NBCC member Jonah Raskin was inspired by Alfred Kazin.
In 1967, the critic Alfred Kazin gave me advice when I began to review books. “Teach so you can write,” he said. “Don’t expect your writing will support you.” Forty plus years later I’m still teaching, writing, and reviewing. Membership in the National Book Critics Circle gives me a sense of belonging to a tribe of critics all around the country, and reminds me that there’s a big world of reviewers far beyond California – where I live, teach and write these days.
I’ve always learned about book reviewing by reading book reviews. I still think that it’s the best way to learn. I never took a writing class, but I learned a ton about writing by reviewing for Pat Holt and Alex Madrigal at The Chronicle. In fact, I had the time of my life in the 1980s when I wrote reviews for Pat and Alex about E.L. Doctorow, Nadine Gordimer, I. B. Singer, Thomas Berger, Kurt Vonnegut and so many other writers. Yes, I was paid for those reviews, and they did help to support me—so there, Alfred Kazin.
But the real pay-off came on Sundays when people who had read the paper called to say what they thought, or stopped me on the street to tell me face-to-face. Reader response kept me going week after week. It still does. I’m always ready to review; I can’t believe a time will come when book reviewers no longer ply their craft.