Friday, March 23, 2012

The Fine Art of Book Reviewing

My wife was the first to ask about the pile:  "What's this stack of books doing in the middle of the living room floor?"

"Oh," I said, "that's my book review pile."

"Well," she countered, "better start reading them and writing the reviews, I'm tired of tripping on them!"

Okay.  I get it.  I'm slow.  But it takes time to read books--and there is a fine art to writing a good book review (especially when one is getting paid . . . which adds another layer of responsibility and obligation).  I want to do it right.

I also subscribe to the "if you can't say anything nice" philosophy of book reviewing . . . which is to say, if I don't like the book, I don't write a review.  I simply write my editor and tell her I haven't got the stomach to slam someone's blood, sweat and tears.  That's not to say that I can't write some pointed critique or analysis of a book I enjoy.  No book is pure.  A writer expects some give and take.  But I'm not going to pan a book entirely.  If I have to do that, I opt out.

I've also taken book review tips from my wife, who excels at critiquing me.  She is fond of reviewing my attire each morning and often greets me with the unsettling word: "You're not going to wear that, are you?"

Actually, the thought of wearing swimming trunks and a Hawaiian shirt had crossed my mind.  I was nearly out the door.  But Becky was certain that I should wear my black suit and a white shirt to the funeral.  She was probably correct.  She usually has a better fashion sense about such matters.

My wife also corrects my cooking miscues.  She is quick to point out that I used too much paprika, or that I overcooked the chicken or under-sizzled the fish.  In response, I tell her what bus line she can take and where she can get off and where her destination is and we call it a night.

Book reviewing is like a marriage in this regard.  I don't want to hurt a writer any more than my wife hurts me.  If I've had a bad day in the kitchen, I don't want to take it out on some newbie from Fresno who has just written a first-book entitled, The 60-Day Prune Diet: How to Dump Your Way to a Slimmer You.  I can't stand the thought of hurting some recent college-grad who has written a book entitled, How I Turned $150,000 in College Debt into a Low-Paying Job in the Fast-Food Industry.

You see what I mean?

My wife needs to take it easy on me.  I'm doing the best I can.  And toward that end, I'm leaving those books in the middle of the living room floor.  My wife is still nimble.  And I know she can jump.

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