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Back in the 1980s, I did a lot of book reviewing. And last week when I was thinking about a summer rereading list and checking our bookcases, I came across books I’d reviewed. Usually I gave my copies to the library when I was finished (or if I was reviewing from bound galleys, I shared them with family), but I’d saved a few I might like to reread someday even though I’d already read them twice. These included Faith Sullivan’s Mrs. Demming and the Mythical Beast and Howard Frank Mosher’s Marie Blythe. I remembered reading the latter on the Maine island of Matinicus, the ocean out the windows, with pencil and legal pad making notes for a review in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
At the outset I mostly reviewed books for the Christian Science Monitor. I had been asked to do a monthly column about first novels; the book editor wanted a novelist for this job. Eventually the newspaper needed the space for other things, and I went on to review for other newspapers, particularly Newsday. I had developed my little rules, such as that reading of a book twice. If I was choosing the book, I chose one I was pretty sure I’d enjoy. Why waste everybody’s time on a bad review? If I was sent a book by an editor and was disappointed by it, I tried to warn off readers from spending their money buying it but tried to find something positive to say. (“Workmanlike” was a handy adjective.) If I really hated it, I wrote a draft ranting, and then, having got that out of my system, I wrote a second calmer—and, I hoped, fairer—draft.