Sunday, September 5, 2010

Daily Thoughts 9/5/2010 (Book Reviews, Writing)

Cover composed by Mucha for the french literary and artistic Review La Plume, 15 January 1898
Daily Thoughts 9/5/2010

I took some more time to go back and add a few more reviews to my review list, I am now starting into 2008.  This has given me a little time to make some minor corrections and think about what I am doing.  I also learned something.  Whenever I write about classic and highly literary works, bloggers criticize my writing as not being sophisticated enough. 

I am finding that there is increasing tension between popular reviewers and academic reviewers.  This is partially because now most of the western cannon is freely available as public domain on the internet.  Many more people are reading and commenting on titles that were only available to academics for a long time.  The popular interpretations often do not match with academic literary criticism.  Academic literary criticism often does not reach the average reader.

This is further exacerbated by the new populists in literature.  Oprah Winfrey who does television shows and Nancy Pearl who reviews for National Public Radio do not approach classic literature the same way as the colleges do.  They are speaking to every person per se in a nonelitist manner.  I feel that I am doing the same thing.

I remember receiving a suggestion that I write more like the New Yorker magazine.  The New Yorker magazine has very high literary standards with a very different audience than I am looking for.  I am using the blog as a form of self expression with a unique voice.  This makes me free to follow my own rules and not use a stylesheet like a journal does.

I am trying to do a number of things with my reviews:

  • Include my own personal opinion which is not neutral and not academic.  Have a unique voice.
  • Describe both the good and bad parts about a book.
  •  Write enough so that the reader of this blog knows I have read the whole book.  I find that somtimes reviews don't have a sense of completely covering a book.
  • Describe the layout and  artwork of a book.  Things like screen captures, photographs, and recommended reading lists can differentiate a title considerably.
  • I am aiming to be complete enough so that the reader can make a decision about whether or not they want to read the book. 
  •  Sometimes journal reviews read like the dust jacket copy of a book.  This is annoying.  My reviews will try to avoid matching advertisements about a book or jacket copy from a title.  They will be a little different.

I think that my writing is about the reading level of an average adult.  This is about the reading level of 8th or 9th grade.  The point is to make my writing very clear, not to be too simple.  Maybe I am aiming too low. 

For my understanding of an authors work, I tend to go to biography or correspondence of the author, or books on wrting  by an author.  This is called biographical criticism.  I take it even further, I prefer to read autobiographical works by the writer themselves.  I often think the writers own words are the most accurate way to describe what the person is writing about.  The other context which I often use is understanding the historical time period of a writer.  It is a very concrete approach to understanding authors.  I think that an authors life cannot be separated from their writing.

 I especially like The Reader Over Your Shoulder A Handbook For Writers of English Prose by Robert Graves for understanding his style.  It is the same reason that I think reading The Elements of Style by E.B. White gives an understanding of E.B. White's style. I also like The Letters of John Fante and The Diaries of Anais Nin. 

I am also interested in how to advise people what to read.  This is different than crticising a work.  Readers advisory in librarianship follows a very different pattern than academic reviewing of fiction.  The library patron is asking why should I read this book?   How about its characters, plot, setting, pacing, and tone? Did you like and read this book?  What is it about?  In bookselling this is very similar to handselling.  The bookseller is recommending material in person to an interested customer.

I seem to get no negative feedback when I am writing about mysteries, romance, science fiction,business, popular fiction, but when it comes to quality literature or classics there are different expectations.  

I toned this article down because a few of my subscribers left today.

Hopefully, since the last time I wrote about classic literature, my writing has improved considerably.  I have spent time learning about writing.  I added a few authors to my sidebar who helped; , Arthur Plotnik who wrote Spunk and Bite, Laraine Herring who wrote Writing Begins With The Breath, and David Henderson who wrote The Media Savvy Leader.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I too am a librarian and when I write my reviews, they may not be critic worthy, but I'm not writing for a critic. I agree that I write for my audience, which is average people who, like me, read for enjoyment and are looking for a good read. Keep up the good work and I'm glad your library is still around. I work in Asheville, NC and in Charlotte, where I used to work, they closed 4 branches recently and laid off hundreds of people.