What we get in newspaper book reviews are critics testifying to what their first encounters with a work were like, before any other people have experienced the work. There can be something awkward in such encounters that gives rise to some of the fun and sometimes frustrations of the readers of book reviews. It is like having a chance to watch someone struggling in the dark not having the faintest idea what sort of creature there might be with him or her in the room. “I feel these fleshy protuberances. Could this be the lithe proboscis of an elephant?” “Ooh, this is icky, sticky, yucky. What have I stepped into?” Awkward, yes; edifying, maybe; but this is one of the most important ways we humans manifest our freedom and model it to one another from one person to another and from one generation to another.

My friend (from kicking around Jerusalem during the 1987 Jerusalem Book Fair) Lindsey Water made some remarks about book reviewing at this year’s BEA. The text has been reproduced at Critical Mass.