15 minutes with Linda Jaivin
Last night I had the chance to sit down with my fellow Emerging Writer's Festival bloggers and talk with novelist and translator Linda Jaivin, currently in town for the racy Dirty Words event on June 1.
Among many topics covered – Chinese Kung Fu, the art of bluffing your way through an interview, Renaissance art and French New Wave cinema – I was particularly interested in Linda’s vast catalogue of book reviews. As Linda is both a successful novelist and a critic, I wanted to find out how her position as an author influenced her approach to critquing other authors’ work.
I’ll admit that I have a pretty ignorant view of what a book review actually sets out to achieve. As a pure summary of a text, it seems a paradox that a book of 100,000 words can be explained in 150. If that were possible, all books are in dire need of more ruthless editors. And if reviews are pure opinion, how does that wash when books are such personal objects of affection? I was keen to get a more informed perspective from Linda, who has been reviewing books since before I was born.
Linda explained her approach to a review was less about like/dislike and whether to recommend a purchase, and more about giving the reader an understanding of the work itself, leaving it up to them whether they should read it or not.
She said her reviews were written primarily as standalone pieces, providing the reader with an examination (for want of a better word) of a writer’s intentions and their relative achievements against those intentions. Were someone to read one of Linda’s reviews, they should be able to come out of it with an understanding of the work itself and engage with the review in such a way that going on to read the title in question was not necessarily a foregone conclusion.
That’ll sound obvious to some, but it wasn’t to me. No doubt there are many opinions on what ultimate purpose reviews serve, and whether the bulk of reviews that are published are as thoughful as Linda’s, I’m yet to find out.
But from talking to Linda I came away with a rekindled interest in the art of the review. Reading books and reading ‘reviews of books’ seem now like two types of texts, both of which offer chances to gain insights into the writing process and its outcomes. It gave me, someone quite ignorant of what reviews actually did, a reason to start reading reviews of not just books I intend to buy, but also those I might not actually ever read. Which kind of sounds strange now that I type it, but I’m sure there is some sense there.
Anyway, as said at the start, Linda is going to be talking at the EWF Dirty Words event coming up soon. I certainly found her to be an engaging and vivacious speaker, and I’m sure, given the topic, the session will be a highlight of the festival.
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