Corrente Reads Books!
We read books: let's review them here! Leave your reviews in the comments.
Note: you need not write a long review. Just a few words telling us why you are mentioning the book can be useful. And feel free to stretch the definition of "book" if you like.
Thoughts about reviewing...
There is an inherent problem in writing a review of a book (or a film, for that matter) whose pleasure comes partly from the surprise of its unfolding. That's true of all books (and films), I suppose, but I have some cases in mind: the structure of their unfolding is that at certain moments the light shifts, or the rug is pulled out from under the reader/viewer, and everything is up for grabs again. A very skillful writer can cause this to happen over and over before a final resolution, and maybe even leave some things unresolved, and yet leave the reader satisfied.
My dilemma is how to describe such a book, or such a film, while leaving the pleasure of being surprised intact. Part of the pleasure of being surprised is the first inkling the reader gets that things are not going to be quite straightforward.
Maybe I'm being too vague. I'll try to be more concrete, using a film as an example. I suppose everyone who wants to see A Beautiful MInd has seen it - if you haven't you may want to stop reading now, because I'm about to spoil one of the things that affected me the most when I saw it the first time.
I had not read any real reviews of the film, although I had read some writing about it - mostly what I remember is complaints that (a) it wasn't true to Nash's life, and (b) it did not mention his homosexual tendencies, if that's what they were, as a young man. (I'm not sure why that latter was such a big deal to so many of the people whose writing I read, but there it is.) I knew relatively little about Nash's life at the time and had not read the book: I knew about his work, and I knew he had had a psychotic break at sometime after he went to MIT, and that he had apparently recovered late in life. But that was about it.
So I spent the first hour or so of the film thinking, OK, great, now when is he going to start being schizophrenic? The scene where he is driving home at night, thinking he is being pursued, was a bit odd. Is this going to be the trigger?
When I arrived at the scene in the mental hospital in which it comes out that even Nash's "college roommate" was a hallucination, it was a moment of supreme disorientation. Suddenly I had to re-evaluate everything that had come before in the film: what was real and what was not? I truly had not been expecting this.
Afterward I wondered if I had been very naive, not paying attention, and that was why I was so taken by surprise by that moment. (I was also influenced by the fact that I knew that the real John Nash's disease did not manifest itself until later in his life.) On the other hand, I felt it was deliberate on the part of the writer and director: a way of making me, the viewer, feel what it is like to be schizophrenic, not to be able to trust my own sense of reality.
I then wanted to take some of my mathematician friends to see the film, to see if they had that same moment of disorientation I had. But I found it difficult to tell them what I wanted to know without telling them what was going to happen in the film. I felt that I had only had that experience because I had not been expecting it: if I had expected it, I would have been more suspicious of events earlier in the film, and perhaps might not have my understanding of what was real in the film shattered to that extent.
I'm thinking these things again because I've been torn about some reviews I have wanted to write recently. For certain books, I'm finding it hard to imagine how to write about what it was in a book that I loved, without destroying (or, anyway, attenuating) that pleasure for the person who reads my review.
So as I work through this dilemma, what are you reading? Or what are your thoughts about the reviewing process?
[Sorry to have missed a couple of weekends recently. I've been fairly overwhelmed by RL issues since the spring, but I think some relief is on the horizon.]