Monday, October 15, 2012

My Short Life as a Book Reviewer


 I'm an avid reader, so it made perfect sense to combine my passion for books with my love of writing.

     Now, one can't just be a paid book reviewer: Someone has to hire you.  So, I saw a job post for just such a job and applied.

     That was in January.  Lo and behold, unlike most online applications that have a way of being lost in the ethernet, I got a response that asked me to read the magazine's guidelines for reviews and then write one.

     I took the challenge and wrote what I thought was a damn good review.

     It wasn't the first time that I apparently overestimated the value of my work.  I never heard from the contact again, despite several attempts to reestablish communication.

     But I kept at it and eventually went on LinkedIn and looked up this guy who held my not-yet-begun book reviewing career in his hands.  I discovered that he'd been promoted and was no longer in charge of hiring freelancers.

     Sly as a some of the politicians running for election this year, I searched the company directory for his replacement and emailed her.  She was quick to respond and asked me to write another review.

     Damn!  All that work on the first review down the drain.  But I wasn't particularly busy with other compelling work, so I wrote a second review.

     Bingo!  She liked it.  Well, she liked enough of it to give me a chance to revise.  And then a second opportunity to tweak just a tad more.

     My workhorse ethic paid off . . . well, "paid off" may be stretching it.  I did get the gig and am getting paid, but paid so little that, if I weren't set on becoming the next Michiko Kakutani or the more lively sometimes critic Maureen Dowd, I'd have told my new editor that the fee equaled that of what I made back in the 1980s and that I couldn't possibly regress that far.

    So, how am I enjoying my abbreviated new career?  Hmmm . . . Let's put it this way: I now appreciate my skills as a writer more than ever before.  In fact, all things being equal, I may be up for a Pulitzer one of these days.  There are some really bad writers out there and, so far, I seem to have been assigned only their books.  I won't burn my bridges by citing any names.  You'll have to take my word for it. 

     Then why not take the money I've earned, dine at a medium-priced restaurant, and call it quits?  While the reading is painful, writing a concise 350-word review that graciously pans a book forces me to be exact, illustrative, and even clever. 

     For a wind bag, that's a skill worth learning!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012



The last time I visited the small clapboard house in Yellow Springs, my father lay partially paralyzed in the same bed where my mother had died just three plus weeks before.  It took him over a week to finally leave this world.

That house held nothing but bad memories.  It was easy not to return.

But my sister -- my only sister -- lives just ten minutes or so away, and I hadn't seen her since my parents died four years ago.

Sure, we talked on the phone and exchanged emails.  But not to spend quality in-person time together seemed wrong.  I missed her.  

She owns horses and oversees a 96-acre property that demands constant care and attention.  If we were going to see each other, it was up to me.  So, I loaded up the car and drove the six plus hours from my home to Yellow Springs.

I walked slowly up the path to the front porch of my parents' home.  I "saw" my mother sitting there, holding an Obama For President sign. 

Now the porch seemed eerily empty with weeds and vines crawling up its sides.  I paused to catch my breath.

I opened the door, took my shoes off as was the custom, and tiptoed into the kitchen, half hoping that I'd find my mother preparing lunch or cleaning up.  There wasn't a sound save for my quiet sobs.  Nervous, I walked into the bedroom where my parents had died.  Instead of a dark room with curtains drawn, I was greeted with light streaming in the circular glass addition and prisms bouncing off of the stained glass windows my mother had made but hadn't had time to hang.  My sister had rearranged the furniture, and all that remained in the atrium was an oak rocking chair.

I sat down in the chair, closed my eyes, and rocked slowly back and forth, breathing more slowly now.  I could imagine shades of purple floating above my head,  My mother loved the color purple.

"How do you feel?" my sister whispered.

"Better.  Much better."