Book Reviewing

June 18, 2017


               Back in the 1980s, I did a lot of book reviewing. And last week when I was thinking about a summer rereading list and checking our bookcases, I came across books I’d reviewed. Usually I gave my copies to the library when I was finished (or if I was reviewing from bound galleys, I shared them with family), but I’d saved a few I might like to reread someday even though I’d already read them twice. These included Faith Sullivan’s Mrs. Demming and the Mythical Beast and Howard Frank Mosher’s Marie Blythe. I remembered reading the latter on the Maine island of Matinicus, the ocean out the windows, with pencil and legal pad making notes for a review in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
               At the outset I mostly reviewed books for the Christian Science Monitor. I had been asked to do a monthly column about first novels; the book editor wanted a novelist for this job. Eventually the newspaper needed the space for other things, and I went on to review for other newspapers, particularly Newsday. I had developed my little rules, such as that reading of a book twice. If I was choosing the book, I chose one I was pretty sure I’d enjoy. Why waste everybody’s time on a bad review? If I was sent a book by an editor and was disappointed by it, I tried to warn off readers from spending their money buying it but tried to find something positive to say. (“Workmanlike” was a handy adjective.) If I really hated it, I wrote a draft ranting, and then, having got that out of my system, I wrote a second calmer—and, I hoped, fairer—draft.
               When Don and I started our caretaking business, I only had time for writing novels, not reviews too, and thus ended my reviewing career.
               All these memories got me thinking about how much things have changed during the ensuing years. In the past, authors usually only heard from readers via mail forwarded by the publisher. But nowadays, with reader reviews such as Amazon, we can hear directly. This is a marvel—marvelous!
               I also wondered how you find inspirations for new books to read. In online book clubs and/or—? Does seeing a review or promotion for a new book remind you that you own earlier books by that author that now you’ll want to read again?

               I'm planning an Agatha Christie reread this week!

© 2017 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved
This article was first published on Ruth's Facebook page, June 18, 2017.
Photo by Don MacDougall; 2017


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