Posts Tagged ‘book reviewing’

I Have Too Many Tabs Open

June 13, 2009 @ 11:57 am | Filed under:

I’m kind of quarantined at the moment. The baby and Rilla seem to be more or less over the nasty little bug we’ve been passing around, but it appears to find my company irresistible and invited its nasty little friends over for a keg party in my immune system last night. I woke up at 4 a.m. with a fever and honest-to-goodness chills, the kind that make your teeth chatter. Fun!

So Scott’s doing Saturday morning cartoons with the rest of the gang, and the baby just crashed on my lap (he’s the one who gave me this blasted virus, so no quarantining needed), and my book is way on the other side of the room, and my foot is falling asleep. Hang on, now my other foot is falling asleep. This is a serious situation. Must take mind off physical misery. Twitter, what have you got for me?

Ahh, sweet distraction. First there’s Liz B tweeting a teaser about her latest post, a link-rich discussion of her frustration with parents who “treat reading like a race,” pushing their kids to read too early, or to read “more challenging” books. Hear hear! Couldn’t agree more. I recall, long ago, when Jane was a baby, watching a visiting 4-year-old explore our bookshelves, which were even then loaded with picture book treasures. I’d worked at a children’s bookstore during grad school and pretty much converted my paycheck into books every two weeks. The little girl was a precocious reader, already gulping down chapter books on her own, but she was having a fine old time with our picture-book stash when her mother noticed and steered her away from the picture books toward, and I quote, “something more challenging.” The little girl was crestfallen, and I found myself quickly jumping in to point out to her mom that actually the reading level in picture books is often more sophisticated than in young chapter books, since, after all, picture books are meant to be read by an adult to a child. This satisfied the mother’s concerns and she allowed her daughter to finish the book she’d begun, but I felt intensely dissatisfied by the exchange. “Sophisticated reading level” wasn’t the point at all. The point was that a four-year-old child wanted to read a picture book—four! she was only four!—and she was being given a message that reading purely for pleasure was beneath her. Why must she only read things that “challenge” her? What’s wrong with reading for fun? Well, I was very new to mothering myself at that point, and I didn’t know how to carry the conversation further without offending the mother. I’m much mouthier now, I suppose.

Liz also led me to a Roger Sutton post on a topic much discussed of late, the difference between professional film and literary criticism and the kind of reviews, responses, and recommendations now so abundant on blogs. Roger quotes a New York Times article about online movie-review aggregators and the shrinking numbers of in-print film reviews, and he wonders whether “Internet 2.0 is turning us all into better talkers than listeners—that’s what will kill criticism from wherever its source.” Looks like a good discussion (among folks who both talk and listen) is shaping up in the comments there.

The Times piece led me to a Roger Ebert post about a YouTube poetry clip that was pulled because of nudity in an accompanying image. (The clip was later restored to the site, image intact.) I clicked through to listen to the poem, “The Cinnamon Peeler” by Sri Lankan poet Michael Ondaatje, and was fairly blown away both by the poem (beautiful in a kind of Song of Solomon way—please vet this before sharing with kids) and the voice of the reader, who calls himself (on YouTube) Tom O’Bedlam. I’ll be revisiting the SpokenVerse channel for sure.

Somewhere along the line the Times article led me, with a stop or two in between, to the Magazine Death Pool. Anyone feeling depressed about the disappearance of print media should probably avoid this link. (You know who you are.) “More than 525 US magazines ceased publication in 2008, and 40 have already folded in 2009 as the downturn in the economy continues to heavily impact most forms of print media, according to” That quote is from February, and the site chronicles the demise of several more magazines since then. Yow.

Then again, I’ve let almost all of my own magazine subscriptions lapse in the past couple of years. The girls still get a bunch of good ones, gifts from Scott’s parents—Muse, Odyssey, Ask, Ranger Rick, My Big Backyard.

Spoiler Paralysis

March 9, 2009 @ 5:22 am | Filed under:

I added another thought to the end of my post about Stolen—I said, “I think Jane will enjoy this one, and maybe Rose, though there’s a plot point I anticipate will trouble her somewhat and will generate a big discussion. I can’t say more without giving away the book’s secrets, but maybe later I can do another post with big spoiler alerts plastered all over it.”

This is where I always run into trouble when I write about books. There’s no way to discuss a book in the depth I’d like to without giving away its secrets. Even with a spoiler warning, I worry that I’ll reveal too much and change the reader’s experience with the book. I hardly ever read book reviews past the first paragraph myself until after I’ve read the book. And then I usually pester Scott to read it too, so I’ll have someone to talk about with. Or, if it’s a children’s book, my girls make great discussion companions. I really think my favorite part of reading is the unpacking, the analysis. But I do very little of that on the blog because I find myself paralyzed by spoiler fear.

I’m the same way with movies. I love to read reviews and criticism after I’ve seen a film, but I really don’t want to hear too much about it in advance. Scott’s even more passionate on this point than I am: he won’t even read the back of the DVD box lest it reveal too much. This makes film (or book) selection tricky: we have to glean just enough but not too much about a work to determine whether it’s worth our time.

I love in-depth reviews after the fact, after I’ve read a book or watched a movie and had a chance to ponder it for a while. And then, then, I’m often burning to write about it, to ask questions, compare reactions, crystallize my impressions by articulating them. What’s my problem? Why can’t I just slap a big neon SPOILER banner on top of the post and get on with it?