Monday, July 14, 2008

Confessions of a Book Reviewer

In a cold but stuffy bed-sitting room littered with cigarette ends and half-empty cups of tea, a man in a moth-eaten dressing-grown sits at a rickety table, trying to find room for his typewriter among the piles of dusty papers that surround it. He cannot throw the papers away because the wastepaper basket is already overflowing, and besides, somewhere among the unanswered letters and unpaid bills it is possible that there is a cheque for two guineas which he is nearly certain he forgot to pay into the bank. There are also letters with addresses which ought to be entered in his address book. He has lost this address book, and the thought of looking for it, or indeed of looking for anything, afflicts him with acute suicidal impulses.
I came across a reference to this piece by George Orwell in a comment left on the Guardian blog the other day, and it tickled me, as a sometime book-reviewer. (No lah, thankfully don't see much of myself in it - apart from the bit about the lost cheques!) And although it was written in 1946 there is still more than a grain of truth in it, especially :
The best practice, it has always seemed to me, would be simply to ignore the great majority of books and to give very long reviews — 1,000 words is a bare minimum — to the few that seem to matter. Short notes of a line or two on forthcoming books can be useful, but the usual middle-length review of about 600 words is bound to be worthless even if the reviewer genuinely wants to write it.
Sadly 600 words is the limit we are all to often told to write to in the local press, and it is very difficult as Orwell says, to do a decent job in that few words.


alan wong said...

Nowadays, I'm not even sure if I can come up with 600 words for a book - at least, for the books I have right now.

bibliobibuli said...

wrong books then for sure!

Anonymous said...

You're unlucky then... 750-1000 is mine.