Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on August 20, 1972 · Page 88
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August 20, 1972

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 88

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Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, August 20, 1972
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Page 88
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TTI-rftrrf "it" 'iMULf-* a *··-·"·*·" JK£ TM- ^^^--.M**.^_*·^-, :.... T ^,-^jq^ i·"*].--.-1.'-nii^^aff^^^^PTOo^mmEi^^^w^»«sft^^^ia8B^^SHmMl8!l Edited by Arthur C. Buck, assistant professor of English, West Virginia Untoeritty Confessions of a Book Reviewer Joseph Meledin Jr. I've lost track of the number of book reviews I've published In the last five years, but since I've averaged at least one every two weeks in that time, the total must now be upwards of ISO, if not dose to 200. It all began innocently and humbly enough with a chance meeting with a total stranger one Wednesday evening in the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh, and, though overburdened with books from a graduate course in research methods and two other courses, I said, "Yes, I'll review books for your newspaper." and tlte association began. It has stretched over the course of five years into one of the most satisfying, challenging and fruitful pastimes I've ever engaged in, and has led to one of the closest professional friendships I've ever formed. One thing I've learned, though, is never to over-estimate my importance as a reviewer. The lot of the book reviewer it largely an unsung and unappreciated one and the art of tlie book review itself, like the art of the familiar essay, has been in a decline in America for so long that it's no longer lost or dying--much to the loss of the literary world and reading .public tlie book review deigns to serve. I'm not complaining, for I accept the shortcomings with the psychic, creative and professional joys, and wouldn't trade this spare-time activity, which amounts to a postman taking a hike on his day off because I'm a freelance writer and teacher full-time, for anything, and wouldn't exchange what I've already d«ne and learned and been encouraged in as a reviewer for an acceptance of a manuscript by "Playboy." Yet some practical facts stand out. Except for keeping the copy of the book he reviews, the reviewer is rarely, if ever, compensated for his effort, unless his name is prestigious enough to merit an assignment on some subject from a publication just as prestigious. The review page itself is often relegated to a minor role in the .newspaper or magazine and often justified only in terms of the advertising revenues it generates from book dealers and publishers on that page. In actuality, the book review becomes itself a kind of free advertisement. Good or bad, the book, its author and the act of publication get mentioned, for belter or for worse, and even a bad review is better than no publicity at all. Unfortunately, very few people read book reviews, partly. I think, because few people read at all any more. If they do read, by and large, their reading and buying habits are not conditioned by the judgments most' reviews and most review pages contain. Of course, there are some exceptions to this. The New York "Times Review of Books" supplement is one example, possibly the best. Many scholarly journals (usually read only by scholars, if at all) carry book reviews "ad nauseam" on work in their fields of scltolarship; these often tend to become forums, however, where one scholar carries on dialogue or diatribe with another, often to advance their own careers, theories and future books through the springboard medium of the review. A hundred years ago, Edgar Allan Poe ·brought the book review to its greatest flowering in America, and used his reviews in non-scholarly, though literary, publications to elucidate some of the finest theories for the composition and creation of short stories and poetry America, at least, had ever seen. Such reviews will stand forever to the credit of the review as an art form and a medium for developing sound literary theory. I think it's fairly safe to say, though, that only the theater, review, particularly STATE MAGAZINE, August 20,1972, of new presentations on Broadway, really has any "practical impact" today in influencing any audience or buying public. Such a review, or possibly even the prestige of the critic behind it, can ''make or break" a new play. Perhaps it is good that a reviewer can no longer dictate taste; however, I think that this is not a reviewer's prime function in a popular publication. About the best he can do in a given situation is to introduce the book, be it fiction or nonfiction, to its potential audience in a literate, intelligent fashion, bringing his abilities and experience as summarizer, critic (in the analytical, neutral sense of the term rather than in the negative aspect of "fault-finding") and judge to his task in such a way as to aid the reader in sifting among the many, many things being published annually. * As a reviewer and teacher of English, I receive a staggering number of bewildering titles across my desk every month ranging from review. copies of erotic novels to complimentary -examination copies of textbooks on composition. I . read, either thoroughly or skim-fashion, everything I am asked to review, and have yet to review a book I didn't at least skim from beginning to end and read at least a part of thoroughly. I'm aided in this task by the fact that my motivations in my professional life, and to some extent, my personal life, are literary. Still, the task is monumental, and I have hundreds of textbooks end paperbacks for potential classroom use that I'll never get to unless I do decide to use them for class. Pity, then, as I do, the non-literary-oriented housewife, businessman^ plant guard, student, man-on-the-street who may occasionally be motivated to read. With the amount of material being published, and much of it questionable in quality, the average person has a discouraging, if not impossible, job in trying to sift and sort all the possibilities into suitable reading for his tastes and time. Usually, he relies on the recommendation of a friend. This, at best, is dangerous, as reading taste is as individual and unique as fingerprints or the shape of the human foot. He may turn to the bestseller lists, not realizing, that here, too, the standard is unreliable. Far from scientific, systematic or official, the bestseller list Is, at best, hardly more than a listing of what the publishers have devoted a major portion of their advertising budget to, usually in terms of known, already- established and proven authors in their stables. A third reference is the movie, and a reader buying the book after he's seen the film will usually come away puzzled and disillusioned by the differences, not realizing the chasm of technique existing between the film world and book world and the adjustments necessary in the transition between them. In short, the reader needs somebody to do the sifting for him, someone less personal and more «xperienced than a friend, less sales-oriented and more objective than the publisher's advertising agency and less misleading and more accurate about books than a scriptwriter and film producer. This is the book reviewer, who brings his sensibility, taste and experience to the task of giving a brief, frank appraisal of the book. He's necessarily limited by space, and can't always say as much'as he might want to, especially to clarify points and judgments he's made. And above all, his reputation and credibility, and ability to believe in himself, are finally determined by his candor and courage in saying · exactly what he feels, whether to go out on a limb with enthusiasm for a new author or to step on the toes by panning ·n established one. Worst of all, the reviewer has got to work In a .vacuum. He very seldom hears from anybody--author, publisher, potential reader of the books he reviews. He's on his own, entirely, and freelances in some very painfully ironic and seldom- used senses of the term. The other day the mails brought a copy of a letter to the editor written about a recent review of mine by the author of a book I'd panned. Actually, this letter generated the thoughts in this column that I've chosen to put down about reviewing. The author had disagreed with my negative judgments about his book, and took more space in his letter than I had used in my review to say so. I'm not complaining; in fact, I was flattered because somebody out there's reading. A famous science writer did a piece recently in which he described our beaming radio waves into outer space with no apparent target in mind, a kind of broadcast to infinity, and then asked if anybody out there might be listening. It's an exciting thing to contemplate, communicating with beings from somewhere beyond. Yet it's nowhere near as exciting as communicating with beings right here on earth. Anybody who writes a book does. Anybody who writes a letter to the editor does. Anybody who writes a book review does. And they do it, largely, purely for the psychic excitement of just doing it. Which is why I review books: unpaid, Unsung. Unread, sometimes. Unappreciated, sometimes. Unwillingly, sometimes. Which makes one letter in five years worth it and makes me look forward to the next one, negative or not. Is anybody out there reading and writing? (Editor'i Note: Mr. Meledin. a faculty member ·( the University «f Pittsburgh and of lUbert Morris College, It a regular contributor ef essays and book review* to the State Magazine.) Affair to Remember ByKonradHansea My in-laws had come a day earlier than expected on their Christmas visit and my wife didn't particularly want to leave them to attend the Christmas get-together being held by a company which was one of my valued clients, so I prepared to go alone and put in an appearance for a short time. My eight-year-old son watched me getting ready and asked where I was going. "Oh, just to a little Christmas party affair given by Superior Markets. You remember I did some work for them," I explained. Then, as I was standing In the door, bidding goodbye to my in-laws, wife and son, he spoke up in a clear little voice and said, "Goodbye, Daddy. Have a nice affair." Running Ten We drive, and suddenly the smell of new-mown hay wafts in. The present falls away And I am ten years old again, Running through alfalfa, Sticky braid-loose tendrils lifting From my neck oh summer wind. It doesn't matter to remember more. It is enough to know there was a time like that: When wind, And new-mown hay, And running ten years old Were all the world. --Nancy Rose (Nancy Rose Is a free lance writer ef Green Bay, Wis.) THE VOUM6 CHILDREN* EN^-^ _ S0HE**r«//MV.S«KU«MMrf/ BRITANNICA JUNIOR BKYCLOPAEDIA VOCABULARY. EASV-TO-READ TVPE. TINKERBELL BUBBLE AND SPRAY SET YWA/G BEOKNOBS AN» BROOMSTICKS *ir- ritomitp ACTION BCP . i i:\GKOWSAND 6KOWS.' WCEK knickerlxxker C OLOR THIS CONTEST ENTRY. Iqwnm «NC ccic* mmi cot cut. MINT N*MI. »si. MMIU. MA* to UNCU NUWNT. CAII w THIS MHI WINNHI HOttm tYtwa. J CHARLESTON, W.VA. 19m

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