09 March 2018

Reviewing W.E.D. Ross

Online mag Book Marks has a new feature, "Secrets of the Book Critic," which takes the form of interviews with American "books journalists." I've begun following, in part, because of its promise to cover "overlooked recent gems." Sometime San Francisco Chronicle critic Alexis Burling kicked things off last month, by recommending Claire-Louise Bennett's Pond, Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary, All the News I Need by Joan Frank, and our own David Chariandry's Brother.

Good suggestions all, I'm betting – I know the Chariandry is – but what really caught my attention was this:
BM: What is the greatest misconception about book critics and criticism? 
AB: How about the idea that everyone can be a book critic? That all it takes to write a worthwhile review is just a quick read of a book and then a dribbling out of your off-the-cuff opinion? Anyone who contributes to this column can tell you that reviewing a book is definitely not an easy, zippy process. There’s research involved – reading an author’s past work(s) to put the current book in context, maybe reading an interview or two to see where the author was coming from when he/she wrote the book, plus keeping on top of what else has been or is being published about the subject. Then there’s the taking notes while reading (well, I do that) and the working and reworking of sentences and paragraphs that hopefully come together into a cohesive and un-stuffy package that will do the book justice. Maybe it sounds a bit like I’m tooting the collective book-critic horn, but as with any profession, the job requires training, humility, and lots of practice 
And, might I add, here’s a newsflash about book critics in general: Just because many of us read all day for work, that doesn’t mean we are always in our pajamas. Because: gross.
I doubt many people think anyone can be a book critic, just as I doubt many critics spend all day reading. Much as I like to picture book reviewers –  some anyway – in pyjamas and other sleepwear, I was troubled by Ms Burling's assertion that other works are always read. It got me wondering if my recent CNQ review of W.E.D. Ross's Lust Planet had been unfair, in that it had been written without my reading so much as one of the author's 357 other novels.

This question hung over me as I read Backstage Nurse, which Ross wrote under his Judith Rossiter pseudonym. Published in 1963, the year after Lust Planet, it was a transitional novel, written with some coaching from the author's second wife, nurse Marilyn Ross (née Clark). Backstage Nurse is important as Ross's entry into the nurse romance sub-genre. It was followed by fifty-seven more, ending two decades later with Nurse Marsha's Wish.

My review of Backstage Nurse has just been posted on the Canadian Notes & Queries website. Here's a small taste:
Dying American theatre legend Oliver Craft wants to spend his few remaining days touring a production of a new play, The Cardinal, a Cold War tragedy in which he plays the lead. Tall, imperious Doctor Trask of Boston’s Eastern Memorial Hospital looks to make it possible by casting about for a nurse to accompany the ailing actor. 
The role falls to beautiful Shirley Grant for no other reason than she had once pursued a stage career herself. At eighteen, she’d attended theatre school, and by nineteen was performing on Broadway. But then her father, a medical doctor, died in a plane crash, leaving her an orphan. “And so, although she still loved the theatre, she had decided to become a nurse. In this vocation, she could follow in the footsteps of her father in being of service, and find fulfillment she knew now the theater could never give her.” 
I suggest that another reason Shirley Grant seems a good fit for the role is that she has no social life.
The complete review can be read here.

Backstage Nurse hasn't change my mind about Lust Planet.

I recognize that I still have 356 W.E.D. Ross novels to go.

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