I’m a reader of poetry, and, since you can never trust a cover blurb, I’m a reader of reviews too. Without the prompt of someone else’s enthusiasm for a new book’s intelligence, grace, wit, formal skill or whatever, I’d probably just keep filling my shelves with old favourites like August Kleinzahler and Charles Wright.
So reviewing feels a bit like pay-back for reviews I read myself. There are no financial benefits to reviewing (lumbering yourself with deadlines and care for unknown writers’ sensitivities) but there are other benefits, the most significant being that it makes me a better reader. I have to read more deeply, try to understand what a writer’s aiming for – there’s no quick dip and putting aside when I need to write about it. There’s also the surprise of finding delight in something that’s ‘not my sort of thing’, and of keeping up with books and pamphlets and publishers I wouldn’t otherwise have come across.
I’ll usually read a book straight through a couple of times, then leave it a good while for ideas to settle before I re-read several times, framing ideas about it, making notes, finding quotes – I think these important in allowing the author’s own voice to come through. (Mind you, I do sometimes wonder whether anyone other than its author and publisher ever reads a book review).
My displacement activity when I should be writing? I think it’s the other way round for me – writing’s the displacement activity when I should be working outdoors!