On Being Reviewed

Embroidery design © Steve Kyte/Helen McCarthy, cover design © Ilex

Embroidery design © Steve Kyte/Helen McCarthy, cover design © Ilex

Yesterday I got one of the best reviews I’ve ever had. It was for Manga Cross-Stitch and it was written by Jamie Chalmers for the ultra-hip and very influential Mr. X Stitch blog.

I have been fortunate enough to have some wonderful reviews in the past. Neil Gaiman gave The Anime Encyclopedia just fourteen words, but they were the right fourteen words: “Impressive, exhaustive, labyrinthine, and obsessive – The Anime Encyclopedia is an astonishing piece of work.” Tom Mes gave Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation a superb send-off in Midnight Eye magazine, and the TezukaInEnglish website did the same for 500 Manga Heroes and Villains. This one ranks with the best, and I’ve been thinking about what makes it so good. Of course, all authors love rave reviews: but there’s more to  a great review than “this book is fantastic, buy it now.”

Visibility and credibility are part of the appeal of a great review. Every writer wants a nod of approval from the top people in the field. Just about everyone who is anyone in contemporary indie stitch art knows and goes to Mr. X Stitch. It gets written up in the style supplements, but more importantly it’s a must-visit site for anyone interested in the power of unleashed individual creativity. If it were an art gallery, it wouldn’t be – at least, not unless the Horse Hospital married a hot graffiti crew and moved to Paris or Osaka. The ‘genteel’ art of stitching is so far ahead of most other forms in terms of independence, inclusiveness and speed of development that it makes the chichi Sunday-supplement temples of Contemporary Art look like dinosaurs – fascinating, sometimes beautiful, and enormously exploitable, but fossilised. Under the big-money economy of Old Etonian dealers playing in the East End and well-educated artists getting down with the streets, there’s a whole little-money economy of individual artists and crafters using the web to fulfil William Morris’s mission of bringing beauty, utility and intelligence into every corner of life.

So this review reaches a wide audience, from a venue that shares the same ethic I want the book to promote – that stitchers don’t have to copy the works of others, like a clone army, that they can use the visual grammar of anime and manga to make their own unique work. But there’s more to it even than that. The best thing about this review is that Jamie understood exactly what I wanted the book to achieve, and evaluated it against my own criteria, from an independent viewpoint. Simply, but playfully, he provides a beautifully structured outline of exactly what to expect in and from the book, ending where I hope the reader will be – empowered and eager to start making their own work.

Visibility, credibility, intelligent empathy and approval: no-one could ask for more from a review. I hope I get the same quality of reviewing for The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga. (And the same approval rating, naturally.)

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