My first Book Review


Am I alone in a private world of time managementally challenged individuals who can’t say no to an opportunity?

This being the Chinese year of name building, I couldn’t resist saying yes to Anneli Rufus, book editor of the East Bay Express, when she asked me if I’d write a book review for her. We had met at an author event last year, and then she read some of my work when she reviewed Stories of World Travel for Foreword Magazine. She liked what I had done with “Chinese Like Me,” and was in the market for fresh writing. Maybe someone less naïve than me would read that to mean, looking for new suckers to except the low $33 pay.

Either way, I took it on and was pretty excited to read Thornton McCamish’sSuper Cargo: A Journey Among Ports. Ok, I was excited to get a byline. But if I had to read any book that wasn’t by Tim Cahill or Bill Bryson, then I was already charmed by the fact that I got to read an Australian writer. After such a lovely visit there last year, I’m putty in any Aussie’s hands.

Jump forward to the last weekend it’s due and me reading the book with a pencil, underlining all quotes and passages that stuck out or moved me. I soon realized that while I enjoyed McCamish’s descriptions, wit and characters, some of the other parts really bugged me. One who is not yet an expert on book reviews, what would it mean for me to ignore the parts that truly irritated me?

I just couldn’t give a 110% glowing review, even if it was a Lonely Planet book and I knew a few people over there. Besides, it wasn’t like I hated the book. I did like it. And he did make me laugh on more than one occasion.

So, trying hard to stick to my deadline, and not venting to my roommate Oscar (book editor of the SF Chronicle) too many times (I was out of state and without his much needed first hand advice and cursory look at my first draft), I managed to turn the review in–seven minutes late.

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Up until now, I’d only been on the publishers side of a review (pouring over the carefully chosen words and looking for a good pull quote). This time, hitting the send button with about 50 words over my limit, all I could wonder was if I’d done it right.

Seven and a half hours later, Anneli had already edited the piece to fit her word count, reshaped my lead, given me a few compliments, and asked me to do another.

I took that as a good sign.

Even if I spelled the author’s name wrong.

Good grief Jen, but typical. And something I’d need to watch out for the next time.

Anneli said that most new reviewers don’t have the courage to give a balanced review. I guess I wasn’t that afraid to dis the writer if I was also reporting on what I enjoyed.

At the end of the day, I was glad that I had stuck to my instincts.

You’ll be able to check out the review at the end of the April. No doubt I’ll blog it when I get my copy.