Why We Chose It

Zach Savich
January 6, 2013
Comments 1

Book reviews do more than alert readers to new books: they contribute to the life of those books, much as the reception after a poetry reading contributes to the life of the reading. The reviews featured in each edition of KROnline (which, along with Kascha Semonovitch and Daniel Torday, I have helped coordinate since 2010) offer fresh takes on established authors and significant consideration of books that readers might otherwise miss. They promote good work, but they aren’t merely promotional. They don’t require familiarity with academic jargon or the latest literary dust-up. And they go beyond narrow aesthetic or commercial niches—in upcoming editions of KROnline, you’ll see reviews of books by Henri Cole, Leigh Stein, C. Dale Young, Heather Christle, Myfanwy Collins, Cyrus Console, Tom Sleigh, Etgar Keret, Ander Monson, Lucia Perillo, and many others.

“Are your reviews positive or negative?” people often ask, eager for controversy. But those terms become irrelevant when a review is thoughtful, precise, informative, illuminating. I suppose Anna Journey’s recent review of Eduardo C. Corral’s Slow Lightning is “positive,” but more than that it’s wildly engaging (and straight up well-written) when, in a single paragraph, Journey links Corral’s fantastical, erotic imagery to Robert Hayden and Gloria Anzaldua. Is Jenny Johnson’s discussion of communal memory in Alice Notley’s Songs and Stories of the Ghouls positive or negative? I couldn’t care to say, but I’m glad I read it.

A good review—more than promotion, more than simple assessment—offers a clear sense of a book’s significance; it shows a lively mind in response. Of course, I hope readers will consider supporting some of the authors and publishers we feature in our reviews, some of which you won’t see elsewhere. But I also hope that after reading a review on KROnline a reader will be excited to talk about a book and its ideas with a friend, extending the life of the book beyond the review, into a kitchen, a classroom, a letter.

In Dan Rosenberg’s recent review of Aleš Šteger’s The Book of Things, for example, Rosenberg details the troubled lives of knives, eggs, and other everyday objects in the collection, which, in Brian Henry’s translation from the Slovene, won the 2011 Best Translated Book Award. Rosenberg’s review stays close to the text, but, because Rosenberg is himself a translator from the Slovene (his translation of Miklavž Komelj’s Hippodrome, completed with Boris Gregoric, is forthcoming from Zephyr Press), he also explores the “deceptive lucidity” of Henry’s translation. After reading this review, one has a clear sense of the book’s structure and approach, but one also knows a good deal about the letter “A” in Slovene and about Slovenian history, poetry, and myth. In particular, an idiom that’s difficult to translate (“to run out of potato”) sparks Rosenberg’s discussion of the ways in which translation can at once transcend and reaffirm foreignness. I hope you’ll consider buying this book, but even if you don’t, I hope Rosenberg’s review makes potatoes look a little different and translation feel more alive.

One thought on “Why We Chose It

  1. I appreciate the notion that reviews extend the life of a book, not simply to promote, but they can do that as well. Enjoyed reading this, a helpful reminder for me that when I write reviews I should enter into a conversation, not a solipsistic reverie that uses the text as an excuse or point of departure for talking about something other than the text. The best reviews, I think, have the qualities of good conversation, generosity between friends, even though I might not know the writer I’m reviewing.

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