The Unread Book Review

Is it great literature or virtue-signaling?

In addition to his ‘day-job’, for many years my husband hosted a radio talk show on KVI in Seattle and then later on KSFO in San Francisco. He occasionally featured a movie review but with an unusual wrinkle. He light-heartedly claimed that while there were many reviewers who described films that they had seen, he uniquely reviewed movies he’d never seen. The truth was that he wasn’t willing to waste his time and sully his soul watching potentially degrading movies that, nonetheless, were important to understand for their cultural impact. A team of about a dozen regular listeners who were also devoted movie-goers had learned what interested him and provided him with detailed reports on current movies. These reports formed the basis of his popular reviews of in-theater movies while he naturally stipulated that he himself had not viewed them.

I’d like to follow his example today and review a book I haven’t read. If you know me at all, you know that I love reading. You might know that we read aloud and discussed a cornucopia of books during our family’s homeschooling years. I feel palpable pain that the public library system has bought into Leftist ideology so that it can no longer be the center of information, entertainment and elucidation that it was for my children.

All this is to say that my ears perk up when the prestigious Newbery award for children’s literature is issued annually to one (supposedly) outstanding children’s book. When I look at the list of winners since the award was first given in 1922, they include dozens of favorite books that are still on my bookshelf. These were read in turn by me, my children and now my grandchildren. The stories stand the test of time and deserve the appellation ‘classic.’

Having no familiarity with this year’s winner, The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera, I eagerly looked up reviews. I assumed the official ones (schoolteachers, librarians, media) would be laudatory, so I looked instead for reviews by parents. I noticed an anomaly. In the first place I looked, the 4- and 5-star reviewers shared why they liked the book, but the lower ratings came with no explanation. I think I understand why. Just judging by the title, author’s name and short summary of the book, expressing distaste or disappointment might brand one as a racist, xenophobic, and all-around horrible person in our secular Puritanical society.

I moved on to another well-known book review site I frequent. This one was even more interesting. The positive reviews, not surprisingly, shared delight at this dystopian fiction. But the idea that it simply wasn’t very well written repeated itself in the less salutary reviews. This rang a bell with me. I recently read a number of library books (not picked by me) to one of my favorite three-year-olds. I was bored. Let me point out that I have read-aloud But No Elephants, The Monster at the End of the Book, Henry’s Awful Mistake and dozens of other preschool volumes, perhaps thousands of times, and still find them fun. These newer books weren’t fun at all. They were preachy and dull.

I am not a fan of science-fiction in general and I currently have no plans to read The Last Cuentista. But I do wonder if this book will remain as a treasured tome on bookshelves for generations, or like recent Nobel Peace Prizes, is the award meant to virtue-signal more than anything else?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments on this Susan’s Musing article.
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