[DWJ] Any paid book reviewers out there? (So OT it hurts :)

Elizabeth Parks henx19 at gmail.com
Tue Apr 3 13:05:27 EDT 2007


Melissa,

don't undervalue that.  Being able to talk about books coherently, to
have an idea about what to look for in a book, and having some
experience from which to judge it is invaluable.  I'm (in my last
month of writing graduate school) writing reviews and critical papers
for the first time in several years, and I still struggle with quickly
and clearly identifying the themes in stories sometimes.

My experiences in criticism are of the free-book-as-payment variety,
so I can't really help there.  I did look up Michiko Kakutani and read
a brief history of her career, just as she was the first book reviewer
I could think of who was probably making a living at it.  In sum:
English major at Yale (daughter of Yale professor), Washington Post
reporter, Time Magazine reporter, Pulitzer Prize, guest spot on Sex In
the City.  Not the easiest path to mimic, but cultivating an interest
in journalism might help your friend--journalism class in high school,
perhaps, and building her base knowledge of all that journalism can
contain (though my eighth grade journalism class focused entirely and
exclusively on the traditional "objective reporting" idea, and not at
all on literary criticism).  I'd also suggest that she start writing
reviews: browse the top reviewers on amazon.com, start writing her own
reviews there, find a local newspaper or a teen website that's
interested in book reviews.  I recently attended the AWP conference in
Atlanta, which had a book fair in the Hilton basement, where hundreds
of journals were sold or given away.  You might be surprised at how
mediocre some of the reviews in them were--I was, and that made me a
little less nervous about publishing some of my own.  Just a basic
google search of "teen book reviews" gives several websites where she
could try first reading and then writing reviews--if nothing else, a
list of internet publications will look good on her college
applications and develop her writing skills.  Even if, in two years,
she's decided to be a DJ or a physicist, her interest now in criticism
can't be anything but good for her.

One of my big regrets about my teenage years was that I wasn't very
-aware-.  I wish I'd known more about what to read (though of course
reading DWJ was worth it!), what to write, where to submit and how to
do it, but I was really pretty oblivious.  So don't underrate the
importance of the discussions you've had with her, Melissa, as I bet
they've given her a lot to work with and think about, and raised her
awareness.  It sounds like a great project.

lizzie

> I've already explained that the other way to do it is to be hired as staff
> by some place like Publishers Weekly, or as staff on a magazine where you'd
> do other things in addition to reviews, but that most of the people I know
> don't do it that way.
>
> MY job is even better.  I'm in charge of an awards program, so I get all the
> books, but I don't have to write reviews for any of them but the winners.  I
> get paid squat, but as has been pointed out, the free books are the
> important bit.  I just wish more of them were worth keeping.
>
> I'm trying to help her out on this research as much as possible because I
> feel tremendously guilty.  It's been a ten-week project and she's been
> coming over weekly for discussions, but we pretty much covered all the
> basics of the actual "career" in the first session.  So I've been giving her
> writing assignments--you know, to practice reviewing--and in the process
> discovered that this ninth grader has not had the least bit of instruction
> in critical analysis.  And before you say "who has?" I'll point out that
> this means she didn't even know what theme was.  Her English lit instruction
> appears not to include any reading of actual books.  So what I've actually
> *done* is teach her some basic principles of how to organize her ideas and
> how to express them to other people--i.e. talk about books for two hours or
> more a week, which I would probably have done anyway.  To me it feels like
> nothing--but her mom gave me a thank-you gift consisting of a large
> container of homemade soaps, a lovely mug full of chocolates, and a gift
> card to Barnes & Noble for way more than I even like to think about.  It's
> like being rewarded for breathing.
>
> Melissa Proffitt
>
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