Writing a review of an imaginary book is a form of pseudepigrapha. Renowned Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, a great popularizer of this art form, famously wrote in the introduction to The Garden of Forking Paths (1942):
The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume, a commentary… More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books.
This kind of amusing review has also finds its way in China. In 2010, Review of Imaginary Books [zh], a collection of fictional reviews, was published by the Shanghai Bookstore Publishing House.
The reviews are entertaining commentaries on a wide range of subjects, from issues in contemporary Chinese society to literature and arts. Here is an excerpt from a ‘review’ of The Art of Road Crossing [zh]:
The Art of Road Crossing is actually a book on how to deal with hidden rules in the Chinese society and commercial world for foreigners (laowai) living in China. The book is divided into the following chapters. Chapter 1: You cannot ignore the traffic lights – avoiding mistakes of principles; Chapter 2: When can you ignore the traffic lights – grasping policies and regulations with flexibility; Chapter 3: Looking at the cars is more important than looking at the traffic lights – how to understand and apply ‘hidden rules’; Chapter 4: The police cannot deal with too many rule-breakers – deciding on how bold to act; Chapter 5: That you can run the red lights today does not mean you can do the same tomorrow – understanding the rapid changes in Chinese regulations.
Here is another extract on the ‘book’ Self-cultivation for the Parvenu [zh]:
Although the author reminds the parvenu that they do not need to re-create themselves, he offers a lot of practical advices for parvenu in urgent need to improve their image and tastes. He starts from the basics, including personal and environmental hygiene and etiquette. ‘If you want someone to respect you,’ he writes, ‘you must not be too harsh on waiters in restaurants and hotels. Being impolite on service providers is a typical behavior of the uncivilized parvenu. For those who want to cultivate their tastes, he lists out the most famous writers, musicians and other cultural celebrities. The book also talks briefly about finance, insurance and charity donations.
The author of these imaginary book reviews, Bimuyu, is a Chinese writer of fictions, essays and book reviews. Apart from his own blog [zh], he also maintains the website Duxieren [zh], an aggregator of literary criticisms and reviews from the book supplements of major Chinese newspapers. In 2010, Duxieren was honored with the ‘Model Worker Award’ by the English-language China website Danwei.
Bimuyu has also designed book covers for the imaginary books reviewed by himself:
If a normal book review entails a level of abstraction, a book review for an imaginary book involves an additional level of abstraction. How about a review of these imaginary book reviews? He drew an analogy [zh] from the multi-level world of the movie Inception:
This month, Bimuyu has shared with us two recent interviews with the media about the thinking behind his imaginary book reviews, and reading and writing in general. Below are excerpts from the transcripts.
What motivates you to write these imaginary book reviews?
Is it easier to write reviews for real or imaginary books?
Should writing book reviews be treated as a career or an interest?
How can we write good book reviews?