Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Writing Book Reviews

Reviewing books is a discipline that Diane Lockward encouraged. I’m immensely thankful. Each year I engage in a deep and thoughtful way a dozen or more books. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but there is a particular engagement to reviewing a book. I tend to read the book at least two or three times. I take a lot of notes. I think not only about the individual elements of the book (poems, in the case of poetry, but also chapters in a novel or other narratives) but also the structure of the book. I try to also place the book in a larger context and understand it as a cultural product.

Sometimes if I feel discouraged about my own writing, I quip that I’ll just make review writing my writing discipline. Though no one really has a career as a reviewer. I do think that reviews impact my essay writing, however, and the discipline of reading that comes with writing them definitely benefits my poetry.

I don’t think that I’m a good reviewer particularly. I’ve been writing reviews for a long time because the impulse to share my excitement about books is a recurrent one. I want others to read what I read and I want to tell them about what I read. Friends, even really good reading friends, eventually tire of this. Reviews are the next step for this enthusiasm. Reviews require more than enthusiasm, however, and that’s what I’ve been cultivating over the past year, in particular.

Other elements of good reviews, I think, include selection of the books for review. Engagement with the text and then distillation into a written product that explains and compels its reader. I’m still learning about it and enjoying that process immensely as I engage in it. There are links to my reviews here.

I started thinking about review writing this evening because a book review that I wrote has been published online in a new magazine from Canada, Studio. This is a review of a book about which I feel passionately, Jane Miller’s most recent book, A Palace of Pearls. It’s also interesting to me because it is one of the earlier reviews that I wrote in my recent commitment to this form of writing. I think that I have learned more about writing reviews and my newer reviews are more thoughtful and even artful. I hope that this perception doesn’t diminish the significant of this book of poetry. A Palace of Pearls is a knock out book!

1 comment:

Ellen Moody said...

I love writing book reviews, Julie. Oops! I should say I love reading towards them. I re-go over the matter of the book using its bibliography and then come to my own conclusions.

For good books it's like a course I'm giving myself. I learned so much from reviewing the Paula Backscheider book.

And then when I don't know the matter a new area is opened to me.

The problem is they do take such time, and I don't get to write papers myself :)