by Morgan on March 16, 2011
I went to Book Soup to hear Andre Dubus III read from Townie last night. Stay tuned for a recap of the evening (link to come), but I’ll preface by saying that Dubus is seriously pleasant. In all honesty, I often find readings boring. I’ve already read the book, why do I want to hear the writer read nine pages to me, then listen to people ask him/her whether or not it was difficult to get into the characters heads, and whether they prefer writing in the morning or at night? But Dubus is really engaging.
After the Q&A, while standing in the autograph line, I got into a conversation with two really lovely women. We were talking about book reviews (which have been on my mind rather obsessively for the past couple weeks) and how insane it is that the majority of reviews in the major publications are written by other writers, often writers of the same “genre” and stature, if you will. I can’t think of a more obvious conflict of interest than writer A, with a novel coming out from Knopf in June, reviewing writer B, who just published a book with Knopf. Or a short story writer reviewing a collection a short stories.
Check it out. Open the New York Times. It’s a white, 30-something, Park Slope clusterfuck.
Maybe I’m a little wet behind the ears. I’ll admit that. I just started really embracing the idea of being a reviewer, and I only know what my 27 years of life have afforded me, so call me a young pup. But I know that book reviews used to be better than they are now. And I know that now, more than ever, a large majority of reviews in the big publications (and on heavy-traffic sites) are written by people who in turn will be reviewed in the same publications, and on the same pages. And I know that it’s become virtually impossible to make a living by being a literary critic and book reviewer, without also being a “culture blogger,” or editor, or writer of books. And I know it wasn’t always this way.
So. I’d like to take this opportunity to announce that I fully intend to be a book reviewer. And because of that, I am putting all other writing ambitions aside. I don’t want to have a conflict of interest. Not being a fiction writer, along with not trying to be a literary insider (as I talk about on Three Guys One Book) are the right decisions to make if I want to review books in a way that’s both traditional and progressive; unbiased (except by taste) and utterly devoid of an agenda (except for gaining avenues through which to write and talk about books).
Okay? Alright. Now that I’ve got the big Life Moment out of the way, let me tell you what I bought last night. Not Townie, duh. I got that when it came out, and you should go buy it now, if you haven’t.
I bought Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking With Einstein. AH, it’s so embarrassing! So here’s the deal: on Sunday, I read Foer’s piece in the NYTimes Magazine, and it’s fair to say I was intrigued. Then I saw the book on the shelves at Book Soup (and I can’t go to a bookstore without buying something) and, feeling rather weak and deserving of a reward, I succumbed. The writing looked good (despite the unforgivable title), and the topic is mega interesting.
I rarely indulge in books like this. I don’t read Gladwell or Levitt and Dubner or Jacobs (especially not Jacobs). There are a couple reasons for this, but the only one that’s not snooty is that reading things like this cuts into my fiction time.
But this one: Ooooh! It’s so good! It’s like eating pudding! At first you’re like, “What is this I shouldn’t be eating this, this is garbage!” and two bites in you’re like, “OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS?! THIS IS DELICIOUS WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE PUDDING?!”
Highly recommended, if you haven’t already treated yourself today.
Oh, also, I just finished David Ulin’s The Lost Art of Reading, and I need a couple days to process. Then I’ll reread and post about it. But I’ll say it’s probably the most personally revelatory thing I’ve read in a while (revelatory for me, not for him, though maybe for him, I don’t know.)
Happy Tuesday (new books day).