Just Above Sunset
April 10, 2005 - Once you've written the review, why read the book?

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Book Wrangler

April 10, 2005

By Bob Patterson


Should a book reviewer read every word in a book to be able to write a review?


Some folks, like the editors of Just Above Sunset and Delusions of Adequacy online magazines think the reviewer should.  If everybody agreed with them, that would be the end of this column.


Some folks maintain that the reviewer doesn’t have to read every word in the book.


About fifty years ago there was an anecdote in the Reader’s Digest that told about a student who had pasted together two pages of an extremely long report he had written.  When the paper was graded and returned, the student found those two pages still stuck together.  He complained to the professor that his grade wasn’t fairly determined because there was proof that the teacher had not read every word.  The instructor archly informed the complainer:  “You don’t have to drink the whole bottle to know that it’s vinegar.”


If you don’t have to read every word on every page, how many words does the reviewer have to read to do the review?  What percentage?  In this age of downsizing and speeded-up production, it seems more efficient if the person doesn’t have to read each and every word, but then the question becomes what percentage is good enough? 


Somewhere on the Internet this columnist found a fellow who wrote reviews of movie trailers, not the movie itself, just the short “preview” shown in theaters before the film itself would play in the future.  It was a hilarious concept, but unfortunately the place where it appeared was not bookmarked and consequently attempts to get back to it, have failed. 


Should a book be reviewed on the merits of its opening sentence only? 


“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas


“I fist met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.” - Jack Kerouac, On the Road


“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”  - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


“My name is Carlo Cofield, and I tell you my story because my heart is overflowing with hindsight.”  - Ira Wallach, Muscle Beach. First Dell edition printed May 1960


“Stick’m up, stranger!” - B. Traven, The Bridge in the Jungle


Yeah, maybe you need to read more than the first sentence.


So, if you have to read every word in the book, is it fair to go back in time and review a book that was published some time ago?  Can a book that wasn’t a bestseller gain quality and relevance as time passes?  Joe Haldeman wrote The Hemingway Hoax and copyrighted it in 1990.  It is about a college professor and a con man who conspire to forge very authentic looking documents that can be promoted as the “lost Hemingway stories” and sold for a large sum of money.  Hemingway fans will get a great deal of enjoyment from this book, but does the average man in the street care if scraps of paper are authentic or not?  Ask Dan Rather.


[Is it true that a leading web site that specializes in debunking documents is about to reveal that some key documents at the Nuremberg trials were fabricated by the biased prosecution?]


When the New York Times reviewed the publication of the English translation of Mein Kampf the reviewer noted that some of the material from the German language edition had been omitted.  Apparently, the reviewer did a lot of work and analysis for his fee.


So, working for Just Above Sunset online magazine, it’s a case of spending a week reading a book, going to one of the boxes of read books, pulling out one, such as The Moon in the Gutter by David Goodis (as contained in The Black Box Thriller four-in-one from Zomba Books) that you’ve already read, or asking yourself “Does a reviewer have to read every word in the book?” - and then discover that, at least, you have a topic for this week’s column.


“Writing a mystery story is like playing a game of chess with a thousand unknown opponents.”  - George Dyer, Writer’s Digest, April 1931, page 11.


Now, if the disk jockey will play the soundtrack from Doctor Zhivago we will clandestinely vacate the premises.  We’ll make some plans to revolutionize the world of book reviewing.  Come back again next week.  (Do you read every word in my columns or do you skim?)  Until then, have a week that gets extensive attention when people read your memoirs.





Copyright 2005 – Robert Patterson


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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