(Almost) Weekly Reader

Often when I complain (and female writers, we do get weary) about the lopsided ratio of reviews of books by women vs. men, I get scoffed off by, “reviews don’t matter,” and “nobody reads reviews.”

Except me?

One reason I pound this topic so ferociously is that I love reviews, read reviews, and, perhaps most important, buy a large percentage of the books I buy (which is an enormous number) Vis a Vis reviews. Thus, reviews matter to me. It amazes me, when I write my almost-weekly reader how hard I have to search the majors for reviews of books by women.

Reviews that led me to purchase the past few weeks include:

I’m not sure if I have the only daughter with a penchant and passion for typefaces, book cover design, etc, but if someone you love (yourself?) shares the love, read The Holiday Gift Guide: The Art and Design Geek by Monica Racic in The New Yorker.

Alex Kuczynski’s review, The Oft-Examined Life, in the NYT examines Nora Ephron’s new book I Remember Nothing. Ephron, deft and funny, also delivers straight-on truth, as when she delivers her thought on divorce: In “The D Word,” Ephron tells us she can’t think of anything good about divorce from the children’s perspective. “You can’t kid yourself about that,” she argues, “although many people do. They say things like, It’s better for the children not to grow up with their parents in an unhappy marriage. But unless the parents are beating each other up, or abusing the children, kids are better off if their parents are together. Children are much too young to shuttle between houses. They’re too young to handle the idea that the two people they love most in the world don’t love each other any more, if they ever did.” As a divorced mother (like Ephron) I appreciate the honesty: divorce is for the parents, not the child. We shouldn’t kid ourselves.

If I am an armchair traveler, than I am a sofa-bound sports fan. I’ve hardly ever watched a game in person or television, but sports movies and books enrapture me. (The documentary Hoop Dreams and Slapshot being two examples of my oppositional favorites.) Sean Callahan’s Washington Post review of PLAY THEIR HEARTS OUT: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by George Dohrmann appealed to that part of me—and the part which in another life oversaw youth programs for the City of Boston, including the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League (during which I saw adults who invested inordinate amounts of time to youth basketball for the best and worst of motives.) The book reviewed reveals, “ . . . the cutthroat world of grassroots hoops – hypercompetitive club basketball for grade school and high school kids.”

 

Susie Linfield’s review (also in The Washington Post of A THOUSAND DARNKESSES: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction by Ruth Franklin gave me shivers of overlapping thoughts: remembrances of my obsession with reading about the Holocaust through out my teens, my continued constant thoughts and shame as to how I go about everyday life while atrocities are committed throughout the world, and appreciation for those writers and other artists who ensure that we never forget. Franklin’s book seems like a must-read to me, especially after reading these observations by Linfield: There is something creepy about turning mass murder into art. “To write about atrocity is impossible,” Ruth Franklin admits in “A Thousand Darknesses,” an illuminating meditation on the special obligations and thorny contradictions of Holocaust novels. “Yet not to write about it – though to do so is absurd, obscene, repugnant, insect-like – is equally impossible.” The moral nobility of Franklin’s book lies in its willingness to confront this impossibility head-on – and blissfully free of dogma, guilt and sanctimony – without offering comforting, false or easy solutions.

 

I’m certain I have much company in my childhood memories of reading Louisa May Alcott; thus I look forward to reading Susan Cheever’s Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography. Rebecca Steinitz’s review in the Boston Globe captured my desire to learn more about Alcott with these words on Cheever’s book: And quite a life it was: from Alcott’s childhood poverty in Boston and Concord and her father’s idealistic experiments with progressive schools and communes to her scramble to make a living as a teacher and hack writer and the devastating six weeks she spent as a nurse in the Civil War, where she gained immeasurable understanding of the world but lost her health; to the blockbuster success of “Little Women,’’ which she reluctantly wrote at the suggestion of a publisher who wanted a book for girls; to the last two decades of her life, when she finally had the money and fame she had always desired but suffered the loss of family members and terrible health.

 

Half a Life by Darrin Strauss twisted my insides. The Denver Post has an excerpt that will probably convince you of the beauty and tragedy he carries in his writing.

Composing a Further Life by Mary Catherine Bateson sounds amazing to this writer who debuted her novel in her fifties. In her LA Times Review, Susan Salter Reynolds writes, Stop for a moment to absorb this possibility: Rather than dreading a protracted old age, consider that you have been given the gift of an extra phase, what Mary Catherine Bateson calls “Adulthood II.” There are no longer three generations in one average lifetime, but four (more great grandmothers!). This new phase might begin at 40, or it might begin, as Jane Fonda testifies in “Composing a Further Life,” at 60.

 

And in a short collection of unrelated interesting posts:

Whether you’re an armchair traveler (like me) or an actual adventurous soul, if you are a reader you’ll enjoy this wonderful post from Lonely Planet of The Worlds Greatest Bookshops

 

Social Media for Writers by Jason Pinter from Waxman Agency

PW on why smaller presses may be better for midlist authors.

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Posted November 29, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I must listen to any writer who uses Vis a Vis in a blog post! ;-)

    Always love your suggestions, Randy. Thanks!

  2. Posted November 29, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Good stuff, Randy! Loved the Jason Pinter article and I always appreciate your discussion of reviews.

  3. Posted November 29, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Randy, love your review list, I always do!! I just read the Darin Strauss book and I found it very moving too, I bought the book beause I saw it reviewed on your blog a few months ago so I bought it, reviews do work!!

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nichole Bernier, Delia and Chris Abouzeid, Randy Susan Meyers. Randy Susan Meyers said: Reviews (Ephron, Bateson, etc) kvetching, and more at my Weekly Reader http://bit.ly/htzPAq' [...]

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