Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, November 1, 2014


I've had a tough couple of days--psychologically. On Friday morning, I wrote to Joanna Connors, books editor at the Plain Dealer, and told her I could no longer accept any reviewing assignments. This was hard to do--I have a history with the PD. I  published my first review in the PD on November 12, 2000--a day after my 56th birthday. I'd been retired from public school teaching for about four years and had already been reviewing for Kirkus Reviews for about a year and a half.

I just counted: I wrote 147 book reviews for the PD--not a lot really, but then again, I didn't start until I was in my mid-50s. I'd also written op-ed pieces for the paper since 1980--a total of 118 of those. So, the Plain Dealer has been very kind to me, opening its pages now and then to allow me to vent and/or review some 265 times. A privilege--and one I never took for granted, believe me. A freelancer's life is a very tenuous one. In general, it's one strike and you're out.

Joanna has been a wonderful editor to work for these past few years. She's been generous about the amount of reviewing she's let me do; she listens, asks probing questions. But her greatest quality for me has been her support. I felt ... valued. And that--as so many of us know the hard way--is a rare feeling in any kind of workplace.

On Wednesday, I'd gone down to the PD's new editorial offices in Tower City and picked out a half-dozen or so forthcoming books that I would be reviewing in the coming months. But--at least in part--I was already realizing that I couldn't do it anymore, not in the way I wanted to, not in the way that I think is fair to the authors I'm reviewing.

And by the time I got home, I was having a conversation with my body:

ME: I love book reviewing, especially for the Plain Dealer.
BODY: I don't care.
ME: I really want to do this.
BODY: I don't care.
ME: Maybe I could just do fewer?
ME: Maybe I--

My "Body" is saying "No," of course, because of what ****ing Lupron has done to my energy. Yes, the drug has put my prostate cancer (which was moving into my bones) on Pause, but among the odious trade-offs is a vastly diminished energy level. I just can not do what I used to, even though I've been struggling mightily to do so.

And reviewing for the Plain Dealer took a lot of work. When I reviewed a book, I (duh!) read the book carefully, taking a dozen pages or so of notes while doing it. I also read as much of the writer's other work as I possibly could. I always wanted to know, Where does this work fit with the writer's other work? Does it represent an advance? A retreat? A new direction? Sometimes this meant a lot of additional work (think: Joyce Carol Oates!). But I was always happy to do it: Not only did it make me feel more comfortable about what I was saying about the new work, but I also felt I was "doing right" by the author.

Plain Dealer reviews are due the Sunday before publication (the following Sunday), so I would finish the reading a week ahead, then write the first draft of the review; all the following week I would revise, revise, revise, eventually paring it down to 600 words (my usual allotment).

So ... anyway ... when I got back home from the PD offices on Wednesday, I went to Starbucks and started reading my first title--due very soon. (It was a collection of short stories.) I read a couple of them, really liked them, but then realized: I've not read anything else by this guy. And then it hit me: I can't do this anymore.

It really was that quick. One minute I'm reading; the next, realizing I'm done.

Another side-effect of Lupron--my emotions now lie very close to the surface. And so I wept and grieved for a day. Wrote to Joanna at the PD, who wrote back some most wonderful words of support, telling me that anytime I want to do anything for them ...  Do you know what that meant to me? More weeping.

I also wrote to my Kirkus Reviews editor and will be cutting back my work for them. I will now do just one title a week for them (I'd been doing as many as ten/month). Kirkus does not demand nearly the work of a PD review. I still do the careful reading and note-taking. But the reviews are only about 300 words long, and, with very tight deadlines, I don't feel compelled/honor-bound to read the writer's other works. (I often have only days to read the book/file the review.)

About the only good thing that came from this? I decided, as well, to stop the "Daily Doggerel" I've been posting each day on Facebook since May 2012. That whirlwind you hear? Just the collective sighs of relief from my Facebook friends.

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