On Books, Fame, and Other Things


I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, mainly because the summer heat makes it hard to be motivated to do much else.  I’ve reread some old favorites, gotten serious about some new books in my long reading queue, thumbed through some magazines, and have even read a bit on the internet.  I love to read.

When I taught ten- and eleven-year-olds, one of the most common questions I got from parents was, “How do I get him/her to read?”  Then they would go on about how they had read to the child as a baby and toddler and how there was a room full of books at the kid’s disposal, but the kid refused to pick them up.  I’d let them talk, but eventually we’d get around to the subject of role models.  And what would come out ninety percent of the time was that the child never saw an adult in the house reading for pleasure.  The truth is, kids like to copy adult behavior.

Both of my parents were readers, especially my mother.  Even though she had four kids, she kept a very efficient house, and usually had all her work finished by noon.  The afternoons were for reading.  She’d shoo us out of the house and then pick up her book.  On hot summer days I’d take a book of my own, climb my favorite tree, get comfortable on a big limb, and get lost in my reading.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a public service announcement for reading, but there is a lesson in the story.  All my siblings are avid readers.

But getting back to original thought, I have been reading a lot, so expect more book reviews in the coming days.  Reader Maya asked if I got compensated by book publishers because I was making her buy lots of books.  I do occasionally get a free book for review, and I get free previews from a review service, but I buy 95% of the books I review.  And, no, I don’t get any money for reviews, nor would I take it.  As photographer Bill Cunningham famously says, “If you don’t take their money they can’t tell you what to say.”

The sad truth is that when someone gets something “free” they tend to feel obligated to the giver, and so the review is tempered somewhat.  A big shift occurred in fashion blogging after businesses started showering bloggers with gifts.  It’s hard to write bad things about a $300 handbag that was given to you.  So, if I’m given a book that I don’t like, I contact the publisher and offer to send it back.  I will do a less than positive review on an free e-book though.  I guess I don’t see the impersonal electronic transfer of a book as being a gift.

Even if I hate a book, I don’t like writing a bad review.  I know how much work goes into writing and how personal criticism can seem.  It is especially hard when I sort of know the writer through online interactions.  Right now I’ve been grappling with a review of a book I really wanted to love, but the truth is that the author just does not fulfill the promise of the topic.  And I have just about decided that editing is a lost art.  The book’s editor really let this author down.

Since I’m rambling on today, I have also had the idea of fame on my mind, and why it is that humans seem to be so obsessed with celebrities.  I usually don’t concern myself with the comings and goings of celebrities, but a post on the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum in London) Instagram irked me to the point that I unfollowed their account.  The offending photo was a picture of an unsmiling Kayne West standing beneath a quote at the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A.

The caption on the photo merely stated that Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian paid a special visit to see Savage Beauty.  But a quick leap to Kardashian’s account reveals that it was a #SupriseDateNight in an #AfterHoursVisit in a photo of an exhibition of which the public is not allowed to take photos.  I really have no opinion on the Wests, but this sort of flaunting their privilege is just tacky.  And to think the V&A not only participated, but publicized it shows just how powerful we think one image of a celebrity is.  All I can say is I hope Mr. West richly compensated the museum for his after hours tour, and that the V&A got more out of it than two Instagram photos.

So, what’s your beef this week?  Post away, but remember to be kind (sort of).




Filed under Viewpoint

25 responses to “On Books, Fame, and Other Things

  1. My big beef is the loss of the response “You’re welcome” when I say “Thank you” for something. “No problem” just doesn’t do it for me.
    Anyway, thanks for a thoughtful read today, Lizzie!


  2. An excellent post, as usual (I know I’m kind of a lurker over here, but I really enjoy what you have to say). I too am an avid reader, and run an efficient house with four small children, but I’m so exhausted by naptime that I find it hard to sit down with a book. I do most of my reading before bedtime, which is also not a great time of day for me any more. I really miss it, though, getting totally lost in a story, instead of having to read everything in fragmented bits and bobs because I’m constantly being interrupted.

    Re: celebrity, yes. I think it is symptom of a deeper cultural issue that really can’t be unpacked in a combox.


  3. Gail Lind

    I agree on the lack of editing today. My book club reads a lot of contemporary fiction and find a lot grammatical errors and small factual errors. One of my big gripes is 600 page books that should have been edited down to 400 pages.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find I can deal with the grammatical errors better than I can with the factual ones. Maybe it is all the reading on the internet that makes one oblivious to bad grammar! But to me, factual errors put the entire work into question.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Currently I’m reading a 1903 copy of The Forest by Stewart Edward White. It has no dust jacket with off-putting embossed gilt lettering, only its lovely cloth boards imprinted with a block-print illustration of a man carrying a pack with tumpline through the trees.


  5. where does one possibly begin!? THE subject matter alone…Kayne and Kim? In Websters next to TACKY their photographs should appear in the 2015 edition…as far as “celebrity? Nothing surprises me on either side of the Pond! More than anyone the Brits thrive on “Tacky Tabloid Trash!THANK YOU Ms. LIZZIE! for heating up a HOT summer afternoon ! OX !


  6. Liked your phrase, “the author just does not fulfill the promise of the topic…” I’m frustrated when what could have been an excellent book isn’t.
    Sometimes I spend far too much time reading, and I did come from reading parents. Reading is so important.
    Thank you for bringing up such appropriate subjects, Lizzie!


  7. Hmm, so many beefs, so little space. Was researching for Etsy listings today and came across annoying factual errors in other Etsy shop listings. Good example: “This Vintage enamel bowl was created by famous Norwegian mid-century designer Catherine Holm.” Um — the name of the company is Cathrineholm, which started in early 1800s as an ironworks and later became famous for its sophisticated home wares. The actual designer was Grete Prtyz Kittelson.


  8. Christina

    “A poll of 2,000 parents and their school-age children found that nine years and eight months is the average age at which celebrity culture takes hold. Parents noticed that, just before a child hits double figures, aims of being a policeman, farmer or vet were reduced in favour of trying to be a pop star, footballer or celebrity.” UK.


    • I remember eschewing Monkee-mania in 1965 — fifth grade, age 10. I didn’t care if I wasn’t cool. So not sure if this pressure at an early age is really something new. And with older siblings in the home, such pressure is quite hard to resist.


  9. My mother was an avid reader, and always encouraged me to read the books that inspired her as a child (and that continue to inspire and provide me comfort today – Nancy Drew!). I agree with you about the lost art of editing – so many grammatical errors, and yes, the factual ones too. I’ve been lost in a few photography books of late – my photography “teachers.”


    • I love that you read your mother’s favorites.


    • Jessamyn

      One of the most wonderful phrases of my childhood and teenage years was my mother’s “I think you’re old enough to enjoy this now.” It was always followed by the production of some delightful book that she had enjoyed at my age, and meant many very happy hours.


  10. LB

    I’m constantly dismayed by writers/ editors who don’t know the difference between phase and faze. I think you should start giving these “writers/ editors” your Cecil Fox treatment.


  11. My daughter wasn’t much of a reader when she was young, despite the fact that her parents read all the time. Maybe youthful protest. Now in her late twenties, she is a big reader and even seeks out books for me. What a joy.


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