Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Leave Me Alone, I'M Reading

A recent posting on biliobibuli’s blog on local Malaysian book reviewers drew some heated comments. The general sentiments were that local book reviewers are not as good as compared to overseas book reviewers.
Book reviewers are sometimes viewed as the vultures of the book scene, especially by the author of the reviewed work. Reviewers take their newborn ‘child’ and tear him/her apart, looking at their ‘blood-sweat’ piece of work with jaundiced eyes. On a whim, they can make or break a writer’s fragile ego. They can also make or break the sales of a book. Many people will look at a reviewer’s recommendation rather than his or her comments.

What about the book reviewers themselves? Are they the ogres we perceive them to be? Are they failed writers, venting their spleen on some hapless author? Or are they like you and I, lover of the written word.

Maureen Corrigan is the book critic (professional book reviewer) for NPR program Fresh Air who has about four and a half million listeners. She reviews books for The New York Times, Newsday, The Nation, The Boston Globe, the Village Voice and many other publications. She is also a professor of literature at George Washington University at Washington, D.C. Maureen gave us a rare glimpse into the life of a book reviewer and an obsessive book lover in her book, Leave Me Alone, I’M Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (New York: Random House, 2005). For me, the title alone is worth buying the book.

This book is part memoirs and part roller coaster ride through the books that she found fascinating and decided that had some influence in her life. She runs through the works of authors like a hot knife through butter, leaving me breathless with her insight into their works. Her authors range from Philip Roth to Dorothy Sayers, authors of “trashy novels” and back to the hallowed writers of classics of literature.

In her introduction, Maureen wrote, “It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just that when I’m in the company of others- even my nearest and dearest – there always comes a moment when I’d rather be reading a book”. She also has an interest in mysteries and thrillers, “Yes, after my woozy seduction by Hammett and Chandler, I was still stuck on tough guys- except that now, in contemporary hard-boiled fiction I had worked my way up to, the tough guys were sometimes girls. Or gay. Or dark skinned…” Oh, yes, I forget to mention, she also writes a mystery column for The Washington Post.
Maureen gave us an ‘up close and personal’ view of a book reviewer. She does not appear to fit our image of a book reviewer. In fact she what sounds rather nice but still, I rather read her book.



Blogger bibliobibuli said...

i have to get this books alex! and you've really written a nice piece here. hope you do send reviews to the newpapers!

10:44 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

dear Sharon,

You must read this book. I am sure you will enjoy it. Maureen and you are kindred spirit.

6:24 PM  

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