Friday, 14 October 2011

Interview with Pornokitsch

After my interview with Luca Veste I was keen to find out more about other fellow book reviewers, and how reviewing books have affected their reading habits. Joining me today are two reviewers I have a lot of respect for, please welcome Anne and Jared from the Pornokitsch blog. Not only do they review books, tv shows, movies and comic books, but they also have a number of other exciting projects cooking.

To find out more about their harmless dirtiness, visit their blog and follow them on Twitter (@pornokitsch and @thefingersofgod)

So who are Jared and Anne?

A: Jared prefers his burger medium-rare, please.

J: Anne is a 5th level Mind Flayer Paladin with Vorpal Grammar +3.

Why did you start reviewing books?

J: We used to work together on a different blog - where we wrote (this is a bit weird) about meat. Restaurant reviews, BBQ accessories, etc. We occasionally threw in a few book reviews - the food & drink choices of our favorite private eyes, that sort of thing. We discovered that we enjoyed writing about books more than restaurants and set up a separate site. Pretty soon, that became the blog and the meat blog was put out to pasture.

A: People still occasionally ask about it, though. I think my mom’s secretly a little disappointed we don’t still run the meat blog.

J: Mine too.

Would you say that becoming a book reviewer is something which has changed what you read and how you think about books?

J: No and yes. No - it hasn’t changed what I read. I blog and review entirely for fun. If I ever felt like blogging was making me read things, it would suddenly be work and I’d probably quit. That sounded awfully melodramatic. Also, yes - I think I think about thinking about books a lot more than I used to. I think.

A: Yes and no. I’m an academic by day, and my fields rely heavily on textual analysis - which means I approach pretty much everything I read critically (to Jared’s occasional exasperation). But whereas non-fiction is, for me, a tool, fiction is fundamentally a pleasure. In reading and thinking about fiction for the sake of a review, I have to add in that final, baseline layer of analysis. It’s not just what I thought about the book: it’s also how it made me feel. And I definitely read a lot more genre than I used to.

Pornokitsch is easily the best and funniest name of a blog. Is there a story behind the name or was it just a very good brainstorming session down at the pub?

A: Years ago we were watching the Sean Connery sci fi film Outland, and wound up spending hours (...and hours) dissecting the meaning of the movie’s set-design. We worked up some grand theory about 1980s sci fi, and how Hollywood represented technology in terms of reactionary liberal politics, and feminism as a function of blahblah and, you know, important stuffs. And we decided to start a geek-culture blog, to talk about all the important stuffs. And the important stuffs wound up being, in practice, reviews of long-out-of-print pulps and monster movies.

What does it take to write a great review of a fiction novel?

J: Anne.

A: Poo. A good review is a coherent opinion, convincingly delivered. But a great review - I think that’s a review that fundamentally alters your relationship with the book. A great review should give you some real insight into something about the book - like the author’s motivations, or the book’s historical context, or its critical importance, or its perpetual popularity. Something so that, the next time you read that book, or even just think about it, you respond to it in a new way. A great review isn’t just about whether or not you liked the book; it’s about why that book matters. Why you care.

You are currently editing an anthology. Care to tell us more about it?

A: We’re incredibly proud of this. We’ve commissioned eighteen stories about the end of the world, as inspired by the work of the artist John Martin. Our twist is that these stories are genre-inspired 21st century responses to these massive early 19th century paintings of Biblical rack and ruin, all volcanoes and lightening and crumbling cities and exploding hell-scapes.

Martin’s work really galvanized our authors; they’ve presented us with everything from deeply personal ghost stories to super-hard deep-future sci fi outer-spacey ruminations on the meaning of humanity. And everything in-between, of course. We envisioned the project as an ebook, but the Tate, which is currently curating a major John Martin exhibit, has asked us to produce a limited-edition print run, as well.

Apart from reviewing & editing anthologies, the Kitschies are kicking off their own award. I was really gobsmacked when I heard that. Sponsorship from a cool brand like The Kraken Rum, how did you guys manage all that, and why?

J: I think we’re a little gobsmacked ourselves. We spent all year sneaking around, converting our two year old ‘blog award’ into a new ‘literary prize’. We added great judges like Lauren Beukes and Rebecca Levene, expanded to more categories, and then found the best sponsor possible with The Kraken Rum.

We’re huge fans of the drink, so we approached The Kraken and sort of squeaked out, “Hello! You are smart, progressive, fun and tentacular. We look for smart, progressive, fun books - and then we give them tentacles. We should hang out!”. Their support has really been the icing on the cake (the suckers on the squid?).

The whole publishing community has been really generous. Everyone seems to share our desire to have a prize in this particular space - something that celebrates the books that elevate the tone of science fiction and fantasy and bridge that (phantom) gap between ‘genre’ and ‘literature’.

Could you recommend a kick ass novel one simply must read? Also, what’s the best book you read so far in 2011?

J: Phonogram: The Singles Club is about as kick ass as anything I’ve ever read. The Gillen/McKelvie team is right up there with legendary duos like Ellis/Templesmith, Gaiman/McKean and Moore/Campbell. The Singles Club may be 160 pages of comics perfection.  And best in 2011? This goes back to January, but I finally read David Goodis’s noir masterpiece, Cassidy’s Girl. I’m still recovering.

A: Speaking of noir masterpieces, Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me is one of my perpetual favorites - utterly horrifying, utterly bleak, utterly controlled, and a master-class in extraordinary writing. As for the best book I’ve read this year? Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South. For serious! Forget all the romantic period-film nonsense the name might conjure. North & South is a novel about industrial technologies and their social effects, class warfare, religious doubt, and, uh, problematic mothers. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


  1. Someone snuck "Vorpal Grammar +3" in there at the last minute.

    Must have been the cat.