Here I am sitting on an outdoor throne reading a book and contemplating my review. It looks as if the book is passing muster and I will recommend it to other three year olds. I occasionally receive advance reader’s copies of books and write reviews about them. Reviewing books challenges any writer to try to be fair, concise, and to not spoil the book for the reader by divulging too many plot details. Similarly it helps if enough details are provided to let the reader decide for herself whether the book looks worth reading. A totally scathing review, too colored by the viewpoint of the critic, can make that decision difficult.
I had finished reading the 2019 Frank Lloyd Wright biography, Plagued By Fire by Paul Hendrickson last week. That had led me to explore the Oak Park neighborhood where he lived and realize he was my grandmother’ neighbor. The book was reviewed in yesterday’s New York Times book section and I was eager to see the critic’s view on the book. The same aspects of the writing that I had enjoyed were roundly panned by the reviewer. The complexity I found showing that Wright was, like the rest of us, sometimes a cad and sometimes empathic, was disregarded. Instead the reviewer believed the entire book was an attempt to redeem Lloyd’s reputation by showing him to be compassionate.
The book is very long and takes many–to me–delightful side tracks as it unfolds. Those same discursive sections were seen as unnecessary, while I found them enlightening. In the end, I was glad that I had already finished the book. It’s possible that the review would have kept me away from it. I was reminded that I should take all reviews with more than a grain of salt. I need to let reviews alert me to books I might otherwise miss, but I shouldn’t let them keep me from books altogether.