Somehow or other, without noticing, I've become something that I never even considered possible: a reviewer. When I first started out writing for Blogcritics back in July of 2005, it was for the opportunity it provided for my writing to be seen by a wider audience, and to hopefully generate some interest in my own site.
It took a while for me to get comfortable with doing things the way someone else wanted. I eventually clued in that there was probably a good reason for keeping spelling mistakes and typos to a minimum, and that you could have a distinctive voice without run-on sentences. There might still be a sizable gap on occasion between understanding and implementation, but at least I started heading in the right direction.
When I began realizing there were only so many articles that you could write trying to change the world before the sound of your own voice starts to grate in your own ear – heaven only knows what it was doing to other ears – is when I knew it was time for a change. Due to a gag reflex problem, I knew writing about celebrities or heartwarming human interest stories was out of the question, so I'd have to find something else.
As the universe does revolve around me, I knew that people would be only too fascinated to read about my efforts as a novelist. Who wouldn't be thrilled to read about what a first-time author had to say about the process of writing? Once I had gotten that piece of conceit out of my system — and it went on for an embarrassing long period of time, culminating in me even having the nerve to publish the collected articles at Lulu.com — I was back to square one again, looking for things to write about aside from my life and me.
I had been lucky enough to have some health issues able to provide decent fodder for a few articles without sounding overly self-serving or pitying, but unless I kept developing new and interesting symptoms, that was a finite topic of conversation. Up until then I had taken only sporadic notice of the material companies sent into Blogcritics for review on its pages, so I decided to start checking those listings out on a regular basis to see if that offered what I was looking for.
I thought I had known what cutthroat was, but that was before I started competing with my fellow Blogcritics contributors for review material. I also quickly realized that being on dial-up and having an old, slow computer meant that I was at a disadvantage. Unless I got blind lucky I would never be able to get my hands on any material that was in high demand.
I took to waiting until after the initial feeding frenzy was over when new material was put on offer and coming in after to pick up any juicy-looking leftovers. That ended up working out well for me as my tastes have never been inclined towards the popular and others' discards were my meat and potatoes.
I started out doing one or two reviews a week initially, but that soon began to prove insufficiently gratifying. I began exploring the possibilities of obtaining review material on my own from various publishers and music producers. My timing seemed to be awesome, as many book publishers were just starting to use the Internet as a publicity tool on a full time basis. Using the credibility of Blogcritics, I was able to start establishing connections with book publishers all across North America, and specifically the Canadian versions of Random House and Penguin.
At the same time, I was also building a network of contacts among music distributors and publicists. From those innocent beginnings has grown a monster that I no longer control: CDs, books, and DVDs show up at my door on an almost daily basis, some of them from people I've never heard of who have grabbed my name and contact information from somebody else, but the majority is stuff I've requested.
It is highly possible that I can have five or six books, seven or eight CDs, and a few DVDs in piles around my bed waiting for me to read, listen to, or watch, and then write about. Unless something is abjectly horrible I will read, listen to, or watch the whole thing because I can't conceive of being able to give it a halfway decent critique otherwise. You just never know what someone might be saving for the last act anyway that might serve as redemption for the soul-destroying shit they had served up until that point.
I love reading, listening to great music, and watching interesting movies and concert footage, and I never want to get to the point where I'm even tempted to start skimming material for the sake of posting a review. Maybe before it gets to the point where I even consider doing that, I should start cutting back – not offering to review so many items from the Blogcritics list, or not going to publisher's websites and selecting five or six titles from each of their upcoming releases lists.
Except every time I say I'm going to do that everybody gangs up on me, from my favourite authors to the most interesting musicians and exciting filmmakers. They all decide to release items simultaneously and I find my resolve weakening. I've tried limiting how many I take from each list, but one is never enough. There's always something I know I will regret not reading, listening to, or watching.
I have to face facts, I'm not the type of person who can review just one item and leave it at that, it's as many as possible or nothing at all. Nothing can match the thrill of a new book showing up at my door, or ripping the wrapping off a new DVD or CD that very few people have heard. (Now there are even personalized review copies from some record companies – I know it's to prevent you from uploading them and selling the tracks online but I still think it's cool to get a CD with my name on it.)
They always say that the first step in dealing with a problem is admitting that you have one publicly, and I can't think of a better place to come clean than this…
My name is Richard Marcus, I'm a review–a–holic, and it's been twelve hours since I last reviewed.
If you'll excuse me, I have a book that came in the mail today that I have to read…