The Rules for Book Reviewing

One of my favorite high standard web sites  to  read is a  Melbourne, Australia based site The Conversation,  an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public. I never fail to find something there to interest me.

Recently there was an article on   The Rules for Book Reviewing   .  which I found very interesting considering the number of WordPress posts on books which  I read each day.   They range from genuine book reviews to the more personal reactions to the book.

The writer of the article included John Updike’s rules for reviewing,

Novelist and reviewer John Updike established five useful rules which are valid today:

  1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame them for not achieving what they did not attempt.
  2. Give them enough direct quotation – at least one extended passage – of the book’s prose so the reader can form their own impression, can get their own taste.
  3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.
  4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending.
  5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author’s ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s theirs and not yours?

I don’t attempt to write reviews so I found myself looking at these rules in relation to the blogs I read.  My main thought is that going by these rules some reviews do give away too much of the plot.  I need just enough to know if the storyline is one which will appeal to me.

And the final statement could just as easily apply to readers as well as reviewers -is my lack of enjoyment of the book a result of my failure and not the authors.  Hmmm.   Well.

I invite you to read this article.  It particularly applies to Australian reviewers but it could be interesting to all bloggers who write about their reading experiences, to see if different countries have different cultures in their book reviewing  and to see how these rules compare with their own book blogging  experiences

The Conversation

You might even find other articles which interest you.

book reviewingWe all know a good review when we read one – but what actually differentiates a good review from a bad one? Hartwig HKD, CC BY-ND

Image from Prof John Dale’s article on the Rules of Book Reviewing.

Leunig on the Literature of You and Me

The Literature of You and Me by Michael Leunig from his Michael Leunig Appreciation Page

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-Leunig-Appreciation-Page/175074566012104

leunigI  will now look at my shopping lists with fresh eyes.  How lucky we are to be able to communicate with others via the written word and even to communicate with ourselves in the same way.

You find the most important writings in the most unusual places.So thank you Michael Leunig.

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson – A Few Thoughts

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Have you ever said to yourself “There but for the Grace of God go I” . Time and again you read or hear of incidents in which you could possibly have been involved had you passed through some point five minutes earlier, or five minutes later.  This idea crops up time and again in Kate Atkinson’s book “Life After Life”

The blurb on the back of the book says “What if you had the chance to live your life again and again until you finally got it right ?”

That’s not quite  how I saw the book.  For one thing I don’t think there is any “right” life   Life is just what happens depending on the choices you make, whether they are conscious choices or just plain chance. The blurb is saying that the “right” life is living as long as possible, bypassing all the side branches which end in death.

The birth of the main character Ursula has some variations interspersed through the book, but the story doesn’t go right back to the time of birth in 1910  for each life but merely backtracks to where the side track branched off .  It then continues until a new ending-in-death side track appears. But there is plenty of overlap at each re-start so that you know exactly where you are in the “right  life”.  I thoroughly enjoyed this form of tale telling.  There are plenty of other better written blogs than mine which will practically tell you the whole story from go to whoa but I prefer not to know too much detail before I start a book.

I thoroughly enjoyed Life After Life though at times it made me terribly depressed and I began to dread yet  another death.   So much death in a book reminded me of “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak,  a book where Death is a main character, yet I am only left with fond memories of that book.

The only part of the book where I did get bored was the European section !

With this book I’ve added a new word to my vocabulary – palimpsest – washing the manuscript page clean so that it can be used again.  And that makes me think of a writing slate I had as a child – so easy to wipe it clean to write on it again.

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Does your reading style change as you progress through a book ? Mine usually does. To begin with a few pages are read to dip the toes in the water, then a more regular group of pages are read in each reading.  As time goes on and the characters and the storyline are more familiar – they’ve  become old friends –  more pages are read at a faster speed in each sitting until you are practically gulping down the book

Dictionaries, and The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester

Who would have thought that delving into the history of the Oxford English Dictionary would produce such a riveting tale of murder and madness, brilliant minds and dogged determination.

It was on Eliis Nelson’s blog that I first heard of The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester. And what a great read it turned out to be. Over the years there had been other attempts to make collections of words but the Oxford English Dictionary  was the first great attempt to set out the history and meaning of every word in the English language.  Supervised by Dr James Murray, hordes of volunteers collected words.  One contributor showed himself to be highly intelligent and absolutely the right kind of researcher for this task.

That researcher was Dr W.C  Minor.  He had been a surgeon during the American Civil War but signs of mental illness caused him to give up medicine.  While travelling overseas he suffered from delusions and in that state committed murder in London and was placed in Broadmoor  Asylum. The book is largely about his life story and his connection with the O.E.D.

Words are our means of communication.  I can only hope that the words that I have used so far in this post mean exactly the same to you as they did to me when I wrote them.  In my adult life have relied on three books to help me with the meaning of words  – Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, Fowler’s Modern English Usage and Roget’s Thesaurus.  I wonder how many school  leavers will actually add a physical, hold-in-your-hand dictionary as a must-have possession or whether they will just rely on online resources.

The changes that take place in meanings over the years can be a problem.  Some  words have changed so dramatically that I can no longer use them in their earlier meaning.   Recently I was feeling gay, using  it  with its old meaning.  But if I didn’t explain my meaning , you would just take the word gay at its present face value.  I didn’t want to say I was happy – that word to me  is too serene, too calm, very pleased with life.  But gay still means I am pleased with life at the moment but it has a bounciness, I want to give a little skip as I come down the hall, a feeling of sheer delight.   The meaning of happy and gay that you have built up in your mind dictionary might be slightly different to mine but there would be sufficient meaning in common for us to communicate, as long as you are old enough to know the previous meaning of gay.   So…. Yesterday I was happy.  Today I am gay,

Another word which is changing its meaning is marriage.  I’d be quite happy  to see that word honourably retired and have the lexicographers devise a new umbrella word to cover all forms of vowed intimacy, allowing for the fact that some time in the future someone will probably start agitating to include threesomes and foursomes !

These are all thoughts arising from my reading of the book.  But I was saddened by the amount of personal information the author gives us about Dr. Minor’s  illness.  I have done quite a bit of family history research and it’s always exciting when you find a new snippet of information apart from the official births, deaths and marriages – an old photo, a newspaper reference,  an old letter,  So it was enough to know from the newspapers the details of Minor’s conviction. It would have been enough to tell us how he went about contributing to the dictionary.  But Winchester had to  make a juicy story by invading the very privacy of Minor’s mind by using  the Broadmoor records.  Even though Dr Minor is dead I believe he is still entitled to his mind’s privacy.  The privacy of our mind is the only thing we really have.

On a personal note though my great grandfather used to buy the Birmingham paper once a week and reading it lasted him all week.  No doubt he read about the Minor trial in 1872 at the time when his first child, my grandfather was just a few weeks old. And another trivial note to tell you that a little black ant has just wandered across my laptop screen !  Now, where did he come from ?

If you are still with me then thank you for reading.  Isn’t it amazing what one book can bring out in you !

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Trusty friends

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Looking forward, looking back
I’ve come a long way down the track
Got a long way left to go   ———-with regard to reading——-

These are the first lines of a song by the father of Australian country music, Slim Dusty.   I haven’t been enjoying my reading the last couple of weeks – I can look back on some good reads and looking forward I have a most promising list, but that couple of weeks in between has been a bit dismal.

First it was Ghostwritten by David Mitchell.  After worshipping at the feet of this author all through Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green I suddenly found he had feet of clay. I just couldn’t find any interest in Ghostwritten.  It is a forerunner of Cloud Atlas in that it is broken into several sections, each in a different place with a different character but with links between the various episodes.  Perhaps it was me but a lot of the time I just couldn’t understand what was going on.  Much too subtle for me or perhaps a lack of understanding of Asian culture. That woman up the mountain talking to her tree – is it part of her culture or is she  a bit confused in the  mind to put it politely.  But I did find  some interest in her  storyline which showed the effect of the different waves of rulers in China

And what was going on in Mongolia?  There seemed to be a spirit moving in and out of different people which left me totally confused as to who was who.  I felt I was kept in the dark too much with background information which was too vague for me to wrap the characters up in nice little bundles.  I didn’t have this trouble with Cloud Atlas .

I read a couple of library books  and I can’t even remember what they were about.  And there was Stella Rimington, the MI5 director,  and her spy novel The Geneva Trap.  She is a good story teller and it fitted in well after reading Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth. Both are spy related stories dealing with the British intelligence Service.

But now I am book-happy again.  I have given in at last and am using my iPad in bed at night. It’s much less of a strain on my eyes. I’m re-reading Elizabeth Gaskells’s Wives and Daughters.  Such an easy read.  And then my main daytime  read at the moment – I don;t know  why hadn’t I come across this before – is a slim volume by  Simon Winchester – The Surgeon of Crowthorne. This tells the story of the men behind the herculean task of putting together the  first Oxford English Dictionary. Brilliant minds, murder, insanity and friendship in a well researched true story.

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This is to be followed by Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, a 900+ page tome.  This was recommended by my librarian and tells of cracking WWII codes and moves into the storage of computer data in our digital age. The two eras alternate in the story with the descendants of the characters in the war era dealing with the technology of the present. I must admit I  can never resist anything cryptic.

Have you noticed though how I have given up my independence and now am a meek and mild little hanger-on, always reading what other people have talked/written about..  I think I might qualify as stalker-in-chief of the book blogs, the freeloader, the groupie, as that is where I find the inspiration of  so much of my reading these days

And just because ……Imagewith regrets that I don’t know the source of this.

Book or screen version -Austen, Tolstoy and Shakespeare

Twas  early in March and all through the town

Windows were closed and blinds were pulled down

For didn’t you know that this day our fate

Was  for the temp to actually  rise to three eight

The refrig iwas loaded with salads and water

The air con was humming the way that it oughta

It made me feel all at sixes and sevens  *

So as this heat wave rolled on what was there to do but sit around and loaf and read and play with the blogs, that is after I’d rescued that dear little young rabbit from under car wheels on our street.  Such a pretty little grey thing who is now with the local vet and hoping that someone will come forward and claim him.

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But because of several blogs that I have read it has got me thinking, did I really like a classic book, or am I really just talking about a screen version

In the Comment section of blogs so  many people  refer to their favorite screen version and how wonderfully a certain actor portrayed the hero. I do it all the time.  Did I like Pride and Prejudice.  Of course, bu I I just loved  Jennifer Ehle, she was perfect for the role  in the BBC series.  How dare that Knightly woman think she could play that role. ( And I also loved Jennifer Ehle in Camomile Lawn  – I wonder if that was a book I could read.)  Which set me thinking as to how do we know that we really enjoyed the book or are reacting to the screen version.

I read One Day by David Nicholls without having seen the movie.  I was aware that Anne Hathaway had been cast for the role of  Emma  so her face floated across the page the whole time I read the book.  Her looks were perfect for the role. But I didn’t enjoy the movie.  It just didn’t seem to be cohesive the way the book was.

Sometimes, however, seeing a well-done screen interpretation can be a great help in re-reading.  Take War and Peace for example.  Audrey Hepburn as the elfin Natasha is just perfect. The images  my mind stored from the movie were a great help when  I again read the book.  I usually prefer to let my imagination run  riot but perhaps I needed a little help with mid C19th  Russia – those broad landscapes, a curving staircase, the magnitude of the war scenes. In fact I wouldn’t mind if some books were illustrated with a few  paintings or photos to illustrate possible settings

Remember. I’m talking about do I know I really like the book or am I influenced by what I have seen on the screen.

If you were to ask me if I like this or that play by Shakespeare I would probably wobble my hand from side to side in a take it or leave it motion. But if you should pick on one w here a stage or screen version  had helped me to understand and enjoy the play and sent me back to read the script then you would get a resounding Yes, I liked it.

This was true when I recently watched the latest offering of Richard II, part of the series The Hollow Crown. I have always found this play a bit boring  but now I am a great fan.  The help I needed this time was not with the backgrounds but with the way the words were spoken, the phrasing and the pauses to get the meaning from the words.  Ben Wishaw as Richard II did this perfectly, in fact he IS Richard II.  So still of body but with such subtle facial expressions you can read what Richard is thinking.

Last night our local TV had an episode of Shakespeare Uncovered, this time on Richard II, presented by the admirable Derek Jacobi.  There were many excerpts from productions long past, but even though the words were familiar none of them moved me the way the present version did..  It is living history.

In the end, does it really matter ? Book or screen version or the beautiful meld of both, which give me so much pleasure.  So thank you Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Tolstoy et al.

* With apologies to ….whoever.

EMMA and Jane Austen – a stage interpretation

Jane Austen seems to be cropping up everywhere at the moment.  CricketMuse loves her Persuasion.  But I’m wondering how people like EMMA ,if anyone has seen a stage presentation of the novel, and  if Jane would approve of us taking her beautiful novel and turning it into a visual feast.

Today I got my notice of the next production from The Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, an  amateur theatre group who present their plays at Ceres, in the hills ashort distance  from Geelong in Victoria. This time we are to see Emma and I am looking forward to this.

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One of the attractions of these twice-yearly productions is that they are beautifully presented in an old converted Temperance Hall. The theatre only seats about 100 people.  It is essential to get there very early, particularly if you are not very tall, to get a seat with a clear view of the stage.

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There is a lengthy interval when everyone troops across the road to thechurch hall for a traditional country supper.

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Looking east from the theatre with Geelong in the distance and Corio Bay.

Last year we were treated to Noel Coward’s Hay Fever and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Nile

Going to Ceres is more than just going to see a stage performance, it is a total experience,  The atmosphere of the surroundings, the delightful old hall, the excellent production, the old-fashioned supper, mingling with the like-minded theatre-goers and the short drive home through the dark countryside with the lights of Geelong spread out before you, make for a memorable evening.

The images came from The Theatre of the Winged Unicorn