What It Is I Do Here

Earlier this week, I bought a book on the basis of a review. Specifically, I bought Professing Criticism by John Guillory on the basis of Merve Emre’s review in The New Yorker.

This is the paragraph that did it:

If “Cultural Capital” was a sociology of judgment, then “Professing Criticism” is a sociology of criticism, an argument about how, during the twentieth century, the practice evolved from a wide-ranging amateur pursuit, requiring no specialist training or qualifications, into a profession and a discipline housed within the academy. The book’s chapters take us on a strange journey, across a landscape haunted by ghosts: the bygone disciplines of philology, rhetoric, and belles-lettres; the half-glimpsed figures of the New Critics and the New York intellectuals; strident culture warriors past and present. Guillory chronicles it all with a certain Olympian detachment, a special acuity of vision that brings history into focus with painful clarity.

As someone with no specialist training or qualifications in literature who has now spent the better part of two decades writing about books and stories, mostly outside academia but occasionally in academic or academic-adjacent venues; as someone whose subject is primarily science fiction, a genre which itself has a historically vexed relationship with academic study and professionalisation in general; and as someone who has spent the last six months compiling a retrospective collection of his writing, well, the evolution Emre synopsises is of some obvious interest. The landscape seen from where I stand is additionally haunted by ghosts of Futurians and fanzines, by Cheap Truth and Excessive Candour and Wrong Questions: a self-conscious dialogue taking place over decades, in which “fans” and “pros” both have a stake and a voice. I’m looking forward to exploring Guillory’s history from that point of view.

This site is, obviously enough, a publisher’s site: somewhere from which to sell my collection, and (in due course, I hope, if all goes well) some books by others. But in the last few months I’ve realised I miss having a space from which to continue to contribute to that dialogue, at least occasionally, so I’m also going to be using it for that. Perhaps at some point I’ll persuade you to buy a book on the basis of a review. For now, welcome.

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