That’s how long I’ve been reviewing books for The Press in Christchurch. Before I threw them away in a fit of de-cluttering (which I now regret) there were seven scrapbooks of cuttings to show for all the work. That’s seven books of 52 big pages, each containing maybe three reviews. Say 1000 books read and reported on. That’s an average of thirty books a year.
It’s also 1000 books that helped to fill my shelves at home, at least until I decided whether to keep them. Throwing out books was not something I did lightly. It’s different now. Some books are rubbish and don’t deserve shelf space at all – into the bin with them. Others are okay but not for me. I will never read them again and that means out they go – but if possible to good homes somewhere else. Some are special; they are keepers and they join the books AJ and I have collected over time. There are enough of these on the shelves to keep me reading or re-reading for several lifetimes.
In nearly four decades of reviewing I have read books that I might not have chosen. Books that wouldn’t have appealed had I seen them on sale, or in the library. Books that I scoffed at before finding that they had merit after all. Reviewing taught me that you certainly can’t judge a book by its cover, and that giving it a fair chance can sometimes be rewarding, however unlikely it may seem at first.
Reviewing made me more critical than I might have been, more tolerant of different styles, more willing to be charmed by the unfamiliar, more kind to writers who showed promise but perhaps hadn’t quite got there. I have read more in depth and breadth than I might have, left to my own lazy devices, and have discovered that yes, reading broadens the mind. And the more one knows, the more one searches for things to find out. Not just knowledge but thoughts and experiences, ideas and perspectives, and especially the voices of those who have written.
Reviewing also made me less inclined to excuse the slapdash, the blow-hards and the downright stupid. I tried not to let my occasional crankiness show in what I wrote, unless the book was outrageously awful – and then I usually let the book speak for, and betray, itself. There weren’t many of those, thank goodness. On the whole publishers really do weed out the very bad and publish only the reasonably good.
I have now given up book reviewing for The Press. It has been long enough and there are other things to do and more time to do them.