By Jen Knox
All Things That Matter Press 2009
Reviewed by Randall Radic
Book reviews are strange things. Supposedly, they are a light critique with a recommendation tacked on at the end. Or not. But let’s face it. What they really are, is one writer (or wanna’ be writer, who is toiling away on a novel) judging the literary outpourings of another writer. Which means book reviews are very subjective. Of course, none of the parties involved ever admits to this subjectivity, because reviewers are – ostensibly – objective, dispassionate monitors who make a virtue of inscrutability. Indeed, reviewers are ascetic, austere, and devout to an astonishing degree.
The present reviewer admits to being random, contradictory, biased, and quite frequently unable to integrate a proliferation of information. Which in common parlance means he will not like some books – no matter how wonderful they really are – for any number of reasons, most of which he couldn’t articulate even if his life depended on it. Why? Because it’s an emotional thing. It’s not intellectual.
He is trying to make a point, so bear with him.
For example, he thoroughly enjoyed the present book – Musical Chairs, by Jen Knox. But he can’t really tell you – the all-important reader – why. So he reverts to his usual deductions. It’s well-written, which means Jen Knox knows how to string words together into comprehensible sentences. And her ‘voice’ is honest, unapologetic and – vital! – likeable. In other words, she’s like the Apostle Peter in the Bible. She’s a weak, frail, vulnerable human being, who makes lots of mistakes. Which means – thank God – that she is human. Which means that despite all her flaws and failures, she is not a fraud or a charlatan. She’s not pretending to be someone who has their ‘shit’ together.
Jen and most of her family are gloriously dysfunctional – just like most families. And they have a tendency toward mental illness. And – shockingly – she talks about it. Which is what makes her story and her book so wonderful. It’s downright refreshing to read a book that acknowledges what most people know is true, but are afraid to confess: Most people are one brick short of a load. Which is what makes them and life so interesting.
Which means that on the reviewer’s Read-O-Meter, which ranges from one star (yucky) to five stars (a wonderment) Musical Chairs scores a 4 and a half in the mini-astral department.
Now, you might be asking yourself ‘what happened to the last half-a-star?’ Subjectivity is what happened. The reviewer – who has already admitted to being impulsively biased – does not like books that lack presentation. In other words, the publisher did a lackadaisical job in designing the book. The font is wrong. And there’s not enough white space on the pages. Books without white space remind the reviewer of all those boring textbooks he read in college. Yuck. The paragraph and line spacing is tight, which hurts the reviewer’s eyes and makes his brain go shhhhzzzzzz. And the borders – the side margins – are way too small. Which makes the reviewer feel confined.
These complaints – of course – are subjective. But when the reviewer picks up a book the first thing he does is look at the cover. Then he turns the book over and looks at the back cover and the photo of the author. Sometimes he reads the author’s bio, sometimes he doesn’t. The next step is the make or break step. He flips through the book – randomly. If the presentation of the text on the page looks good – and meets his subjective standards – he will consider buying the book. Otherwise, if it doesn’t, it’s bye bye baby bye bye.
Musical Chairs failed the subjective test. The only reason the reviewer read the book was because he promised to review it. And now – after the fact – he’s glad he did. It’s an excellent book and deserves to be read by oodles of people. So don’t let the physical parameters of the book dissuade you. Buy it! You’ll like it.
Publishers take note. Books are like cars. A pleasing arrangement provides the reader with the luxury of emotional commitment. In other words, the symmetry of a Ferrari is much more appealing than the toadstool configuration of a 1998 Saab.