DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT?
Interviews with People who have Unusual, Unique, Novel, Unordinary, Uncommon,
Off The Beaten Track Writing Careers
Author and Book Reviewer Thomas J. Craughwell
Interview by RoseEtta Stone
Need the perfect holiday gift for the bibliophiles on your shopping list who
have everything? Buy them all BOOK LOVER'S CALENDARS. And don't
forget to pick one up for yourself too.
Thomas J. Craughwell, the author of the annual BOOK LOVER'S CALENDAR:
365 Days of Good Authors, Good Books & Good Reading, has also written
approximately a dozen books on subjects as diverse as urban legends, cow
parades, murder mysteries, saints, prayers, and Popes.
He also reviews books for the Book Of The Month Club. "The
manuscripts that I critique for the Club," says Craughwell, "help the
editors decide whether or not they should offer a particular book to club
members." And writes book reviews for the catalogs of their
"sister club," the History Book Club.
you find something that you love and get paid for doing it, you want to keep on
have to ask when and how you manage to find the time to read all the books you
review. And, how it's humanly possible, since most of your calendar's
pages recommend more than one book a day, to read more than 365 books each year?
I don't read everything all the way through. I do read a large chunk of
every book to review it. If a book hasn't caught me by page twenty, it
doesn't go on the calendar. But even though many books don't appeal to me
personally, I know they'll appeal to others, so I include them in the calendar
how do you manage, unless you eat, sleep, and live book reviews, twenty-four
hours a day, seven days a week, to write an entire year's worth of reviews each
and every year, year after year?
I started writing reviews more than twelve years ago for Book Of The Month Club.
I get a lot of manuscripts from them to review. And I'm surrounded by book
people and book lovers. People are forever handing me books.
Friends, co-workers, relatives, Book Lover's Calendar readers - everyone
is always recommending books to me. Sources seem to come to me. I
begin work on my own, but sources come to me during a work day. In terms
of writing the reviews, I've always been a fast writer when it comes to cranking
the stuff out. And every year, around January, I finish the calendar for
the coming year. I'm now just about finished with the calendar for the
the manuscripts you review for the BOMC and History Book Club - can
unpublished writers send you their manuscripts to review for the clubs' sale
Publishers send manuscripts of upcoming books to BOMC. If the editors at
the club think a book has possibilities, they forward it to one of their
readers. The club only accepts books that have already found a publisher.
readers are extremely passionate."
you write each and every review yourself, or work with a staff of reviewers?
It's all me.
is really impressive about your calendars, and makes them so unique, is the
brevity of your book reviews. How or where have you cultivated the
discipline or mastered the art of reviewing books so succinctly?
I had a wonderful teacher in college named Muriel Becker for a critical writing
class. She was extremely tough. She'd actually physically cut the
copy we wrote apart with scissors and take out all the extraneous parts, then
tape the rest back together, and say to us, "I think this needs some work.
Go back and rewrite." It was such a dramatic way to teach. But
it worked. She taught me how to say what I want to say, what needed to be
said, in just a few sentences - to cut copy down to its bare essence and leave
out everything else.
she know how well you learned the lessons she taught, and how successfully
you've used them?
Yes, Mrs. Becker and I have stayed in touch. She is a loyal user of the Book
it more difficult to write shorter or lengthier reviews?
The shorter ones are harder to write, especially if you have a book that you
have an emotional connection to, or if the story is complicated. For
example, there was a book I loved called The Reckoning, which argues that
Christopher Marlowe did not die in a barroom brawl, but was murdered. With
a book like that it's very difficult to narrow a review down to just 450
characters or so. If I didn't learn to be such a disciplined writer, I
would tend to ramble on quite a bit more.
there's the diverse range and scope of your reviews, which include books for
readers of all ages, in every conceivable and inconceivable genre, nature,
field, and subject. Please comment on this aspect of your work.
I keep sort of a mental checklist in so far as what sort of books should be on
the calendar and aim for a balance of topics. I have no systematic
approach in covering a variety of fields. I just wander around the library
sometimes and if I see books on sports, for instance, I'll think, "Oh, my
God, no sports books - I didn't review any books on sports!" And then
I'll be sure to include them. The books I personally enjoy most are
history books and biographies, so they'll automatically be on the calendar, but
I'm always forgetting about business books, and at the last minute remember to
also include them.
would you say is or has been the most common response from colleagues or the
general reading public to your selection of books and/or reviews?
I get more responses from the public. I can't believe people write to me,
but they do - some flatteringly and complimentary, and some asking, "Where
did you get this fact?" And I'll look it up, and if I was right I'll
send them a copy of the proof - the source I used. And if I was wrong and
they were right, I let them know that too. Mystery readers are extremely
passionate. I have to be careful if I say, "This mystery is the
best," or people write back to me saying, "No, this (another) book is
the best of that author's work." I answer all letters.
reviewers can't write books" is a good put-down."
to conventional wisdom, book reviewers either don't or can't write books.
Or are frustrated or failed authors who salvage their bruised egos by publicly
critiquing the work of their literary betters to death. Yet prolific
contemporary writers - John Updike, for example, pens a seemingly endless
succession of critically acclaimed, commercially successful novels. And,
not only also reviews books, but wrote a book of essays which teach the art of
book reviewing. You too, by virtue of the number and quality of the books
you've written, negate that unjustifiable accusation.
"Book reviewers can't write books" is a good put-down, but it's not a
very accurate assessment of who writes reviews. Open the Sunday New York
Times Book Review and you'll find that most if not all of the reviewers are
back to the beginning - what led to your writing Book Lover's Calendars?
Well, I had been a freelance writer for seven years when I started reviewing and
writing catalog copy book reviews for the Book Of The Month Club. The Book
Lover's Calendar sort of landed in my lap. They had asked a friend of
mine to write the reviews for the calendar, but he was too busy and didn't have
the time, so he recommended me for the job.
all should have such friends and that kind of luck. But since so few of us
do, what advice, if any, would you give to someone who doesn't necessarily want
to follow in your footsteps, but does want to become a book reviewer?
One of the best ways to become a book reviewer is to just keep writing reviews
for practice. When you're satisfied with how they're coming out, write
three or four dummy reviews of books you like, and send them out to different
publications. Say to them, "Here's a sample of my work. I'd
like to do this for you." If nothing else, they'll admire your
to another issue entirely - as both an author and book reviewer, does the rising
cost of books concern you?
Well yes, but what are you going to do? The price of production
keeps going up. I don't know enough about book production to know if
they're gouging us. But it bothers me to have to spend $30 for a novel.
don't send reviewers copies of their authors' latest books?
Not usually. Usually they just send manuscripts.
my final question: Do you see yourself still writing and reviewing books
ten years from now?
Oh yeah. I'll be buying, reading, and telling people about books, and
writing about them. When you find something that you love and get paid for
doing it, you want to keep on doing it.
HERE TO ORDER THE CALENDAR.
Do you have an unusual writing job? RoseEtta Stone would
like to interview you for her new column for Absolute Write, "WHY DIDN'T I
THINK OF THAT? Interviews with People who have Unusual, Unique, Novel,
Unordinary, Uncommon, Off The Beaten Track Writing Careers." There is
no pay for interviews, but we're happy to run your bio, photo, and links.
If you're interested, e-mail RoseEtta at JRoseEttaStone@aol.com.
RoseEtta Stone is the Editor/Publisher of (the) X - RATED CHILDREN'S BOOKS NEWSLETTER: Book Reviews and Interviews with Banned,
Censored, Challenged Authors of Banned, Censored, Challenged and Burned
Childrens' Books. Visit by clicking here: X-RatedChildrensBooks.