Before I became a book reviewer, I think I assumed that book reviewers were a tweedy, pipe-smoking lot who spent their days sipping tea and reading books in book-cluttered offices, occasionally pausing to shake muffin crumbs out of the books in front of them.
If I am any example, however-and who knows if I’m representative of anything-a book reviewer is someone with a constant supply of interesting reading material and no time to read it. Kind of like an English major who already has a job.
I bring this up not because I like to brag about being busy. Though I am occasionally guilty of that, it remains my least favorite conversational trope. (“Hey, how are you?” “Busy, man, busy.” “Been nice knowing you.”) I could write an entry on that miserable trend alone, but fortunately for you, I’m too busy to do so.
No, I bring it up because I think there’s something inherently funny about a book-reviewing blog written by a book reviewer who barely has time to read. Also because I think you might be curious to learn more about the way things work at Booklist, the review journal that produces the reviews we use on Booklist Online.
I wasn’t chosen to write this blog because I am the best or most prolific reviewer at Booklist. Our most prolific reviewers are our Adult Books Associate Editors Donna Seaman and Ray Olson, who average an astonishing dozen books per issue. And our best reviewer is…you didn’t really think I was going to finish that sentence, did you?
I may have been chosen because I have more time than someone who reviews a dozen books an issue, but there may be other factors involved, too.
Most of our reviews come from freelancers, usually librarians, who have some expertise in their field, whether books about gardening, hard-boiled crime novels, or hard-boiled crime novels about gardening. But an important core of our reviews come from staffers, whether editors or editorial assistants, most of whom are too busy to read on the job.
Though I’m an editor, I’m also technically a freelancer. So I read books on the bus, at lunch, or at night before bed-or at least I used to, before I became both a father and the senior editor of Booklist Online (sign up for a free trial today!). Now I ride the bus with my son, work through lunch, and read…when do I read, exactly?
As I said in my fifth entry, the run-up to launch kept me too busy and too tired to read much. Now, I’m facing a launch of a different sort: any day now, my wife and I will be going to the hospital to deliver our second child (the due date was April 1-seriously). And yet, as there always are in this business (and I use the word business loosely), there are deadlines.
The Mystery Issue, for instance, publishes on May 1. It’s Bill Ott’s baby, and my favorite issue of the year. Usually I write a lot for it, although this year Bill’s taken pity on me and just given me a few books to review. And yet those books have lain neglected (save for Blood Trail, which I tackled first because it was the longest) on a shelf just above a yellow-and-blue plastic dump truck in my living room.
Over the weekend I told myself I was going to read the hell out of those other books. And then, because book reviewers live in the same earthly-or earthy-plane as people who read books without feeling compelled to judge them in print, life intervened. My 22-month-old son decided napping was passe, eliminating 4 precious hours of reading time. The Daylight Savings great leap forward eliminated another. We had dinner guests on Sunday night, and they kept glaring at me every time I opened a book, so finally I just gave up and joined the conversation.
Last night, however, I settled right into an easy chair for what would surely be a profitable evening’s reading. I promptly tipped over a glass of wine. A short while later, apropos of nothing, my son threw up, then spent the next four hours in and out of bed. (He’s bright-eyed and raring today, thank you.) In the gray hour just before dawn, the cats started fighting.
In the moments between, I was reading the latest C. J. Box novel, In Plain Sight.
Why do I do it?
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