Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I started reviewing for newspapers and magazines back in the 1960s. It began when I was still working as a musician, so I was asked if I'd review some new LPs for a newspaper in Iowa City while I was working on an MFA at the U. of Iowa.

I acted in a few student and independent feature films in the '60s as well, so I was also asked to review movies. My opinions were pretty controversial (I was also a political columnist for several alternative or "underground" newspapers as we called them then and for the University of Iowa newspaper).

But by the 1970s, I was pretty exclusively reviewing books for literary and little magazines as well as alternative and established newspapers, the best known probably The Washington Post and The Village Voice (both of which I wrote a book column for).

Naturally, I got a lot of books for review in those years. In fact, my older son and I, when he first lived with me in Manhattan, and later his sister, after she joined us, ate food paid for by the bags of books I'd sell every week at The Strand Book Store—with it's "miles of books"—and other book shops.

After I moved to Southern California and started working in the film and TV business, I gave up the reviewing, for the most part, and as a result, the number of books I got sent diminished. But never totally disappeared.

My friends would often send me their latest books, but I'm talking about books from total strangers. Over the years I continued to get them now and then. Sometimes the writers knew my own books and dug them and just wanted me to see what they were up to. But some obviously were looking for a review.

Since I started this blog and began posting about books I'm reading and mostly digging, some by friends and some by strangers and some by strangers who have subsequently become friends, the amount of books I'm receiving in the mail and by FedEx and UPS has started to climb again.

All this is to say that on my nightstand I have at the moment forty-four books I'm in the process of reading, some more slowly, savoring them so to speak, some more quickly. I probably have one of those disorders they diagnose kids with all the time now, because I find it impossible to read one book straight through. I have to read several books at the same time—a few poems in a poetry book, than a chapter or two in a prose one, etc.—so my mind stays engaged.

So if you sent me a book and I haven't mentioned it, that's because it's part of this vast pile next to my bed which I delve into most nights for a while before sleeping, mixing and matching bits of each, finishing some sooner some later, but eventually they all get read, from cover to cover, even the front and back pages that aren't part of the text (another compulsion).

I want to thank everyone who sends me their books, or their publishers. I like my reading as well as other elements of my life to be determined by arbitrary factors, like what I receive in the mail. I like that I still get stuff in the mail. Thanks.

1 comment:

Curtis Faville said...

Since grad school, I haven't been comfortable sticking with a single book for very long. It isn't dislexia, or any of that crap. It's impatience.

This has led to my preferring books that can be sampled or dipped-into. Long novels that aren't interesting on every page usually are only good for suspense or curiosity. Cormac McCarthy's good enough that you can start anywhere and just marvel at the effects and control and richness, you don't even have to know the plot.

The great thing about poetry is you can skip read any part of a collection without violating any internal ordering principle.