The New York Times recently ran a piece where James Parker and Anna Holmes debated about book reviews and whether they were a public service or an art. Parker comes down on the service side of the line (though he notes, there’s an art to it) and Holmes says much the same.
I’m not here to argue them. I agree, but I would say that it the line needs to be closer to the middle—there is art and craft needed when writing a book review. Not to say I’m confidently on that line, but I think finding that line is what myself and many other book reviewers are attempting to do. We’re attempting to find the place where we can describe a book, where we can convey as close to perfectly as possible what the author—whoever he or she may be—has poured his or her heart and soul into for however long that was. If you’ve ever been in their position, you know what an exhausting process writing a book can be. To see it reduced to 500-1200 words, then, may come off, if not done right, as a slap in the face (this is ignoring the fact that a negative review would come off as a slap in the face, anyway).
I also agree with what both the authors of the piece say: things can go to hell in a hand basket real quick if you fall too far on either side of the line, especially if the side happens to be the one where, like six-foot-six guy in a aboriginal pygmy basketball league, you decide to try and show off your own chops as with as many flourishes as possible. Kind of like that sentence right there. Aboriginals? No. No one has been enriched by that sentence, just as linguistic gymnastics are not going to enrich a reader’s brain in your review of a work.
I’m not going to prattle on any longer. We’ve got a lot of good stuff in this package that begs to be read. We have reviewers that are toeing that line between art and craft and correcting along the way. At Atticus I’ve tried over the past few months to build both a stable of writers and a collection of titles to review (For available books, check out “February 2015 Books Available for Review“). So far, I think it’s going pretty well and my mission is to make it better from here. I don’t like failure or backsliding and, with that in mind, I’m going to repeat what I said last month. 2015 is going to be the Year of Indie Lit and (adding on here) Atticus is going to be the place to come for review coverage of that year. Bold, yes, but I’m stubborn and don’t like giving up.
Photo By: Evan Leeson