About a month ago I realized I had written more than ninety book reviews on my Redroom site and that more than 20,000 people had at least taken a look at them. So I thought I would compile and edit these reviews into a Kindle E-book that I have called Tuppence Reviews because the price works out to about two cents a review.
(To see and perhaps buy the book go to: http://www.amazon.com/Tuppence-Reviews-ebook/dp/B00BEN6560/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361301373&sr=8-1&keywords=robert+earle+tuppence+reviews)
My interests fall into four categories: fiction (both contemporary and classic), history (any and all kinds), criticism (particularly literary criticism), and public affairs (usually international issues catch my eye.)
In assembling Tuppence Reviews I asked myself why I review books and what I think I'm adding to the literary world by doing so. The answers are fairly straightforward. Actually writing a review of a book forces you to think it through, compare it to other books, and reach some kind of judgment. Publishing said reviews forces you to share your thoughts with others--unknown others. This is interesting. From time to time those unknown others comment on what I write. My practice is to let their comments stand. I've had my say, now it's fair for others to have their say.
Yesterday on a long drive my wife asked me to tell her about a book called Skios by Michael Frayn, which is one of the titles in Tuppence Reviews. I amazed myself by recounting in a fair degree of detail the zig-zag plot Frayn has fun with. I also realized that I never would have remembered it so clearly before I began writing reviews. In other words, my memory has improved simply by using my mind a little bit after concluding a book.
This raised another question: how many books have I read in my lifetime and how many do I recall? I can only guess how many books I've read. Let's say fifty books a year for fifty years. That's 2500, probably a conservative estimate. How many do I recall? I think if you and I were talking, I'd recall almost all of them, but not in the same detail as I recalled the Frayn book, which I thought was funny and clever but not important.
When I graduated from high school, a very mousy, wrinkled spinster librarian gave me a present. She kept records of every book every student read, and she said I'd read more than anyone in the history of the school. So the present was a set of notecards with all the titles I'd checked out over the previous five years. Who knows where those notecards are now? Wish I still had them.
In the Foreign Service one of my responsibilities was to oversee libraries attached to U.S. embassies. Thanks to that spinster, and my literary interests, I'm sure I spent as much time as anyone trying to maximize those libraries' impact. Generally U.S. libraries are low on the totem pole in U.S. foreign policy programs, but I thought that was foolish. The more young people we can attract to U.S. writing of all kinds, the better.
When it comes to book reviews, we now have Redroom, Goodreads, and a number of other sites. At last, the "reader" speaks out. What does, or should, the "reader" say?
I think you want to quickly summarize the book, offer a considered reaction, and place the book in some kind of literary/historical/public affairs context. Being personal about this is okay. In fact, it's a plus. You'd want Samuel Johnson to come through his reviews, the same with Edmund Wilson or Harold Bloom or Joyce Carol Oates. What you wouldn't want, it seems to me, is a gratuitously grouchy assessment that focuses too closely on the reviewer's pet peeves and too little on the author's objectives.
Presenting the author's objectives is very important. That's the first way you measure a book: did it achieve its stated or implied aims?
Making your points quickly is also important. Did you like the book or not? Say so, don't be shy, and give your reasons why.
Internet-reviewing taken seriously lends itself well to broadening our overall (and by this I mean global) literary culture. It establishes dialogue where before there was a great deal of silence surrounding the august opinions presented in twenty or thirty publications. Readers being the quiet folk that they are, it's great to be able to look over one another's shoulder and see a book the way someone else sees it without tipping your hand that you're doing it.
T.S. Eliot once proclaimed, "Each day a raid on the inarticulate." I've taken that as a kind of motto.
We're better off sharing our thoughts, and cyberspace now offers an opportunity to expand the dialogue exponentially.
Causes Robert Earle Supports
World Wildlife Fund