This summer, I took a bit of a break from Drizzle for many reasons. I had a sudden illness and death in my family that shook everyone I loved. I moved my partner across the country to join me in Massachusetts. It was a good break, and a hard one. It was needed. Perhaps it’s the break or it’s just the drizzly fall weather that has me reflecting on this site and its origins, but now that Drizzle has returned from hiatus in full autumnal swing I wanted to take a moment to think and write about why reviewing books is important, and the role it’s played in my life and that it continues to play in the literary world.
I think many writers see book reviews as a necessary evil, just publicity – one of many boxes we now tick ourselves as writers, because the small presses most contemporary authors work with don’t have the funding to provide each of us with designated publicists. In this light, book reviewers become mysterious, often-faceless critics whose time can alter the course of your baby book’s history – and finding reviewers becomes its own confounding mystery, like a particularly nasty Where’s Waldo? book where you don’t even really know what you’re looking for.
I think we’d all benefit if our idea of the book review changed from an act of necessity and desperation to something softer, kinder – what if instead, we saw book reviews as an act of service? What if the book review became a gift of time and attention, from one author to another, in a world in which time and attention have become more meaningful than ever.
One of the most valuable parts of enrolling in an MFA in Creative Writing program is the pleasure and privilege, during workshop, of receiving a close reading of your work, and the honor of giving that same attention to others. But can’t we give our attention to each other outside of those contexts too – can’t we give the gift of our close reading and attention just by sitting down to write a few hundred works about a favorite book? Since I started writing for Drizzle, I’ve realized that the act of reading closely is, at least among the literary community, the simplest and most direct way to transform a favorite author from a beloved stranger to a dear friend. I think this is proof in itself that reviewing is a gift we can give each other – a way of communicating in a profession notorious for its loneliness.
I think it’s significant to remember that if we shift our idea of the book review from one of criticism to one of attention, what we choose to review and not review can become a way of developing our own system of values and principles. By writing about the books which deserve our attention, we choose whose stories we find significant and whose stories we don’t. We begin to craft our own narrative of literary significance. We build our own canon. This too, is a service – a political, and social, and cultural service, both for our contemporaries and for future generations.
Anyway, this is all to say that I think reading is a way of loving, or that, at the very least, it could be. I want to learn to love better by learning to read more carefully, with more openness, with an eye for what lies beyond my wildest imagining. I want to believe that we could take the time to give this kind of love, over great distances, to each other.
Here’s to another year of book reviews, interviews, essays. Here’s to another year of reading.
Rebecca Valley, editor-in-chief
We would love to publish your reviews, essays, interviews, etc. Visit our submit page to learn more about what we’re looking for, or to learn about how to submit your fledgling book for our consideration.
One thought on “Editor’s Note: On Book Reviews as Service”
I am so with you on this. I have started writing reviews for the Rumpus as a way of giving back and supporting poets that I admire. What I gain by a close reading of a book is immeasurable. Reviewing is an act of love. And it’s teaching me how to read.
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