I love reading book reviews. There’s something satisfying to me about, after reading a book, seeking out and reading what other people thought of it, how they reacted to it, how they read it. Not as a way to see if my my own opinions, reactions, and feelings measure up to some certified literary person’s, and not as a way to see if I “got” the book either, but really just for the enriching experience of having a different perspective. I love reading literary criticism. There’s no better way to learn how to read than by reading some of the sharpest, most astute literary criticism. Even if reading that criticism only solidifies my confidence in my own opinion or reaction to a book, it’s still the mental literary discussions and debates I had in my brain that led me to that sense of satisfaction. A good piece of literary criticism usually leaves me feeling as enriched as reading whatever piece of literature (if it was good) was being reviewed did.
Yet lately, as I near the beginning of the end of my academic life as an undergraduate in English literature, I find myself becoming dissatisfied with the way I’m being asked to read and write about books and literature. Reading in the academic context is obviously focused on critically engaging with a book, and the scholarly essays of course remains a good way to write about literature, but lately there has been a lack pulling at my heart, there has been something wanting. Even in the non-academic book reviews and piece of literary criticism I read there’s a dryness, a detachment, to the way books are approached and appraised. The emotional response to literature is something that feels like it’s being lost, or even deliberately avoided and forgotten. Thinking about books in a personal, honest, subjective manner is a method every reader uses instinctively to appraise books when he or she begins reading. It think it’s important to remain in touch with this method, even when thinking more critically about literature. It isn’t so much about finding meaning, about teasing out tropes and symbols and themes. It’s about one’s reaction, deeply human and visceral, to literature, and what one can do with that reaction.
That’s why I find The Rumpus’s The Last Book I Loved series of essays on books and literature so refreshing. These book reviews aren’t dry and detached; there is an eagerness and enthusiasm to how books are being read and written about here. There’s a devotion to not only thinking about books, but also to feelings about books. A subjective experience, where someone was living or what they were going through, when they read a book is acknowledged as mattering to their response to it just as much as their critical analysis. The series is a blend between critical rigour and all the enthusiasm of Rookie’s Literally The Best Thing Ever series, and thus offers a fresh perspective on literature.
THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM by Kara Hadge
THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Michelle Dean
THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Molly McArdle
THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: LAST NIGHT by Erik Evenson
THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: NEVER LET ME GO by Alexa Dooseman
THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: WHITE TEETH by Molly O’Brien