Wednesday, September 01, 2004

If I start writing now, when I'm not really rested, it could upset my thinking, which is not good at all

Title courtesy of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which brought us the only song I know of about a book report.

I have to write a review tonight, and deliver it orally to my librarians' review group [of which I am the chair-elect] tomorrow morning. It's 11:30 PM now. I remember this feeling: it's the lovely Homework Procrastination Panic I thought I'd seen the last of when I finished school. Hah!

Why did I ever pick up this book with its little "oral review" slip and fill the slip out? Why did I agree to be chair-elect? [I ran unopposed, I was recruited by the current chair, no one else wanted the job.] And why, oh why, did I not jot down my thoughts on this somewhat difficult book right after I read it? I always mean to. I hardly ever do. I don't know how those other people do it, the ones who show up month after month with a dozen or more completed reviews. Maybe they don't have children? Maybe they don't have a blogging addiction? [I'd be willing to bet on that one.] Maybe they have a tiny smidgen more self-discipline than I do? Yeah, that's probably it.

And this book is the hardest kind to review: it's not terrible, it's not great, it's not even mediocre, it's just... off. I started out thinking I was going to like it, and then it went on too long and was too rambly, and there were some cringe-inducing elements that overshadowed the rest of it for me. But it's not exactly bad. When I think about the author and publishers reading it, I want to be kind: it's well-written, in a working-hard-at-my-craft kind of way; it's on an important subject; some kids will probably like it. And goddess knows it is a book, and I notice I haven't written any of those myself, so who am I to throw stones at this author's painstakingly constructed glass edifice?

But of course that line of thinking is bad bad news when you're reviewing a book: when I think of my fellow-librarians depending on me for advice on whether to buy it, I want to say: don't! It's long; it's got a flat tone that put me off; and the author doesn't seem to know what age group she's writing for. Also, the cover is drab and no kid will willingly pick it up.

On the other hand, what if it wins some big award after I've panned it? I'll be embarrassed forever, like those publishers who rejected Hemingway or whoever. [Not that anyone aside from these few dozen librarians and the publisher will ever read my review. But still.]

And, even worse, what if it is really good, and I was just in a bad mood when I read it and so couldn't see its inherent quality? What if I'm a shallow, bitter person, and can't appreciate great literature when it kicks me in the face? What if [horrors] I have to read it again, all 172 pages, just to make sure?

Can't do that. Nope. Can't read it again.

I am steadfastly resisting the temptation to pop over to Amazon and see what other people think about it. Amazon: the book reviewer's Cliff Notes. No: I will prevail! I will be brutally honest on paper, while still acknowledging the book's good points! And I will go


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You wrote the book report! "It's just. . . off." There. Done.

Ever see that famous Dorothy Parker review of Winnie the Pooh? "Tonstant reader fwowed up." Some of the best reviews are the shortest.

Kate Rothwell

4:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

speaking of book reports, did you get my THANK you for your suggestions? You gave us a lot of spot on ideas.

Kate Rothwell

4:51 AM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Hi Kate-- yes, I got it! Thanks! Glad it was helpful. I had this idea that I'd send you *more* book ideas in lieu of the ones your kids already read, but that went by the wayside as school-year activity heated up around here. Will write more off-blog.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

I jumped when I saw the title of this post: I sang this song (and had the Charlie Brown part) in my a cappella group in college. I still sing it to myself when I'm feeling particularly procrastinatory.

And now I'm curious...what is the book you had to review?

9:43 AM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Wow, Anna, what a perfect song to do in a college singing group, since you were probably all living it at the time. We used to have the album when I was a kid and I used to try to sing all the parts at once. (Also tried to sing all the parts of "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen" from A Chorus Line. I like songs with so many words they're physically impossible to sing.)

As for the book... aah, I'm too embarrassed. I will say it turned out that *every journal that reviewed it* gave it a rave. That's School Library Journal, Horn Book, Kirkus (which is known for their killer reviews) and one other I forget. And it's under consideration for the ALA Notable Books list. So, maybe I am shallow and bitter. I still don't think most kids would like it.

10:45 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

hee hee, I hate that feeling of "um, did I miss something?" I get it now every time I see the ads for the Vanity Fair movie coming out. They seem to be portraying Becky Sharp as this feminist hero and her story this triumphant love story, and I think "um, did I miss something? Because I've read the book. Twice. And I don't think that's exactly its point." So somebody missed something, them or I. Guess which one I assume...

7:10 AM  

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