Monday, May 2, 2011

Unsettling Coincidences

On two occasions during the one and a quarter years I have been writing this blog, I have read a review or blurb about a book that I have just written a blogpost about and found that it used the same adjective or phrase that I used. In both cases, this has unsettled me. I have not been sure whether to feel validated and “on target” or, on the other hand, unoriginal. Worse, I have been concerned that readers of my blog may have also seen the overlap, and may wonder if I am unduly reliant on reviews when I write my own “reviews.” This last question is a concern because I conceive of this blog as a way of expressing my own responses to what I read. Of course my posts are informed, directly or more often indirectly, by all the reading I have done over the years. I do read many reviews of many books in the course of my newspaper and magazine reading, and the reviews help me choose which books to read in the first place. I generally don’t read reviews of those books after I read the book and before I post about it, although I do so occasionally, as often a book is reviewed by different publications over a period of months and even sometimes years. Let me be specific. In my post on Ann Packer’s “Swim Back to Me,” posted just yesterday, I used the term “heartbreaking” but said that the stories offered redemption as well. This morning while reading the 4/24/11 issue of The New York Times Book Review (which had been on my “to read” pile) during breakfast, I saw an ad for the book that included a quote from an “O, The Oprah Magazine” review using the sentence “Ann Packer can break your heart – and she can mend it, too.” I do not read “O,” and I don’t believe I had seen this blurb elsewhere. Granted, neither “O” nor I was being particularly original with this word (heartbreaking) and this concept (breaking readers’ hearts and then mending them, or in my words, offering redemption). And I know that (as I posted about on 1/14/11), there is a limited universe of words and phrases to use in book reviews. Nevertheless, it was an unwelcome surprise for me to see the similarity of phrase and concept, and made me feel that I should be careful not to fall into using the most immediate phrases that occur to me when thinking about my response to a book.

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