Reviewing Books

Just about ten years ago, a friend and fellow author David Stewart invited me to write book reviews for an enterprise he was founding called Washington Independent Review of Books. A year or two later, Bob Sanchez of the Internet Review of Books asked me to join his stable of reviewers. I’ve been reading and reviewing books ever since.

One result of getting into the reviewing business was that I tangled with books that I would otherwise never have read. Because of my background in Vietnam and combat, I was most often assigned books on Vietnam or war, but just about everything else came my way, too. About the only category I was spared was women’s literature.

Early on, I came to understand that my job was not to judge another author’s book but to help readers decide what to read. I resolved never to pan a book. If I found a book assigned me was poorly written or didn’t do justice to the subject, I refused to review it at all. But in reviews I did write, I tipped off readers to a book’s virtues and flaws so that they could decide for themselves whether to read it.

Along the way, I learned more about the art of writing. I saw that economy of means and precision were the primary virtues of a fine writer, along with an understanding of the rhythm created by sinuous use of words. I learned for the first time how powerful a single, short, blunt sentence could be, particularly if preceded by long, flowing ones. I came to appreciate the techniques of poetry applied to prose.

I don’t have an accurate count of how many reviews I’ve written, but I know it’s well over a hundred. Along the way I was taught the humility of gratefulness to other writers from whom I’ve learned while studying why their writing works so well. I am in their debt.

The book I’m currently reading for review is Barack Obama’s A Promised Land (Crown, 2020). It’s long (750 pages) and beautifully written. It’s the first of Obama’s books that I’ve read. I had no idea he is such an expert writer. And the content is so intriguing to me that I stop, ponder, reread, make notes, then go on. This won’t be a quick review.

So all these years later, I’m grateful to David Stewart for having invited me to become part of his reviewing endeavor. I’ve learned and improved as a writer.

But most of all, I’ve had fun.

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