toilets. I still can’t figure out what Twitter is (though this does not stop me from Tweeting that I am now pondering the meaning of Twitter). But Manny says that he was quickly converted: “on a good day it can almost feel like a modern equivalent of an 18th century literary salon” (viii).


I feel that the “on a good day” qualification is completely necessary. Like any of the social media technologies, the natural tendency is toward blather and idea dumping. And without some mechanism for censorship and editorial feedback even the most diligent of writers might devolve into reviews that sound like: “I didn’t like the book because bad is bad is bad. And anyone who doesn’t agree with me is an idiot…poop, poop, poopity, poop…Now, I’m off to the pub.”  


As other reviewers have probably already mentioned, this book is a collection of Goodread Book Reviews, literary mashups, explorations of meetings between characters, and…a business plan idea or two? political philosophy?


Certainly, they are the opposite of the lazy reviews and idea dumping that I often find myself engaging in.


It’s hard for me to rate this book on its own merits since I don’t really know enough about the Goodreads review sub-genre (or even whether it is a sub-genre). I’m also not sure whether the reviews really work as a book. As I read the book, I kept going back to goodreads to read the reviews and parables in relation to other reviews. Not surprisingly, I found the readings much more enjoyable when read in relation to other reviews.


Perhaps that is the way goodreads reviews are meant to be read, not in isolation as part of a book, but as part of a back and forth between various reviewers.


The other issue I had in reviewing this book is that I couldn’t enjoy the reviews of the book I hadn’t read yet. And there were a lot of books that Mr. Rayner reviews that I have not yet read. In fact, the diversity of books reviewed is amazing: religious writing, Twilight, canonical literature, science fiction. And many of the reviews are conducted through the meeting of hostile opposites–a technique that can be hilarious, if somewhat confusing at times. It’s even more confusing if you haven’t read the books yet.


Unfortunately, about a third of the way into the book, I gave up reading the reviews of books I hadn’t read yet. But make no mistake: this book has gems.


Take, for example, this piece of political philosophy: “Call me a nut, call me a crazy dreamer, but I think that, if everyone in the world sent trashy erotic novels to their GoodReads friends in other countries, there would be no more war or poverty, and we could build a paradise in two generations.”


Or what about this sensible business idea: “Given the inexorable forward march of literary technology, I think that we should have postmodernism for infants available not later than 2035. I can already see a knowing, rather bored looking baby, wearing a fashionably retro diaper, “putting the book into his mouth” and ironically chewing it. If only I knew how to arrange this, I’m sure I could make some money.” This comes out of a book review. I have already written up a business plan and have started looking for backers. The postmodern baby boom is coming. And it will be my windfall.


One of my favorite “reviews” was the creation of a Frankenstein monster of a book reviewer, one where “even the most indefatigable of self-published authors refused its friend requests.” What is this Frankenstein monster’s last words before dying: “He grasped my hand with both of his. “Learn from my fate,” he whispered. “Abjure Pastiche and Post-Modernism. Resist the lure of the mash-up. Write plain, Christian reviews, that explain simply and honestly the main characters, the plot and the style. All else is temptations of the Devil.”


Words of wisdom, indeed, Franken-review writer.


More than anything, the book is a challenge to make Goodreads reviews better, more creative…a literary cafe of sorts? A bohemian book paradise? Certainly a place where freedom does not lead to laziness (postmodern cynicism?).


Manny’s reviews are positive proof that diligence can turn into originality and that goodreads can be a place where creativity and thoughtfulness (as well as plain, Christian reviews) can flourish.  

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