On Being Reviewed
I thought about not looking at the reviews for my new biography of John Scott Haldane, Suffer & Survive. maybe next time.
It really is an up and down thing. Up with the Literary Review, down with the Sunday Times, up again with the Times.
Lynne Truss in the Sunday Times was an odd one, attacking me for my use of particles, focusing on a single clause. Oh well. As e. e. cummings wrote:
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you
Then came the Times of the day before. Phew and hooray. Not only was the review by Peter Smith well written, it was kind and generous. Way beyond and above all that, he actually bothered to recognize what I was trying to do. I felt fulfilled. Being 'seen' in that way makes work worthwhile. As P. D. Smith, Peter Smith recently brought out his own book Doomsday Men, and took his doctorate in science and literature. What a sound step by the Times, and its splendid Saturday literary pages run by the admirable Erica Wagner, to give a book to a reviewer who is an expert in its field.
Still, reviewing is an odd business and I've not always been kind myself. V. S. Pritchett had a rule only to review what he could say something nice about. Not a bad rule, really.
(The picture is of J.S.Haldane (in the far right corner) in his lab set up at the top of Pikes Peak in 1911, courtesy of the Oxford Physiology Lab)