Sunday, June 16, 2024

A Reviewer's Life

A few extracts from an interesting article by Christine Smallwood, on "A Reviewer's Life: The Material Constraints of Writing Criticism Today":

Newspaper book reviews have been contracting for decades, and while magazines like The Nation and The Atlantic cover books, the hourly rate on a piece, once you do the calculation, is dismal. “Little” magazines and online reviews are wonderful for the culture, but no one could pay the rent writ­ing for those outlets alone. If you have a secure academic job and write reviews on the side, it’s nice work. For the freelancer—I am one—it’s a foolish undertaking. As Russell Jacoby noted nearly forty years ago, one reason there are not more full-time freelance writers is that most take staff writer positions or university jobs or quit writing altogether.

Writing a review is the best, maybe the only, way I can discover what I think. I don’t come to reviewing with my ideas already formed; I have to build them, sentence by sentence. For me, writing a review is a way of getting closer to an object, taking it apart to understand how it works.

Criticism is a conversation—with oneself but also with one’s editors, with readers, and with other reviewers. There is something hopeful about writing a review. It’s like putting a message in a bottle or sending up a flare. . . . Who knows where the person who will read the piece is sitting?

Read the full article in the Summer 2024 issue of The Yale Review, accessible here.

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