There’s something about book reviewing that seems so easy. When I first stood across the Spyhouse Nicollet counter from Jay Gabler in December of ’09 and said, “Yeah, I write. How about some book reviews?” I was sure as hell that after writing countless criticisms and papers on books in college it was going to be the easiest thing I would ever do. But then I finished reading my solicited review copy of Hospital for Bad Poets by J.C. Hallman (Milkweed Editions), which had been nominated in 2010 for a Minnesota Book Award, and I just couldn’t do it. (Seriously though, I still haven’t written the review, and no, what I’m about to write doesn’t count.)
The book was fantastic—if a little Palahniukian in its male-centricity—but the prospect of writing about it in any sort of coherent way for all to see really freaked me out. It wasn’t until a year later that I finally submitted my first review to the Daily Planet, and it was for a completely different book.
Now that I’ve written a handful of book reviews for the Twin Cities Daily Planet, I’m a little more comfortable, but still not super at ease. Even though writing these reviews is totally fun and awesome, sometimes it feels like there’s something I’m not getting. Like, why write book reviews? Why makes them so important? What’s going to happen to these things in the future? Will they become less important or more important as the publishing industry changes? Should self-published books be considered for publication? Are people even reading book reviews anymore? What’s the deal with negative reviews?
And, as much as I thought about these questions, I’ve decided that they just aren’t for me to answer. I don’t have all of the experience or perspective needed to tackle this issue alone. Luckily, however, I know some people who do. Earlier this week I sat down with (or e-mailed) some people from the literary arts and journalistic realms here in Minneapolis—including Laurie Hertzel, book editor at the Star Tribune; Patrick Nathan, 100% of Mill City Bibliophile; Melissa Wray of Hazel and Wren; and Susannah Schouweiler, editor at mnartists.org and formerly editor of the Hungry Mind/Ruminator Review—to try to answer some of the questions I had about book reviewing.
While the piece won’t be published until next week, I wanted to get the topic out there this week for readers to consider, because it’s such a wide topic, and my interviews were so amazing and informative. And truthfully, I can’t wait to pass all that information on to you! As readers of this column, you probably read book reviews from other sources, and I’m very interested in what you have to say about them, so definitely feel free to contact me this week and I would love to include what some of you have to say in next week’s column.