May 31, 2009

Review: Octopussy, Dry Kidney, and Blue Spots

BOOK #: 43
RATING: 1 Star (DNF)

The long title of this book is Octopussy, Dry Kidney, & Blue Spots: Dirty Themes from 18-19c Japanese Poems. It also says "or, senryu compiled, translated & essayed by Robin D. Gill" and "Yet another good book the New York Times Book Review will probably ignore."

In my opinion, the NY Times has good reason. The beginning of the book says that by the time you finish it, you will know what octopussy, dry kidney, and blue spots are. But I never found out. It was too boring to continue.

This enormous clunk of a book is filled with 18-19c Japanese poems, sure. Dirty themes? Sure. A variety of poems? Definitely. Interesting essays explaining the dirty themes behind the poems?

Uh-oh. Missing.

The explanations in this book were more droll to me than watching paint dry. It must take some amount of talent in order to turn ancient erotic poems into something so un-fascinating.

I did not understand Gill's heavy-handed explanation of what senryu poetry is, only that it is similar to haiku, which I could gather for myself from simply looking at the stanzas.

I think that given the size of this book (nearly 500 pages), some of the less interesting poems could be omitted. I thought there were far too many poems on 'farts' alone. Perhaps it is just me and my igorance in what the term 'dirty' means, but that wasn't quite what I had in mind. And the whole section titled 'The Sound of Piss' was also a tad much. There were plenty of other poems that were erotic in nature that these could probably go.

I also thought it was odd that there were random messages in the book, such as, "My Octopussy Embarrassment, or apologia, in the classic sense of rationalizing something the nincompoops may well object to." Um, what? What would make you put this into the pages? Okay, so someone objects. Deal with it. If this is an attempt at humor, it falls irritatingly flat.

I think that the idea that Gill is trying to sell here is a good one, but the execution needs improvement. I would be more likely to buy this book if it were much smaller, say 50-100 pages, with several really good examples of senryu, than a giant book filled with what looks to be all the dirty-themed senryu that can be located. I read several of these, but they were most unfortunately overshadowed by the numerous other poems that were mediocre at best. Just because it is available to the public, doesn't mean the public needs, or desires, to read it. If you want to introduce us to senryu and help us develop an appreciation for it, then please take care to be more selective of the poems you introduce us to first.


  1. This has got to be one of the best lines ever: "Just because it is available to the public, doesn't mean the public needs, or desires, to read it."

    The topic definitely sounds interesting - it's really too bad the promise wasn't fulfilled. I love the title, though.

  2. I have been blessed with my first review by an illiterate! Thank you.

    There is no way you read my book and could not find out what "octopussy" dry kidney" and "blue spots" were.

    The book is not "giant" but one of my shorter books and it was not intended to be a selection of the best senryu or a general introduction to senryu: that has been done by r.h. blyth and more recently by ueda makoto -- all I did was cover the area he missed. You obviously did not even read the preface and introduction.

    "Droll" does not mean "dull" (look it up).

    And, Belle, please read the book, before parroting the words of someone who should stick to grade-school readers! You may see it at Google for free and make up your own opinion.

    the author.

  3. Wow. Do you know how to take constructive criticism.

    First of all, the reason I did not find out the answers to what octopussy, dry kidney, and blue spots were is because I did not care. As I clearly stated I did not finish reading the book. I am sure they were explained later in the book. The point was that I did not care enough to keep reading to find out.

    Second, you are right I should have used the word dull instead of droll.

    Third, in my OPINION, which I have every right to, as do you and everyone else, this book was too large for someone not familiar with senryu to enjoy as intended. Maybe someone else doesn't think so, which would be their OPINION. See how that works?

    I never said you did not have good points about your book and even went out of my way to explain some of the better points to my readers. And, to be honest, maybe there was a reason that Blyth and Makoto left some of these poems out. Maybe those senryu topics are interesting to some readers, but it was not to me and I have every right to say that.

    If you think this was a scathing review, I hope you never have to actually read one about your book. I'd hate to think that you might go Alice Hoffman on the reviewer. I think you need to take into account that responding to negative reviews of your book in this manner will probably result in more negative attention being drawn to you than my review ever would have on its own.

  4. Holy cow. You know, if I'd ever had the desire to read this book, the author's reaction certainly killed it. Authors need to realize that their reactions to negative reviews really influence whether or not a lot of people read them. What crap.

    *I* thought you had a well written review.

  5. Well I have to say after the author's nasty comment, I wouldn't borrow, purchase, read, or otherwise come into contact with this book if you paid me! There is just no excuse for that behavior!

  6. Oh robin d gill, why would you write such mean things to Rebecca? Don't you realize that she CAN'T READ!??! Poor little illiterate.

    Either take her constructive criticism for what it's worth, stay away from reviews altogether, or save your vitriol for those of us who are actually mean.

  7. I can't say that anything about this book appeals to me -- with or without a negative review. If I was presented with the bare facts and no editorial opinion, I don't think I would have given two seconds thought to reading this book. So that aside, I think the fact that Rebecca offers some advice on how to make a somewhat obscure book on an obscure topic a bit more enjoyable to "regular" readers might be viewed by the author as helpful criticism.

    In addition, the author's over-the-top response is a big turn-off. I'm sure a good discussion might have occurred had he approached Rebecca differently. I would think he might be thrilled that someone took the time to try his book -- I can't imagine many people have. In a day and age when book reading seems to be a dying art, any attention to a book should be seen as good. At least she tried it!

    And when I see author's responses like this, I'm immediately turned off. A blog is someone's opinion and that opinion should be treated in a respectful manner -- not spiral down into name-calling (obviously she is not illiterate). No one is required to like someone's book. And they are free to express their opinions. If you are putting stuff out there for the public to read, you must expect that not everyone is going to think it is great. That is just how life is. I think the author owes Rebecca an apology.

  8. Sorry to post twice, but Jenners' comment is so good - not dull, not even droll, for that matter - but well-phrased and thoughtful, that I say YES! to what Jenners said!

  9. Dear Mr. Gill, you are correct. The reason why no one reads your books is because they're all illiterate. OBVIOUSLY! Keep talking down to your readership and I'm sure you'll go far. Love, me.

  10. The author must have thought you were literate when he wanted to send you an advanced reader's copy!

    I had to write a negative review recently for an ARC I didn't care for. The author didn't comment but several people I've never heard from prior to or since the review left sizzling comments.

    I agree with all the other comments here, EXCEPT for the author's. Good grief! I suspect Mr. Gill will see many negative reviews and needs to toughen up, take and learn from criticism and learn when it's time to keep his mouth shut.

  11. I love that everyone kept their posts pretty polite, with now name-calling, everyone except the author!

    Rebecca didn't say anything inflammatory, she wasn't over the top with her review. I imagine there are plenty of other reviewer who would have been very sarcastic and totally attacked this book.

    There is no need for the author to react this way, except some hidden insecurity in his own work.

  12. OMG that was kinda harsh (author's comment). It appears someone doesn't like negative reviews. Gee I wonder why the NY Times ignores this book? I surely would after the comments made.

    Rebecca I guess if you are illiterate then I must be too or perhaps we all are LOL.

    I for one wouldn't let THIS authors snide comments bother you. Your reviews are great and even this one was good.

    The author commented that this book wasn't a "giant" but one of the authors shorter books. Wonder what they other books are like?

    Good job Rebecca.

  13. Rebecca is a reader and lover of books not a NYT critic (not that that would excuse such comments). Readers are going to like some books and not others. If a writer thinks everyone who ever reads his (or her) book is going to fall madly in love with it, he is delusional.

  14. I probably wouldn't have read the book anyway (poetry being a forte I gave up a while ago)but I most certainly wouldn't give it a second glance now! One glance at the author's website answered all the questions that popped into my mind upon reading his very rude and uncalled for comment.

    Mr. Gill, if you can't take the (honest) review, stay out of the book blog.

  15. I thought Rebecca's review was concise and to the point. Readers appreciate honest reviews. Just because the Reviewer did not like the book does not mean that others will feel the same way.
    When an author becomes angry after reading a review, leaving a comment like Gill's is going to get them nowhere except discourage readers to read their books. Point in case: I love(d) Alice Hoffman's books. I won't read another one, I can promise you.

  16. What fun! A collective kneejerk.

    I love criticism. I just put up a blog at redroom which starts with an example of a negative review which was of great help. It ends up mentioning your collective kneejerk and points to a full treatment of Rebecca's review at my website. Here is that link:

    If you criticize you risk being criticized in turn. When you call a retort "disturbingly irrational" you imply it is something that you would repress if you had the power to do so -- which you do, as "comment moderation has been enabled" (and I respect you for not blocking it, so far . . .

    Reading is about becoming more open, more tolerant, not becoming the thought-police, right? (I would be curious what percent of the readers of this blog have read Montaigne's Essays.)

  17. Mr. Gill,
    Thank you for taking the time to come back by and leave the URL. I have a few things I feel the need to explain. First of all, comment moderation is enabled for spammers, not actual people.
    Secondly, the reason I gave the "long title" in the first paragraph is because I usually put the entire title in the post title, but it wouldn't fit. The photo was small enough not to be easily read by everyone, so I shared the longer title with readers. While I think long titles are often unnecessary (no matter the writer), it certainly did not play a factor in my review of the book. Third, I wrote that the book was an "enormous clunker" not because I am intimidated by large books (I've read longer) but because I imagine that the average American reader would not go near a book of poetry in which a) they were unfamiliar with the type of poetry, b) the author was not familiar to them, and c) was 500 pages. I was unaware of the reasons behind the larger format of the book. The width and height of the book was also a factor in my comment. Many books are 500 pages, but they are usually more compact in terms of their other dimensions. Perhaps it would have been beneficial to you for me to have said that.

    I do want to comment on your comment regarding my intelligence. First, I have read Essais. I really hope you are not implying you and Montaigne's work are on the same level. That is a pretty bold statement if you are. Second, if you had read anything else on my blog or if you'd visit other self-proclaimed book lovers like myself you will find that I am not a speed reader. In fact, I have talked at length about how I don't care to read books quickly but savor them and take my time to make sure I understand what I'm reading and remember it, even taking time to make notes. Even if I did read faster, that does not make me some victim of my age. Being a victim of this age would be not reading at all. I find it a challenge to locate people in their twenties who read, much less who read often. I am not unintelligent. Just because I don't like your book doesn't mean I am incapable of intelligent thought.

    Not that I am sure you could take any advice, but I will throw this out there just in case you can step outside of your ego for just a minute and actually receive it:
    If you do not want a "common reader" such as myself reading your book, than it would serve you well to direct your ARCs only to those who you can be assured will appreciate it. Quite clearly you feel some degree of insecurity about your work or you would not have reacted the way you did the first time and especially not the second time. No one here cares anymore that people like your book (although I am sure you are thrilled that your work is making a great impact on your circle of friends and peers, and kudos from me to you on that.) No, at this point all we will remember of you is that you behaved in the manner of a perfectly spoiled brat. Whether that is true of you or not makes no difference. Your prior behavior speaks for you.

    So I didn't like your book and you didn't like my criticism. If you had come to me and wanted to have a discussion about it in an adult and professional manner, I would have been delighted to. In fact, I learned the answers to the questions in my review from reading your thoughts about my review on your site instead of from you telling me personally. The interesting part is that if you could have pushed aside your anger and pride for a minute and explained these to me, I, and my readers, would have had a very different reaction to you as a writer. Perhaps some of my comments came across to you as insensitive, but I can tell you that from my studies in journalism and creative writing, and from my limited experience reading thousands of book reviews (by both professionals and bloggers)that my review could certainly not be included in a category for most discourteous.

    Best of luck to you.


Thank you for visiting! Leave a comment and share your thoughts with me!