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A Salute to SPANISH POETRY, by John Howard Reid

March 8, 2012 5 comments

A Salute to SPANISH POETRY

100 Masterpieces from Spain & Latin America

rendered into English verse by John Howard Reid

[This book has no back cover copy]

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 A Salute to Spanish Poetry: 100 Masterpieces from Spain & Latin America Rendered Into English Verse is an anthology of various Spanish poems: some hundreds of years old, others much more contemporary, and they’ve all been translated into English by John Howard Reid. I am a great lover of poetry: it provides an intense literary experience and at its best, poetry can inspire and enthral, but sadly this collection does neither.

Mr. Reid might well be a good speaker of Spanish; he might even be a good, if literal, translator. But he’s either no good at translating poetry; or he has picked some really bad stuff to translate.

The versions of the poems in this anthology are stodgy and dull; they’re full of clichés; they’re free from assonance, alliteration and rhythm; their meanings are often unclear, and despite each one being written by a different author there is little variation of voice or tone across the collection. This translator has neither a light nor a sensitive hand.

You have probably worked out by now that I am not terribly impressed by this book. These poems, read in this English form, lack all sense of grace and significance. But my main concern, when reading this collection, was one of copyright. While the bulk of the poems it contains are out of copyright a few of them were written more recently, which means that when this volume was published they were still protected by copyright and the permission of the authors, or their literary estates, would have been required to use them in this way. And yet there are no acknowledgements in this book; there is no attribution of where the poems were first published. But there is statement which reads “text and photographs copyright 2010 by John Howard Reid”.

Mr. Reid does not have the right to claim that copyright as the work is not primarily his: what he’s done, in putting his own copyright onto this edition in this way, is to imply that he not only translated these poems from the Spanish but that he also wrote those first Spanish texts.

As I see it, Mr. Reid has very few options open to him. He must seek written permission from the literary estates which he has exploited in publishing this book, and if such permissions are not forthcoming he must remove the appropriate pieces from his next edition; and while he’s waiting for such permissions to be granted he must withdraw this edition from sale.

If he does have the permissions required to use these works in this way then he must indicate that in all further copies of this book, and ensure that he acknowledges the authors of these poems appropriately in all future editions of this work, and in all other translations he has published.

Of course, I could be wrong: Mr. Reid might well have reached an agreement with the authors and literary estates concerned that it was fine for him to claim copyright and to use these works without proper attribution: if that’s the case then I apologise unreservedly to him for the comments I’ve made regarding copyright in this review. But I do not apologise for my comments regarding the flat and uninspiring nature of his translations. I read five of this book’s one hundred and forty eight pages, skimmed through a few more, and felt extremely reluctant to read any more of it.

The DeerHunter: BrokenSword

August 31, 2011 4 comments

The hunter Liam Michaels lies wounded, bleeding in the forests of the Canaan mountains. For him, the world is a bloody sky of red beneath which he can’t move.

The shooter Ian Lambert stands above him, persecuted by his past. For him, there’s only thoughts of how long he must now track the crippled buck.

Sarah Michaels, disillusioned with her marriage, has decided to cross the line. For her, taking off the ring means giving up the fairy tale.

Watching over all, the Lord of the Forest and keeper of the paths is witness and protector.

With brutal force, the truth of Liam’s nature is thrust on him in the form of a buck’s head, bleeding, dripping, and hollow. What he does with a second chance will redefine love and life.

With the guile of wolves, the war has come to claim him but Lambert takes what he wants and he wants the girl. But wanting her will bring only death.

As the long winter bends and folds into the spring of day, Sarah makes a discovery that questions second chances. Fearing hope has fled through the gap in the fence and into the Forest beyond, she is unaware of what follows.

The Wild Hunt is coming, savage enough to sweep mortals into the Otherworld. Liam, Lambert, and Sarah are prey for the riders of the storm, and stand in their path. As whispers of Cernunnos gather in the name of Herne the hunter, The Cervine is speaking like the sound of roots breaking soil, bringing the message that it is faith to love.

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I found relatively few technical errors in The Deerhunter: the punctuation was reliably done, the spelling was fine and the grammar was mostly okay (although BrokenSword would be wise to check his sentence structure more carefully than he seems to at the moment, as I doubt that he intended the comedic effect that he sometimes achieves).

What really let this book down was the writing: it is so horribly overwritten that it’s often difficult to know what on earth the author intended to communicate. There is a certain lyrical flow to the writing: BrokenSword uses alliteration to good effect and the rhythm and texture of his work is often pleasing: but he achieves this transitory pleasure at the expense of meaning, which is going to cost him readers.

When readers are forced to re-read every sentence in order to understand the text before them, they cannot become absorbed by the story they’re trying to read. They are simply not given a chance to enjoy the book. And that is, I’m afraid, exactly what happened here. The overwriting, the misused words, and the unnecessary complexity of this text creates a barrier between it and its reader.

I’ve often seen this dense and meaningless style referred to as literary fiction: it isn’t. It’s overwritten, self-indulgent, and boring. I read just two pages of this three hundred and eighty-six page book and cannot recommend it on any level. I suspect that it could not be sufficiently improved editing and suggest that the author read Carol Shields and Alice Munro to see how beautiful a sparser style can be.

Lost in Juarez: Douglas Lindsay

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

From the creator of the cult Barney Thomson crime series, comes a darker, more sinister novel.

The government is watching.

4 million names on the DNA database and counting; CCTV cameras on every street corner; telephone records available to any agency which requests them; restrictions on movements around Westminster; ID cards and the most all encompassing surveillance operations ever conducted. All in the name of freedom.

When his latest book is shelved due to government interference, Lake Weston—international bestselling, Bob Dylan-addicted children’s author—decides that it is time to stand up for personal rights. He writes and anonymously publishes a scathing polemic, the Animal Farm of its day, about a government which seeks to restrict civil liberties in the name of freedom. The book quickly achieves notoriety. The media is animatedly curious about the author; the government, however, already knows.

As the security services close in, Weston find his name dragged through the gutter press. Suddenly he must run for his life, not knowing who he can trust and with nothing in his pocket except a few pounds and an iPod loaded with 1256 Bob Dylan tracks.

About the books of Douglas Lindsay:

“Gleefully macabre… hugely enjoyable black burlesque.” The Scotsman

“Pitch black comedy spun from the finest writing. Fantastic plot, unforgettable scenes and plenty of twisted belly laughs.” New Woman

“Lindsay’s burlesque thrills offer no sex, no drugs, no desperation to be cool. Just straightforward adult story: fantastic plot, classic timing and gleeful delight in the grotesque.” What’s On

“Extremely well-written, highly amusing and completely unpredictable in its outrageous plot twists and turns.” The List

I really wanted to enjoy Lost in Juarez: it has a good jacket design, and the book feels balanced in my hands thanks to its professional production values (although I would have preferred a matt laminate on the cover—those glossy finishes always feel a bit too low-end to me). Despite the rather clumsy back cover copy the quotes which accompanied it really got my hopes up, and its premise appealed to me: so I started work on this book with some enthusiasm.

I was very disappointed.

The first hurdle I had to overcome was the book’s poor internal layout. The paragraphs are indented by only a single space, making reading difficult and tiring; and the font used throughout the book is just a trifle small. The problem with the font size is just a personal preference (amazingly, I seem to be getting older and find such close type wearing to read for long), so I didn’t include it in my tally of problems, but such typesetting issues have to be considered by self-publishers: they directly affect the readability of the book, and are likely to make potential readers turn away from this book without really knowing why they’re doing so. If you want to sell as many copies as you can it’s important to put as few barriers between the reader and the text as possible, and by making it even a tiny bit difficult to read the text, you’re shooting your book in its metaphorical foot.

Sadly, though, I felt that this book had more troubling issues than the size of its typeface. The author’s style is staccato and repetitious: he frequently uses sentence fragments and seems to be aiming for a hard-edged tone which at times morphs into pastiche. There were several confusing passages; a few lines which made no sense at all; a scattering of odd punctuation choices including an ellipsis of magnificent proportions; and a post-coital scene which was so full of adolescent self-importance that I found myself cringing as I read it.

I stopped reading after that sex scene, so read just sixteen pages out of two hundred and twelve. It’s a shame, as further on in the book the writer gets into his stride more, and the text does improve: but that’s too late if he wants to grab browsing readers who will usually begin at the book’s first page.

I’ve skim-read this book to the end and am convinced that with a better editor this book could have been significantly improved, and would probably have earned a recommendation from me. In its current state, however, I found it a clumsy and uncomfortable read on several levels. Nevertheless, there is something about it that I liked and I hope to see more from Mr Lindsay in the future.

Lord Of The Rams: Ronan Smith

August 20, 2009 16 comments

Finally, the greatest story never told gets told.

Join one man for the adventure of his life and, in doing so, experience growing up in rural 1980s Ireland. Meet this man’s eccentric group of friends, follow his escapades throughout Ireland and beyond, and gain valuable insight into the life of a lord … Lord of the Rams.

What Munterconnaught’s book critics are saying:

“A great present to give to somebody you don’t like.” – Shane Brady

“I’ll buy two copies. F*cking brilliant.” – Eugene Tighe

“The worst pile of shite I’ve ever read.” – Trevor Geraghty

Ronan Smith’s Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told has an interesting illustration on its cover and it’s a pleasant-enough read: but it’s a very episodic, built from a series of short anecdotes which are connected only by the characters they feature. There is little flow through the text; instead we moved from anecdote to anecdote via chunks of exposition and this lack of narrative arc means that the reader has no motivation to keep reading: it’s all too “samey” and provides no tension or climax.

The author has a slapdash approach to punctuation which doesn’t help: his use of dashes is spectacularly inconsistent, particularly in the acknowledgements; and he really needs to decide if he’s going to hyphenate “smart-ass” or not, rather than alternate between the two forms. There were several instances where the writing was muddled and imprecise: I could usually work out what was meant, but sometimes could not be sure. On page nine, for example, I found this sentence: “Standing beside his mother, Rams stared in amazement at a woman unlike he had ever seen before”. This is not good writing, and from my brief read and a quick flick through, it’s typical of the entire book.

Overall, then, this read more as a first draft than as a publishable book. It needs restructuring to provide a proper sense of growth throughout the narrative; it needs to be rewritten so that the anecdotes seem less isolated and provide a sense of growth and climax. The characterisation could definitely be improved; and it needs a strong copy-edit to deal with all those careless mistakes. The clichéd subtitle does the book no favours; and the lamentably weak back cover copy could have been written for all sorts of books. I read just eight pages out of the 215 which make up the story.

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