This blog continues the kind of thing found in Notes on Books and Music by Nick Mattiske, for better or worse.

Here is part of the introduction to the book, including the accompanying caricature of John Updike:

He whom nature has made weak. And idleness keeps ignorant, may yet support his vanity by the name of a critick. – Samuel Johnson

The communication between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys of reading, and all our discrimination should curve toward that end. – John Updike

Hopefully the title of this collection conveys something of the on-the-run nature of reviewing. Often one has to come up to speed quickly, scribble a few notes and send off a hastily compiled report to meet a deadline. First impressions dominate, emotion can reign over deliberation, and omissions inevitably occur. If the above sounds like an excuse, well, it sort-of is, and I will add that reviews like these are not usually written with their later compilation in mind, so there will inevitably be contradictions, repetitions and the like. By way of further excuse, I will add that I am a non-expert, a fact that any reader of these reviews will likely find glaringly obvious. But then again, reviewing is a learning process, both for reviewers and readers, and for popular publications, as opposed to scholarly journals and the like, sometimes the non-expert is more qualified to teach. In the process, material under review may be diluted or distilled, but this transformation is one of the thrills of writing and, hopefully, reading reviews. Or, to be more cynical about it, one could just concur with John Updike who says that reviews “excuse us from reading the books themselves”.


If Samuel Johnson is critical of critics, it is because it is often far easier to damn than to praise. In one of his collections of reviews Updike laments the fact that it contains too much negativity, and that the point of a review should be to point to. The best reviews open doors to rooms never previously noticed that enrich the reader’s or listener’s experience. There is sometimes a great need for negativity, if that means the critique of sloppy thinking rather than merely the reviewer’s personal distaste, but Updike is right: when one has the pleasure of being immersed in books and music, some measure of enthusiasm should spark off onto the reader.

The book is available here:

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