Book Reviews and all that jazz


I was tickled pink as they say when Graham Beattie invited me to be a guest reviewer on his literary blog.   I belong to three book clubs and read quite a bit I guess (mostly I always tell myself, as a way of catching up).   You see, many of my super-smart book club friends grew up on a diet of books and they can quote from childhood memories, books they’ve read several times.   In this regard, I am way behind, apart from recalling the cover of my ‘School Friend’ annuals.   Yes, my family always gave books for Christmas and birthday, so I cannot complain, and my parents were regular library users.   Mum read detective stories and Dad loved Barry Crump or Hori and the Half Gallon Jar.  The local library was part of my landscape tucked as it was inside the brick council building that also housed the local cinema.   On Anzac Day, this very same building was where we gathered to pay homage to Gallipoli, The Somme and other legendary battles (in our house, the battle of the bottle).

The librarian was a serious but kindly woman who peered down over spectacles and used a long pencil with a rubber stamp attached to mark the library card and stamp the book, so you knew when to return it.   There was a certain smell of polished floors and stacks of books and the odour of silence and shuffle that is impossible to rekindle.    Libraries nowadays lack the holiness of our public library lodged in-between the Council Chambers and the Cinema.

I was a regular at the Cinema, and if movies could have been withdrawn like library books back then, I’m sure I’d have been one of the biggest borrowers.   Movies were my entertainment.   When other kids went to the beach on a hot Saturday, I queued for the matinée.   The Wednesday double-feature was for grown-ups, but if a really good movie was showing, my parents might agree that I could go on a week-night.   I recall watching Rin Tin Tin and Woman Obsessed as a double-feature one Wednesday school night and my Dad waiting outside after to walk me home in the dark.

It was outside the library one evening that we stood on the eve of a particularly important local body election when one Mayor was ousted and half the town stood with us while my Dad slipped behind the Doctor’s surgery (a small stucco building that still stands) to take a leak as we waited for the announcement.   Back then, local body politics were deemed as important as national elections and the Right or the Left were on either side of the street so to speak.   We were dyed in the wool Labour supporters with Tory neighbours in a working-class street that included two chemists, a builder (my Dad), a butcher, a baker, two school teachers, and eventually, a Prime Minister (but I’d long left home by then).

My sister was always way ahead of me.   She was ahead of many of her contemporaries too in small-town New Zealand; reading Shakespeare alongside more salacious banned books, collecting art books, drinking illicit Cona coffee in a candle-lit dive on the main street with red checked table cloths, where candles dripped wax down Chianti bottles.   Oh yes, she was way ahead of me, as I fled out the door weekdays to six am mass to keep my soul from the devil.

So, catching up, I call it.

And now I am writing to defend my style of reviewing.  Not that I’ve actually been asked to defend it (yet…).   But I’ve been thinking about reviews and the more academic point of view, that the “I” in the review should be absent.   Well of course, as you can tell from this preamble, leaving me, out of anything is going to be a challenge.  I make no excuses.   I read blogs and I write one and I’ve yet to find a blog that isn’t really about its creator, no matter how well written, researched, diverse, or interesting … their passion for the material, the topic, their desire to have you engage with them in a debate, discussion or dream.   Or, their desire for a voice, or just plain self-promotion…  Yep, that too.

I am not an academic book reviewer.   When I read a book, I bring my life experience as a woman, mother, wife, book clubber, writer, and my ego (oh yes, that most definitely).  I bring my opinions, my prejudice, my bias, my passion and my ignorance.    We all of us bring this to any book we open to read.    Hopefully, when we close the book we have perhaps lost some of our ignorance and ignited more of our passion, reduced or informed our prejudice/bias so that we recognise it and all of that jazz and more… we have perhaps fuelled our desire to read more, or to write better (better than we have been writing, as opposed to better than the writer we just read – because usually as a writer, I am mostly humbled and awed when I read).

Anyway, this is just an unplanned rant that I plan to post, about book reviews and why I feel no need to attempt to take the “I” or the “me” out of my reviews.    Not everyone will want to read my opinion or even care why I like or dislike a book and in this I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes (framed and on a shelf in my office) about writing – by Brian Joseph Epstein – and here is the link.

And a link to some of my book reviews.