In a recent issue of Booklist, Joyce Saricks wrote about the value of keeping a list of everything we read. For those of us who have been reviewing for Booklist for many years, the magazine (and, more recently, the digital archive behind it) functions as our list. I was thinking about all the books I’ve reviewed over the years—and the even more books many of my colleagues have reviewed—and decided we longtime reviewers who are still reading after all these years needed a shout-out. So this post begins a series in which I will showcase Booklist reviewers whose bylines have appeared in the magazine continuously for the last 25 or more years. I’ll begin with members of the editorial staff and move on, in later posts, to freelance contributors. Drum roll, please:
Ilene came to Booklist in 1981 as a children’s book reviewer and has been senior editor in the current Books for Youth staff for . . . well, quite a while. During her tenure at Booklist, Ilene has found time to write more than 35 children’s and YA books of her own.
First book reviewed: The Giant Vegetable Garden, by Nadine Bernard Westcott. 1981.
Skellig, by David Almond. 1998. Ilene says that Almond’s first book for young people “remains one of the finest books for children I’ve read over the last couple of decades. And just this very morning I finished Almond’s latest, The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean, which is every bit as original and thought provoking as his first. ”
Looking for Alaska, by John Green. 2005. It’s a well-told story now, but Ilene’s favorite “discovery” at Booklist happened “the day [former Booklister] John Green walked into my office with 40 single-spaced pages and asked if I could help him turn them into a YA novel. Those pages became Looking for Alaska.”
Total number of Booklist reviews: 9,511. (Note: review totals are approximate; we used an abacus to compile statistics back in the day.)
Brad strolled into 50 E. Huron in the mid-1970s and assumed his duties as an adult books reviewer. In those days, reviewers were expected to read a little bit of everything, and assignments were made based on the first initials of the author’s last names. At one point, Brad was in charge of F through K. (Really.) In the post-alphabet-assignment era, Brad moved on to associate editor and then editor of the adult books section.
First book reviewed: Scars on the Soul, by Francoise Sagan. 1974.
The Abbess of Crewe: A Morality Tale, by Muriel Spark. 1974. “Not long after I started as a full-time reviewer at Booklist,” Brad remembers, “Muriel Spark’s brilliant satire of the Nixon White House landed in my reviewing lap. I laughed and laughed and became an instant admirer. I also went back and read her previous works, including the sublime The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), which has remained one of my favorite novels of all time.”
The Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig. 1979. After Brad read Puig’s “raucously wonderful novel,” he went back and read his earlier books, as he did with Spark. And since then, he has “waited breathlessly for each new novel by this daring writer who was a prominent participant in the Latin American boom in literature of the 1970s and 1980s.”
Total number of Booklist reviews: 8,723 (second only to Ilene on the all-time most-prolific Booklist reviewer list).
I arrived at Booklist in 1980 as adult books editor. The plan was to stay in Chicago a few years and then return to Seattle. But how could I leave knowing I might miss something really special on the next book truck? A lot has changed over the years—back in 1980 we used #2 pencils to write our reviews on sheets of yellow paper—but one thing hasn’t changed a bit: those book trucks still come rumbling down the hall, and we still find lots of really special stuff on them.
First book reviewed: First Reactions, by Clive James. 1980.
Memorable discoveries: Hunger of Memory, An Autobiography, by Richard Rodriguez. 1982. I thought at the time and still think today that Rodriguez’s life story, which now extends to four volumes, is to our time what John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography was to the Victorian era.
Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith. 1981. I may possibly have read better crime novels than Gorky Park in the last 30 years, but it was Cruz Smith’s breakthrough book that turned me from a casual mystery fan to a crazy-mad obsessive.
Total number of Booklist reviews: 2,821 (I know, this is a paltry number compared to my colleagues, but I’ve wasted a lot of valuable reading time over the last few decades trying to impersonate a publisher.)
Donna started reviewing for Booklist in 1985 as a freelancer. She joined the staff as an assistant editor in 1990 and has been reading, reviewing, editing, and writing features ever since. She is now senior editor in the adult books department.
First book reviewed: A Touch of the Other, by Claire Morgan. 1985.
Memorable discoveries: A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman. 1990. Donna was a new editor on the staff when she came upon Ackerman’s first book, which she says “intrigued, challenged, and delighted” her. Donna’s starred review began a chorus of celebration for the book, which is now seen as helping to launch the creative nonfiction movement.
Drown, by Junot Diaz. 1996. Donna noted in her starred review of Diaz’s debut story collection that readers should “keep their eyes on Diaz; his first novel is on the way.” As it turned out, Donna had to wait 11 years to review that novel, which was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Total number of Booklist reviews: 6,751.