Monday 6 August 2012

Stepping back

I wonder if I shot myself, and worse the author, in the foot with the review of Say Her Name. If I've convinced some friends that it's more upsetting than they could bear - well, that wasn't what I meant to do. I loved this book. It is upsetting, but also (equally and surprisingly and memorably) absorbing and transporting and unusual.  The thing is, I can't really see the point of blogging reviews that are a vastly inferior version of what excellent and polished writers produce for mainstream printed and online publications. I read a huge amount, and am an enthusiastic cinema-goer and attender of exhibitions. I read book blogs and think: perhaps I could do that. I'm inspired by outstanding blogs like Tales from the Reading Room that combine knowledgeable and original reviews with more personal life writing, and thus cast a fascinating light on the role that reading plays in the life of someone who reads a lot. I've had one or two goes at reviewing books more regularly and found that I couldn't maintain the motivation. But every now and then I'm moved to do it, and to write something more personal, subjective and unstructured than the usual review, to try and convey how a book, or some other work of art, made me feel, what difference it made to me - to get up close to it.

Perhaps I got too close to this one and was carried away by certain aspects at the expense of others. I mean, what do I want to do here: express myself or make my friends want to read the book? Both is fine. The former at the expense of the latter - less fine. I guess it's difficult to share feelings about a book without inflicting those feelings (precisely the challenge so impressively met by Francisco Goldman in this book); and it's difficult to be deliberately subjective and impressionistic without painting an unfairly partial picture. All this requires more thought, and no doubt a lot more groping around and learning by doing.

The  reflected image used to illustrate the review was cropped from the photo above (click on it to enlarge). It has nothing to do with the book, of course, but seemed to strike a connected note. The whole photo made me happy because I think it 'works', while breaking most rules of lighting and composition. Rules have reasons, so breaking them successfully - in words or pictures - is really hard, and perhaps most often achieved by accident.


Lucy said...

I think I'd be more inclined to read a book which had clearly moved and impressed someone whose judgement I valued so strongly than because I'd read a very clever, polished professional reviewer's treatment (not that you aren't a very clever, polished writer of course!). I suppose the exception is if it clearly contained subject matter that I found personally unpalatable - I've got a fairly low tolerance for violence for example, and felt disinclined to read the Stieg Larsson books that you and others reviewed - but grief and loss are not that, for me.

I don't much like doing reviews either, or even quite brief reader responses; yours are always excellent but the fact that you don't turn them out routinely makes them all the more persuasive, I think.

Beth said...

Oh, don't worry Jean, your review definitely made me want to read the book -- I just know it will make me sad and so I'll have to find a time when I can take it. I trust your reviews always, from experience; if you care enough about something to write about it,I know I feel similarly.I would always rather read a "personal" response/appreciation than the typical ones in most journals; that's why I seem to prefer reading blogs over everything else pertaining to culture.

Anne said...

I went back and read the review which I had missed and I found that it made me want to read the book. I agree entirely with Lucy. I can't deal with violence, but I can with strong emotion. Because I have lived a long time I have encountered grief, but never the kind that comes from the unexpected loss of a life companion -- or a child. That must be the hardest. But a book is so much more than just the subject or story. It's the writing, the feeling, the form.

I like blogs that let me get to know the writer, so if I have come to know and love the writer of a blog I am glad to sometimes read about a book that blogger loved. In general, though, I don't usually read blogs that just review books.

One more comment: I really admire the picture and the detail in the review post. You specialize in reflections and do them so beautifully.

Anonymous said...

I missed the review, too, but am going back to read it. I don't base friendships ever on people's responses to books. Actually I'm fascinated by the way people I like and respect may respond very differently from me to a book. And some of my friends don't even necessarily like my books!

Jean said...

Lilian, I'm entirely with you on that - of course not all my friends like the same books or other works of art, how boring that would be! (though there is sojetimes an intensely shared response and that's lovely, of course).

I would see that as an entirely separate issue from what I was trying to clarify my thoughts about here.

litlove said...

Oh Jean, bless you for the lovely mention. I think that any of us who review books even semi-regularly know how personal and particular our feelings about them are. So reviews can only ever be the account of a unique experience that will never be repeated by another person. Doesn't mean to say they won't push us in the right direction, or give some indication of the kind of mood we want to be in before beginning them.

But a well-written review, as yours always are, is guaranteed to resonante with the reader and stick in the mind. No writer could ask for more than that.

Anna said...

In my opinion it is impossible to get "too close" to a book. I loved your review because it spoke to me on some visceral level and I knew I had to buy it straight away. The best reviews are like that.