Firstly, it’s worth noting that the majority if this post is really a reaction to the news story I was lucky enough to participate in for the local CBS affiliate. I’m not really writing this for anyone’s benefit except my own because it’s something I’d like to remember and the only way I’ll remember it is to actually write about it. So without further preamble, the link to the story:
So in general, the topic is one that’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve been avidly (read that: obsessively) reviewing books on Amazon for about … well, apparently almost a year. In everyday non-review-related life I’ve said that honesty is a great gift to give someone. If someone is doing something offensive or just plain wrong then the best thing you can do is tell them about it so they can stop doing it and offending everyone else in the universe. It’s a hard thing to do but ultimately, at least in my opinion, it’s the correct “golden rule” behavior. This is the concept that I try to carry into the book review process. If someone is spending their precious free time pumping out books that are abominations to the English language… well, I’m going to say so. Not everyone is intended to be a writer and perhaps that author who is slaving away on a 15th novel that’s of no use to anyone would make a wonderfully fine sculptor instead. It’s never my intention to be cruel but I’m certainly not going to lie to someone and tell them they have a good book when really…. well, they’d be better served to take up professional cookery.
Starting from that general viewpoint, when WISH-TV approached me to do an interview on the topic of online reviews, I was exceedingly nervous about the prospect. Let’s face it, I’m a computer programmer by trade. The absolute last thing I want to do is anything that could even remotely be viewed as ‘public speaking’. Nevertheless, a few factors acted to sway me enough to get in front of a camera and the foremost I credit to the interviewer herself. Before actually sitting down with someone from the press I didn’t think much about who these people are or what they do for a living. If asked, I would have simply assumed that they get in front of a camera and read off cue cards. What else is there to it? Talking to Teresa Mackin on the phone, however, I realized the finesse that’s required in this job as they get people to open up and talk about themselves. As I talked to her on the phone that first day, I found myself blabbering on endlessly about the review process and going on and on rather effortlessly. She said at one point that she’s “not intimidating” and as it turns out she’s quite expert at drawing out her interview prospects. If she can get me to blather on like that then she can get anyone to.
The other part of the process that people don’t see, but that is ludicrously important, is the contribution of the guy running the camera. Again, if you’d asked me a month ago what a TV cameraman does I would have said, rather ignorantly, “that he runs the camera.” As it turns out, Teresa and her cameraman work as a wonderfully cohesive team. Of course his primary responsibility is to run the equipment and get the visuals and audio but he’s also a key part of the interview process. At one point Teresa turned to her camera operator and asked him if he had any questions. I was surprised to hear her do this but his question set me off on a response that I felt especially passionate about and went on with for quite some time. Simply put, the cameraman isn’t just running the camera. He’s contributing key input to the whole interview process. In closing on the interviewers, I was thoroughly impressed by the whole process. In a way (well, ok, in every way) I’m jealous of just how much interesting news they must get to see first hand; these two are the sort of people for whom you’d buy dinner any day of the week just for the interesting stories that will no doubt result.
The last thing to cover is my reaction to this whole thing. Being especially self-conscious, I refuse to watch the video. When it aired, I got texts and emails from half a dozen people but personally I’ve not seen it and don’t plan to. Perhaps it’s something akin to Teller (of Penn and Teller) who won’t speak on camera but I just don’t want to see myself on video. It’s like I’m breaking through some freakish wall and seeing myself as others see me. Totally uncomfortable with that. That said, I have to smile at the print version of the story. I’ll admit that in general I tend to be rather hyperbolic in my use of language. So when I saw myself quoted as saying “The books I’ve reviewed, I’ve tried to be devastatingly honest” I see my own personality loud and clear. Based on that quote though, it’s clear to me why my inbox hasn’t been flooded with authors who want me to review their books. ’Devastating’ isn’t exactly an adjective that anyone actively seeks out.
To sum up, it’s over. I did this interview about a week and a half ago and waited on pins and needles for it to come out. In some ways I’m glad it’s over. On the whole though I’m glad that my only real public entry into the mainstream news was one in which I stood up for simple honesty and integrity. I’m no Abe Lincoln, but I feel fortunate that the little bit of the world that knows me from this story knows that I just tell it like it is. I’m not sure what better legacy one could have.
Alright. Back to the reviews!