My one, fateful book review
My one and only book review for this newspaper may have gotten me blacklisted.
Let me explain.
A couple of years ago, I thought it would be a cool idea to add book reviews as a semi-regular part of what we offer in the News Journal.
I didn’t just want them to be reviews of the latest mass market stuff. Instead, I figured it would be a good idea to focus on more regional writing — books by Kentucky authors, or ones that focused on the state, it’s people and culture.
The University Press of Kentucky — the publishing arm of the University of Kentucky — seemed the perfect partner in this. Twice a year, they send out lists of books they will soon have in print. Prospective reviewers can check off ones they are interested in reading and reviewing in publications like ours. They send you the books (often in uncorrected proofs, or final versions not yet in wide circulation), you read them and publish the review, and send them proof that you did so.
My first, and as fate would have it ONLY, foray into this was a book called The Man Who Loved Birds, by Nelson County native Fenton Johnson. Johnson is a somewhat well regarded author with numerous books in print. I was intrigued by the premise of this book.
The Man Who Loved Birds drew its inspiration from the very real kidnapping and murder, by Kentucky State Police, of colorful marijuana farmer, and storyteller, Charlie Stiles, from neighboring Marion County in 1971.
The book was OK.
It had sort of a cool setting, and the story was decent, but the dialogue between characters seemed a little contrived in places. And the ending …
One thing I noted in my review was that, rather suddenly and out of nowhere, two of the main characters, both men, were involved in a lewd sexual encounter with each other. No real setup or hint that it was going to happen. Just BAM! Right to the bawdy stuff. The author portrayed this with authentic zeal. I can imagine him collapsing into a sweaty, panting heap when he was finished writing it. It was all very strident and energetic.
I’m not judgmental or puritanical about this sort of thing. And I made no moral judgments in my review. However, I did feel like anyone reading the review should be alerted to this content since it came completely out of left field within the context of the story. I was diplomatic and mild.
I am proud of the review. I look back at it today, and feel like it was a solid piece of writing. But I often wonder if my critique of Johnson’s book — which I thought was very fair — got be banned from the reviewer list.
I still regularly receive a “reviewer’s checklist” from the University Press of Kentucky soliciting reviews, and asking me which books pique my interest. I send in the checklist with my choices, but I haven’t received anything since that one fateful review. Nothing!
I’m looking at the list now. This book on “Moonshiners and Prohibitionists” sounds intriguing. Another about “thoroughbred racing’s most famous cold case” looks good too.
I’d like to tell you about them. I’ve filled out my form. The books have been requested. My fingers are crossed. Maybe … just maybe.