Inside Reviewing

If you want an “inside baseball” look at book reviewing, check the New York Observer‘s story from Monday on Dwight Garner, who is moving from the NYT Book Review to the Arts Section of the daily NYT.

The Observer quotes from an unflattering piece Garner wrote ten years ago for Salon about his future colleague on the daily reviews, Michiko Kakutani. In an email to the New York Observer, Garner says the piece makes him cringe today, but he can’t shake it, because it “clings to me on Google like a vampire bat.”

It may make him cringe, but he did make some trenchant comments on book reviewing, 

Daily critics, with the Washington Post‘s Jonathan Yardley as a possible exception…calcify quickly…it almost doesn’t matter whether they’re writing pro or con; the tone doesn’t vary. (Their earnest, straight-on, eight-paragraphs-of-plot-summary prose is the equivalent of what used to be called, in football, “three yards and a cloud of dust.”) No one’s regularly throwing sparks. Anywhere.

Personally, I wish reviewers would be more interested in expressing the joy of reading. Carolyn See, whose reviews appear on Fridays in the Washington Post, dares to show her enthusiasm, as in this quote from her review of Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner,

…a pure treat from the cover to the very last page. It’s the kind of thing you should stock up on to give sick friends as presents; they’ll forget their arthritis and pneumonia, I promise, once they walk into a land that’s gone now, but not yet quite forgotten: Cuba in the last few years before Fidel Castro took over.

This week, Salon reviewer, Laura Miller, is clearly excited about Booker Finalist (but not winner), Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, and manages to pinpoint its appeal,

…on the side of entertainment, it is a nautical yarn, brimming with enough fo’c’sles and jibs and fife rails to satisfy the salty cravings of the Patrick O’Brian crowd…its characters are brightly, if broadly drawn; there are good guys to root for and bad guys to hiss, yet none of them are too crudely rendered. 

But rarely do book reviewers communicate the pure fun of reading (why, I wonder, is this not a problem for movie reviewers?). They could learn from Nancy Pearl, who is not just an advocate for the books she loves, but for reading in general (that’s the reason we post Nancy’s latest reviews for KUOW on the top right of our home page).

What about you? Are there reviewers you turn to as your own readers advisors? What makes them reliable?

One Response to “Inside Reviewing”

  1. RA Alert: Garner Does It Again | EarlyWord: The Publisher | Librarian Connection Says:

    […] daily reviewer Dwight Garner (who recently moved over from the NYT BR) today writes what will the second entry in the EarlyWord 2009 “Review That Most Makes You […]