Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Confessions of a Book Reviewer

As an occasional freelance reviewer, my lot is very different from that of the career reviewer that George Orwell evokes in his essay, “Confessions of a Book Reviewer.” Nevertheless, as I struggle to complete an overdue review of a book to which my response is uncharacteristically non-committal, aspects of Orwell’s essay are definitely resonating with me:

I ask any regular reviewer—anyone who reviews, say, a minimum of 100 books a year—whether he can deny in honesty that his habits and character are such as I have described. Every writer, in any case, is rather that kind of person, but the prolonged, indiscriminate reviewing of books is a quite exceptionally thankless, irritating and exhausting job. It not only involves praising trash—though it does involve that, as I will show in a moment—but constantly INVENTING reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feelings whatever. The reviewer, jaded though he may be, is professionally interested in books, and out of the thousands that appear annually, there are probably fifty or a hundred that he would enjoy writing about. If he is a top-notcher in his profession he may get hold of ten or twenty of them: more probably he gets hold of two or three. The rest of his work, however conscientious he may be in praising or damning, is in essence humbug. He is pouring his immortal spirit down the drain, half a pint at a time.

I would not go so far as Orwell who concludes:

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. Normally he doesn't want to write it, and the week-in, week-out production of snippets soon reduces him to the crushed figure in a dressing-gown whom I described at the beginning of this article.

But I am thinking fondly about the virtues of the blog where I have the freedom to review particular books only when I feel moved to do so and about which I can write as many or as few words as I like...

To read the rest of Orwell’s entertaining and provocative essay, click here.


Kagemusha said...

Interesting... how much of yourself do your reveal in your blog reviews? I have just finished reading "The Myth of the Sisyphus" by Camus and found myself ranting about atheism and the "absurd" life Camus refers to. I don't like to refer to myself in the entries (at least not the personal side).

Anonymous said...

Hah! I do some freelance book reviews as well, and could definitely relate to Orwell's essay. Very entertaining indeed!

That's what I like about keeping a book blog - I can be as honest as I want to be about a book - rave or rant as I see fit, and only for those books I choose to read.