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Reviewing The Book Review

November 12, 1989

It has been my habit since it was first published to pluck the Book Review Section from every Sunday Times, to savor in bed during the precious pre-sleep hours during the week, clipping reviews of appealing books as I go. While I went through October without clipping any reviews, I recently arrived at (oh, joy!) your Oct. 8 issue. My "want-list" from that issue sets a new record. All of the books have common appeals to me:

1. The reviewers enjoyed the books, and wrote with enthusiasm about them. How rare this quality is!

2. They are about people's lives and/or the history and cultures of people. I also love mysteries and the childrens' book section, although my "children" are now 29 and 32 years old. (I may never grow up).

My Book Review bete noires ?

1. A lengthy diatribe of the reviewer's aversion to the writer's political views, previous writings, life-style, etc., in lieu of a review of the style and content of the book itself.

2. The use of unnecessarily arcane words, which tend to discourage lay readers who might find the subject of the book itself interesting if not put off by the literary gymnastics of the reviewer. (In complete contrast are reviews of two very specialized books in your Oct. 29th issue, "Cantor's Dilemma" and "Wonderful Life," which which were a delight to this lay reader.)

3. A long, totally negative review (often containing "sins" one and/or two above), that slyly contains--usually in the next to the last paragraph--a disclaimer that despite the reviewer's objections listed so voluminously, the book is a valuable work on the subject, and should be of interest to the reader.

I know, even as I clip, that there are not enough unclaimed hours in my days to read all of the books I own or hope to own, but just knowing of the existence of these delights enriches me, as I am sure it does my fellow bookworms. What would we do without your weekly treasure?

PHYLLIS SCHILT, BEVERLY HILLS

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