Friday, June 8, 2012

On Reviewing

The year was 1996. I was working in an office and attending graduate school at night. My job was the less demanding sort and I read a lot of books. In fact, if I discovered an author, either in or out of school, I had the time and inclination to seek out other works—everything they’d written, sometimes.

Like most of America, I had loved The Color Purple, and it propelled me to read many of Alice Walker’s other novels and short story collections: The Third Life of Grange Copeland, In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, Meridian (my favorite), You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down: Stories, The Temple of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. I did not read any of her poetry collections, but I did have her first book of non-fiction: In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose, a comprehensive set of essays covering a myriad of topics from the Civil Rights Movement to her artistic predecessors, to searching for your own artist’s soul.

As for the fiction, I will admit a certain straying in regards to the last two: Temple and Possessing. I didn’t enjoy them as much, but wasn’t sure if it was merely because they seemed to veer from previous work or because I tend to be squeamish about disturbing subject matter. But I did like those novels.

By 1996, I had also seen the movie version of The Color Purple (again, like most of America) and it is not taking away from the book to say that it was one of the few cases where the movie, for me, surpassed the book. But they are both excellent.

And so, it was with much anticipation that I purchased the hardcover (very expensive for any time, but especially for two students) of Ms. Walker’s newest non-fiction offering: The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult. And for some reason, it really set me off. True, the book was presented as a collection of impressions from the filming of the movie, a scrapbook of sorts, but I think I was expecting something more like the essays I had enjoyed. Deep, full of contemplation, etc. This book had silly diary entries, copies of letters, and at times, a school-girl-like gushy quality. The shallowness of it, the vanity of it—really incensed me for some reason. In hindsight, I think it was like the failing of a personal god and of course, I was disappointed that I had blown $20+ on it. So I decided to write a review. Where I thought I would send this review, I don’t know. I pulled it out this morning to have a look and although it was longish (9 pages!), it was pretty entertaining, however pointless. On a similar note, when I was about ten, I wrote a report on Czechoslovakia, just for fun. Laugh if you will.

My point now??? I have realized that part of the reason I studied books for so long in school is because I like that type of writing, reviewing and commenting on books. I was actually going to write this post about the differences between the two types of writing: reviewing and creating fiction, but because I have gotten sidetracked, I’ll save that for next week.

If you’ve made it through this and want to take a look at my recent review of Claire McMillan’s Gilded Age, a modern re-telling of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, click here. And while you’re there, read about the novel soon to be released by the blog’s creator, David Abrams. It’s called Fobbit and if you haven’t heard about it already, you will soon enough.


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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