By Amy MacKinnon
I love newspapers, always have. So it probably comes as no surprise that Sunday mornings are my favorites, the day when papers are at their thickest. I pour myself a bowl of Starbucks, settle in first with the hardcopies and then I wander over to my computer to read the others online. The headlines, local news, features, advice columns, oh and the essays. My favorite pages are the book reviews.
I've been reading book reviews almost as long as I've been reading books. In an earlier freelance incarnation, I was hired to write reviews. The first book I was assigned was a memoir by a local writer. I didn't love it. In fact, I found myself judging some of the choices the author made in the course of the story (adultery) and not necessarily the story arc, the evolution of her personal growth, the writing--not that I was dazzled by those aspects either. However, as a writer myself, it was inconceivable that I could crush in black and white someone who had spent years laying bare her soul. I apologized to my editor, explained I lacked the appropriate perspective, and vowed never to review a book.
Last night at Writers' Group, they reminded me that soon my own book would be sent off to be reviewed. It caused me some distress to consider that. I won't read them, I said. But you might learn something from them, said one. They might make you feel fantastic, said another. You're going to get some good ones and some bad, said yet another. (Actually, by this point I was feeling too ill to know who was speaking so the same person may have said all of this and more, but you get the gist.)
There are many reasons for my not wanting to read reviews of my novel. Some are practical. Many years ago, I did a story for the Boston Globe about an art exhibition and the curator said something I've never forgotten: not everyone is qualified to judge art. This provoked a series of questions from me, essentially about the subjectivity of art and the entitlement of individual perspective. He said that most people are not entitled to an opinion since they hadn't the breadth of knowledge about art in general or specifically. I've tussled with this over the years and only lately have I come to understand that he didn't intend it as a slight to the masses, but that he may have been absolutely right.
Weeks ago, I read a review of Castle Freeman's Go With Me. In it, Ron Charles references no fewer than three other works for comparison sake; he understands the inspiration behind this twenty-first century fable. Having that breadth of knowledge allowed him to better understand the layering effect Mr. Freeman used in crafting his novel. Another person might have read it and thought the styling was overly simplistic or some such. This is what the NBCC means when it states reviewing is and of itself an art form that should not to be taken lightly. Based on that review, I bought the book and felt I had an overall better sense of the story, which I highly recommend by the way-- for what it's worth.
So perhaps I should listen to my friends, read the reviews as they come in. Learn from the respectable ones and somehow try to let go of the anonymous negative critiques.
I don't know. What will you do when it's your turn?