The New York Times posed a question recently: Should book reviewing be considered a public service, or an art?
The two reviewers, James Parker and Anna Holmes, who were tasked to answer kicked the question around before deciding that, at some level and at times, there is an art to book reviewing but first and foremost it fulfills a practical purpose. Readers’ responses to the piece made it clear that people read book reviews for different reasons – and many believed that some reviewers are motivated by self-interest or malice.
There have been some famous hatchet jobs masquerading as book reviews, often hugely entertaining to all but the author and their agent/publisher, but whether these serve any useful purpose is a moot point. A reviewer can damn a bestseller in the most amusing way but fans will continue to buy and read the book regardless. Since most book reviews are short, informative pieces they can aspire to be artistic only if the reviewer has a talent to write haiku.
Back in the sad old days, in the mid-1980s, when we had no Internet and no bloggers and when reviewers never touched a paperback (which was all I could afford to buy) I grew frustrated knowing that there must be hordes of books published every month that I’d never know about. Being public-spirited I decided to rectify the situation; I made it my business to let all crime fiction readers know what was available. My medium was a monthly publication called Crime fiction catalogue. It gave a short summary of every single crime title published that month in the UK. In the busiest publishing months this could mean 60 books.
My noble enterprise lasted for twelve months before cruel life intervened and demanded I spend my time earning some money – but since the circulation never reached 200 it wasn’t much of a loss for the reading public.
With this blog my aim is more modest. I review only books I’ve enjoyed reading – that is a must since these days I drop a book if I don’t like it, so couldn’t possibly express an opinion. I try to give you a flavour of the book, maybe help you to decide if it’s something you’d like to read. I hope you’ll find Brigid Quinn, the protagonist in today’s READ posting, as enjoyable as I did.