After meeting a bunch of deadlines on Thursday, I was looking forward to a low-key day in the office on Friday, maybe even a slightly-longer-than-usual lunch. Instead I spent the day at home with my feverish 11-month-old. His criteria for good books are radically different from mine — texture and taste — as are his methods for evaluating them. For the former, he likes good, stiff paper, the kind that produces a crisp, ripping sound. For the latter, I have no idea what makes one book taste better than another. Organic glue?
Anyway, on Thursday I filed my reviews for Shakespeare’s Kitchen, by Lore Segal; Depths, by Henning Mankell; and Writing in an Age of Silence, by Sara Paretsky. No stars this time — but all three are extremely strong works. Sometimes the difference between a starred review and an unstarred review is awfully slight, just a nagging doubt or reservation that keeps me from recommending something unreservedly. And while stars are definitely a mark of quality, they’re nothing like a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I’ve withheld stars from some very strong books. It’s the words in the review that are your best guide to quality and affinity.
I did reject one book for review, an Italian crime novel that was gunning for a hyperkinetic effect but instead left me feeling disoriented. I couldn’t imagine many readers giving it more of a shot than I did. (I give all books at least 50 pages before I give up on them, often more. Once I read an entire book before deciding that, yes, I really did hate it, and no, I really couldn’t recommend it to anyone.) I’d say “there goes my streak,” but given the amazing run of great books I’ve had lately, it’s almost a relief to not like something.