Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Random Thoughts About Essays and Reviews

This blog has for some time featured more reviews of other people's work; books, films, and music than it has of any original creativity (aside from photography - and these are all responses to beauty rather than initiators of it anyway). I have written a few little essays about various things in these unillustrious pages, but these were of little real consequence. I was recently made to think about the value of reviews however, and to explain my constant reviewing, so this piece is a little justification of the humble review - which will include some laboured cricketing analogies, for which I apologise.

The first reason I review is that I have a bad memory. I read, watch and listen - and gain a few valuable things from each experience, and need somewhere to record them. I am honestly not that worried if anyone reads them or not, I find the discipline of the review makes my mental intake less passive and more critical and analyitical. Writing the key things down also helps me remember the most significant points and helps me recall important links to other material which occuer as I read. I am by nature a prodigious note-taker, and sometimes even the shortest reviews exist on the back of reems of notes on paper or on my PC.

The second reason I review is that I am not a great original thinker. I'm not even, to be honest, even a good second order discoverer of original thinking, or of its distillation and circulation. What I think I can do reasonably well is to sift and recycle things of merit, through the prism of my own view of the world; which as anyone who reads this will know is that of an over-educated, under-employed, husband, Christian, father and sometime writer, based in Scotland.

There is an even more important reason than this though. Writing essays is like golf, but writing reviews is like batting in a test match! (I did warn you about the cricket anaology). In golf, it is a requirement that the ball remains still until struck. Anyone hitting their second shot before their first has come to a complete lie, is in violaton of the rules. Furthermore, if it is so windy that the golf ball will not stay still, but has to be followed across the course, then you should pack your kit away and head straight for the 19th hole (mine's a Bruichladdich, no water, no ice; thanks for asking). Golf is about accurate, and precise hitting of a stationary ball. This is much like the essayist who sits with a piece of original thought, or research, in front of blank screen and delivers their thoughts to the page. It is prepared, meticulous and heavily planned. No-one else need get between the individual and the challenge before them.

The test batsmen, on the other hand, is there not in front of a stationary ball, but up against the moving one. All his skills and preparation are marshalled in the instant, to respond to what he is bowled; be it a short pitched hostile bouncer, a fiendish leg-cutter or an inswinging yorker. So too, the humble reviewer. He has his views and his pen; and his job is to make the best of what he is presented with. I was recently asked to review some secular books for a Christian magazine called Solas. This was a rather joyous prospect, and felt like going in to bat. I have been presented with some easy deliveries to face, some of which were straight down the mythical 'corridor of uncertainty', and one or two which were as hostile as Colin Croft in a bad mood. Marvellous.

Over-extended cricketing anologies aside (and I promise there are no more), it is simply sometimes more interesting to face incoming deliveries, and see what I can make of them; rather than simply write my own thoughts. There is sometimes something more 'three-dimsensional' about my thoughts and world view in interaction with external stimuli, than there is in the contents of my rather average mind alone. The resulting review is the product what has been sent my way; and how I have managed to handle it. It is perhaps why sports such as football and cricket gain greater viewing figures than bowls. It is certainly why I love writing reviews, and will continue to do so.

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