Q and A

Where’s the name “Lesser of Two Equals” come from? It makes no sense!

Oh, the times I’ve had to defend this name to my editors. The name came from my days working for the Daily Cardinal, when I held dreams of being a columnist. As per usual, my thoughts about being a columnist were less about what I had to do to get the position and more to do with fanciful ideas of lounging around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit.

During a hypothetical discussion in Philadelphia with my dad and my best friend, over whiskey and Italian pizza, we were discussing me as a columnist and what I should call it. I had rejected the suggestion “Les is More” as overused, being as it was my high school catch phrase. I threw out the line “The Lesser of Two Evils,” which both Ben and my dad rejected on the grounds it was unoriginal.

So then, unbidden, the words of “The Simpsons” came to mind: “We ned a name that sounds witty at first, but sounds less funny each time you hear it.” And with one subtle change in wording, it became “”The Lesser of Two Equals” – it sounds right but is logically impossible. Story of my life.

What qualifies you to write these reviews?

I could argue that the reason I review is because I actually took the time to do it, or I could say it’s because I’m possessed of a depth of literary knowledge librarians/monks would kill for, but I won’t. (I could, but …)

I write these reviews because I’m both a voracious reader and an aspiring author, and the two fit very well together in the field of book reviews. It allows me to read books I wouldn’t normally pick up, gives me a convenient avenue to write regularly and lets me use up the various ideas I have kicking around inside my head.

I’ve also got the experience to in my mind call myself a genuine book critic, having worked as a literature columnist for a college newspaper and a freelance reviewer for BookReview.com. I’m still seeking a more legitimate (i.e. profitable) outlet for my work, but so far archiving and reviewing backlogged books keeps me busy.

What sort of books do you review?

I will of course review whatever I’m assigned to review, but in terms of my own reviews there’s a good blend of genres. I have a soft spot for university publishing houses and independent publishers, and like to review their books as they’re frequently hidden treasures. From them I secure reprints of older works, autobiographies, essay/short story/poetry collections, true crime novels and literary analysis.

I enjoy fantasy and sci-fi, historical fiction, true crime, new journalism, nonfiction novels, the Beat Generation, the Lost Generation and the pickings of random used bookstores. I tend to review something from every branch, reviewing the new when I can get them and digging into archives to pull something new up.

For a more in-depth collection of my work, please refer to my LibraryThing page with a complete collection of the works I own.

What criteria do you use for reviewing?

I use two main criteria in writing my reviews, both of which I’ve acquired from fairly random sources. The first comes from William S. Burroughs’ excellent collection of writing essays “The Adding Machine,” where he cites the author Matthew Arnold in three points for a reviewer to consider:

  • What is the writer trying to do?
  • How well does he succeed at doing it?
  • Is it worth doing? Does the book achieve what is called “high seriousness”?

The second criteria comes from a older strip of Questionable Content, easily the best slice-of-life web comic out there. It’s made about music reviews, but I think the general principle applies to my own work as well.

The strip can be seen here, but the quote in question is printed below:

Marten: “I’m just suspicious of whether music reviews color my opinion of bands that I might otherwise feel differently about.”

Faye: “That’s a common misconception about criticism. A good review doesn’t tell you whether you should like or dislike something, it discusses strengths and weaknesses and invites you to make up your own mind based on the information and perspective offered you.

Granted, I know more than one of my reviews may step over these boundaries and provide a bit more judgment, but this only comes up in extreme cases. I may not succeed in meeting these criteria, but I’d like to think I do all right.

I am an author/editor/publisher who would like you to review my book. How do I go about this?

The best way is to contact me via e-mail (listed below) and tell me about your book. I accept virtually all requests for review, but I like to know what books I am receiving and from who before any approval.

If you do review my book, how long will it take for the review to be posted?

This usually depends on how many books I have pushed up in my reviewing queue, how recent your release is (the newer the book the sooner it gets reviewed) and whether or not it conflicts with my upcoming non-review articles. Typically if focusing on one title at a time, a book takes about a day or two to read through in detail and another day or two to complete reviewing. I don’t offer any dates of publication to begin with, but if you’d like it posted by a certain time we can certainly talk about that.

Can I write for your website?

If you have a book you want to review, an idea for a feature-style article or an opinion piece, feel free to e-mail me details. I can be a harsh critic, so please don’t send in anything unless you’re confident it measures up to the site’s standards. And of course, anything that comes across as self-promotional of your own book will be deleted without a second thought. Hire a publicist for that and don’t try to pass off your press releases as reviews.

You didn’t answer my question up above!

Then I probably ran out of space. If you have any other questions, send them to me at lmchappell@gmail.com and I’ll forward a reply as soon as I’m able.

One Response to Q and A

  1. Martin Brant says:

    Hi Les,

    I have enjoyed looking over your site and reading some of your reviews. They are concise, informative and well-written. I also sympathize with your efforts to find a publisher. I personally changed course after a bad experience with my first traditional publisher. I decided to self-publish and am currently using CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon, and am very happy with them. During this process, I’ve sold about five thousand books. If you would like to know more about print on demand, please to hesitate to write.

    Though my stories are written in a mainstream style, my books are pretty much currently stuck in a gay-themed niche. Based on the email I receive, particularly from women, I would like to see my novels crossover. I would love your opinion and review of one of my titles. If you are interested, please take a look at my website and let me know which one of the books you would like to look at.

    Best wishes and good luck . . .
    Martin

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