Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On Reviewing, Part Deux

Have you ever owned a box fan? You know the type—looks like a big box with a fan housed inside. You can prop it inside a window frame to drag in fresh, cooler air or you can sit directly in front of one and hear your voice vibrate.

Seems like a pretty simple contraption. Plug goes into the wall and starts a motor, which gets the fan blades rotating. The blades push air quickly forward.

What if you own a box fan and notice that the fan blades are covered with dirt and what if, one afternoon, you decide to take apart the fan (how hard could it be?), clean the grime off, and put the thing back together? All you need is a screwdriver and the sense that you’re the type of person who gets things done, a handy, problem-solver who likes clean belongings.

The first part is easy. You unplug the fan and lay it on its side. Two screws hold the front plastic screen in place. Once that’s off, you realize you could probably clean the blades now (easily, quickly!) but you decide to remove them for a proper soaking in the sink. The dirt is greasy and really stuck on. As it turns out, the blades are actually one big piece and there are a few more screws and some round thing involved with getting it off, and then it doesn’t exactly fit in the sink so you spray it with hot water over the sink and use dishwashing soap to loosen the grime.

It goes back together easily enough, but when you’re finished, you’ve forgotten the round thing and so you have to unscrew everything again and after the second time, the fan blades seem to sit crookedly and in their current position will probably scrape into the plastic screen. Your back is hurting now from leaning over. The plastic screen is also dirty, you notice, each tiny rectangle with a tiny strip of dust. Back to the sink and the sprayer. Also, you notice there’s a screw left over, a larger, gray-tipped one you don’t remember taking off.

For me, reviewing books is like taking the fan apart and writing books is like putting one together. With both you understand, in general, how the machine works and you are able to identify the parts. But when you assemble a fan (or a bookshelf, or a radio, or a child’s electronic toy, or a book, etc.), unforeseen complications arise. Things do not go according to plan. You may have to go back to the beginning or read the directions more carefully. Sometimes you have to take a break to avoid frustration. There are missing parts and occasionally, parts you don’t need. It is always, always more complicated than you think it will be. Sometimes you may wonder why you started at all. And even after the blades are cleaned and lined up and every piece has been discarded or accounted for, even then you're not sure whether the thing will run when you plug it in. You may have to take it apart again. And again.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka