Sunday, May 30, 2010

Daily Thoughts 5/30/2010

Victor Hugo, c1875, taken by Comte Stanisław Julian Ostroróg dit WALERY (1830-1890), French Ministry of Culture, from Wikimedia

Daily Thoughts 5/30/2010

Have been reading the uncomfortable dead (what's missing is missing) a novel by four hands. The chapters are written alternately, first Subcomandate Marcos will write one chapter, then Paco Ignacio Taibo II will write the next chapter. This creates a slowly interweaving setting where the characters in the book move closer and closer together.

There is a lot of politics in this book, an odd mix of left wing libertarianism and anarchism that often has an absurd and ridiculous quality to it mixed with ironic humor. The main characters are detectives in that they are trying to solve a crime, but it is often hard to tell what the crime is exactly, and it is often more of a conversation about the vagaries of life in the mixed up setting of a corrupt, greedy Mexico city. I am enjoying the book because of its unique iconoclastic style.

The characters are interesting personalities; a progressive politician with a pet dog with a broken leg, a gay revolutionary, an inspector for the Zapatistas, a Chinese revolutionary in Mexico city, a Mexican porn star who looks like Bin Laden, a corrupt business man, a sweet old grandmother who hacks computers, and others.

The characters all chain smoke, drink, often swear, and tell jokes. The book is not that clean, it might make some people uncomfortable. However, there is very little gratuitious sex or violence, the characters mainly talk about it. The book is very well written and was recommended by Library Journal and the Los Angeles Times. Paco Ignacio Taibo II has won numerous awards for his writing; he is a professor of history at Metropolitan University of Mexico City. It is odd reading a mystery cowritten by a revolutionary, Subcomandante Marcos, but then Marcos has also written a childrens book, The Story of the Colors. There is even a short interview with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Robert Pombo, and Subcomandante Marcos called The Punchcard and The Hourglass at the back of this edition of the book.

I am about half way through reading the book. This was a free copy given out by Akashic books at Book Expo America. It is not an advanced reading copy, so I will definitely add it to the library collection. We have several other books by Paco Ignacio Taibo II featuring the detective Hector Belascaron Shayne.

Right now I am a bit tired. It was a very long week at the convention.

Thoughts On Reviews

There is a very different goal for librarians reading reviews than many people think. We can't read every book, but we need to know about many books out there in case people ask about them. This means there is no such thing as spoilers for us in reviews. If we read a review, it is nice to know the genre, plot, characters, style, setting, and framework of the book. A review that is longer than what is in a review magazine, about a page and a half is ideal for me.

I want to know how you feel about a book, your personal opinions matter. Reviewers in the literary criticism often can't give their personal feelings or emotions in their reviews. Your personal style counts a lot. Stars don't mean a lot to me. Specifics about what you like and dislike are what matters. Please tell me what is bad about a book. You may not know this but a bad book review can increase sales. People become aware of an item if it generates controversy.

I like it when I see both good and bad reviews on books. This indicates that the author had a specific opinion and was writing for a specific audience. There are a lot of books which will not appeal to many people or have content that has a strong, often offensive set of opinions that is not for every audience.

I have to consider books with a full spectrum of religious, philosophical, and political viewpoints. We don't have to agree with Ann Coulter or Al Franken, but we do need to know if the material is well written, entertaining, and has some degree of accuracy.

Tell me when you don't like a book, you don't have to write a full review, but saying I put this book down because it bored me or it was confusing helps me make decisions about books.

I want to see your personal style in your writing of a review. This may help me gauge whether it is right for another person. Knowing a little bit about you helps as well. Let me know in your blog if you review christian fiction, books about serial killers, fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction, world literature, chick lit, travel writing, or whatever else you might like.

Include things which we don't normally see in a book review. Describe the layout of the text, talk about the illustrator or photographer in a nonfiction book, compare it to several other books. There are no constraints in a blog. There is no stylesheet for a personal blog like in a magazine.


Jane Turley said...

That's very interesting what you say you are looking for in a book review. I am trying to write reviews for The View which, I hope, have some sort of literary merit but still maintain a personal "fresh" approach - but it was much easier when I just wrote them for my blog when I would be as blunt as I wanted to be!! I suppose I assume I'm now writing for those who are possibly better read (or at least want to read criticism with a proper foundation) so a phrase like "put it on the bonfire" isn't quite eloquent enough anymore!

As a point of interest I find it much easier (and more interesting) to write a review for a book which I don't like - because it actually takes more thought for me. Oh, you're right about bad books sometimes being hugely popular- I'm always curious to read books which had been throughly panned!

Book Calendar said...

Most book reviews are rather bland in the professional review journals that I read. Kirkus Reviews is the review journal with short reviews in the United States that is the least bland. It could be a nice example of how to review with a bit more personality. Still, it is not that strong. I also like the New York Review of Books for more literary reviews. I think it has more personality than the New York Times Book Review.