#LitMagLove: Rachna Contractor from Plenitude Magazine
As part of our ongoing series, #LitMagLove, Room’s Leah Golob interviewed Plenitude’s Reviews Editor about the queer literary magazine’s reviews section.
How did you get started as a book reviewer?
I fell into it by chance. I used to review visual art exhibits for Kala Quarterly while completing a BA in Art History over a decade ago. I then started blogging on Wiqaable.com which used to be a San Francisco-based blog for all things queer and Asian. It got hacked so I was looking for a new platform around the same time that a publisher in India sent me a book and connected me with Andrea Routley, Managing Editor of Plenitude Magazine. She published a few of my reviews. Last year when Andrea wanted to bring on more editors I jumped at the chance and she has been very generous and supportive in guiding me since January. I work as a line cook full-time, so writing and editing bring much-needed balance to my life.
What’s your goal for Plenitude’s reviews section?
I’m trying to encourage a conversation about what good LGBTTQI literature is and promote the excellent and diverse literature being produced by our community.
Can you speak to the importance of reviewing LGBTTQI writing?
Canadian LGBTTQI writers produce great work and deserve to be featured but only a handful or writers are known and the attention mostly goes to them. It’s a cycle; if you’re unknown your work won’t be recognized and you’ll remain unknown. We’re contributing to the growth and development of LGBTTQI writers and I hope our reviews section promote younger writers to a larger audience. Plus, mainstream media doesn’t always know what to do with work which doesn’t come in a neatly packaged box.
To review for Plenitude, is it necessary for reviewers to also be LGBTTQI?
No, but because we are a magazine which promotes LGBTTQI literature, our reviews reflect the lived experiences of the writing. I work with a diverse group of reviewers and I look for critical, thoughtful reviews. It’s important that the reviewers have an anti-racist, anti-heterosexist framework when reviewing. We’ve seen a few reviews in mainstream media which are homophobic rather than critical, so I only accept reviews which bring that strong framework.
Do you have a particular approach for selecting books?
It’s pretty informal right now but it’s important that the reviews section remains diverse and we’re not only reviewing work by older, white, gay men or only fiction, or only poetry. Usually a reviewer will pitch a title and I’ll contact the publisher. I also have a good relationship with several smaller publishers who send me titles.
Any tips for pitching Plenitude?
I like to see a strong sample of a book review and commitment because the process can sometimes take months to complete.
What do you think makes a strong, compelling review?
I look for thoughtful, critical reviews which are well-written, succinct and have a clear message about the book. A good review will discuss narrative, characters and writing style without telling us too much. If you read our reviews you can see that there are many different styles of review which is one of the strengths of our reviews section, each reviewer brings their own voice and style.
On the flip side, do you have any particular frustrations or pet peeves when it comes to reviews?
Only when a reviewer agrees to take on a title and then stops communicating with me, which has only happened once.
How would you suggest writers hone their skills as a book critic?
Read more books and read more book reviews. Plenitudemagazine.ca is a great place to start.
How would you handle writing a review for a book that you simply don’t like?
I don’t. If I really don’t like a book I’d rather not promote it. We only have the budget to post 24 reviews each year and I’d rather use that for work which deserves to be highlighted.
Are there any books from 2015 that you’d consider “must-reads?”
Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, and Tanwi Nandini Islam’s Bright Lines.
Leah Golob is Room’s book reviews editor and editor of our upcoming issue Canadian Gothic (submissions due January 31st, 2016).