Many thanks for that deft compliment, Jonah. And, no kidding, it came just as I had finished yours on Dinesh D’Souza’s book in CRB, a very fine piece of reviewing work that left me thinking: “So that’s what Dinesh’s book is about! Now I don’t have to read it.” From a bookseller’s p.o.v. this is probably not the optimal reader reaction to a book review, but it speaks to the reviewer’s powers of eloquence & persuasiveness none the less.
And I share your enthusiasm for writing long reviews. A book of substance–and it might be a good book or a bad book–fires off all sorts of reflections, and it’s very satisfying to get them organized in your mind and set down in decent prose. It is, in fact, creative work. I’m always a bit surprised that people are willing to pay me to review books. Can’t they get high-school kids to do it for free? I’m glad it happens, though–and especially glad when the editor lets the reviewer spread himself.
But wait!—Didn’t I once write a column on book reviewing for NR? I sure did.