Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book reviewing, the dubious career path….

Book reviewing never has been the noblest profession.

The art of the book review is relatively young. Edgar Allan Poe wrote some reviews for Graham’s Magazine in the 1840s. The first explicitly titled book review appeared in 1861—it was a sweetheart review, in the awkwardly reserved language of the era:

“The present work has the additional recommendation of an unmistakably useful subject…”

An interesting point is that no one thought there was a need for book reviews before the middle of the 19th century. The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History says:

“By the 1840s, improved production techniques and faster distribution networks meant that middle-class readers in America could expect convenient access to a wide range of literary materials in a variety of formats. But they also meant that readers trained to prize discernment needed more sophisticated ways to evaluate the materials passing before their eyes. This was one of the requirements that led to early attempts to define an American national literary canon.”

Book reviewers haven’t been getting a lot of respect since the early days. Poe criticized book reviews in 1846:

"We place on paper without hesitation a tissue of flatteries, to which in society we could not give utterance, for our lives, without either blushing or laughing outright."

A century later, George Orwell had these unkind words for reviewers:

“In much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be ‘This book is worthless’, while the truth about the reviewer’s own reaction would probably be “This book does not interest me in any way, and I would not write about it unless I were paid to.”

If you’re feeling the urge to be a full-time book reviewer, take a moment and think about medical school.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

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