book review, Southwest, Taos

Writing about Reading

I’ve done a lot more reading since I became a book reviewer six months ago. My biweekly column, The Write Stuff, appears in Tempo, the arts and entertainment section of The Taos News.

I proposed the column before I left my job as the newspaper’s managing editor, and Tempo editor Rick Romancito agreed. By my count, I’ve read and reviewed 23 books — 25 if you include the two in the column I emailed Rick this week. And I’ve started the next. Right now I am reading Andrew Gulliford’s adventure anthology Outdoors in the Southwest.

So far, my requirement is that the books must have some connection to the Southwest. Either the author lives in this part of the world, or wrote about it, and often both.

I will read books published by presses and by the authors themselves. I know there are newspapers that refuse to review self-published books. I think that’s snobbish given the changes in the publishing industry. (I will save that for another post.) But the book must be available in print.

All I ask is for a hard copy to keep.

I feel a great responsibility when authors, most likely those who have published the books on their own, ask for a review.

So, I read each one cover to cover. As I find a passage I may want to use or quote directly, I mark that page with a sticky note. By time I am done reading and have absorbed what the author was writing about, the notes are handy references when I start composing my review.

I try to have fun with the language I use for my columns, whether the book is serious or humorous. Yeah, I enjoy writing them.

I am not a book critic but a book reviewer. In my mind, that means I give readers my interpretation of the book and let them decide if they want to buy it. I will note what I liked about the book and when I feel it’s appropriate, its shortcomings. Fairness is a word that comes to mind.

Have I loved all the books I’ve read? Of course not, but I admit finding something in each one that was worthy of my time. I’ve read about topics and genres that I would not normally pick. I’ve even read poetry.

A few books made me laugh out loud. (Thank you.) Others made me shake my head.

I have heard from many of the authors, usually to thank me. A few will post the review on line. Others don’t say a word. It’s okay. That’s not why I write them.

I have had a few people send me their books with the caveat: I hope you don’t think my book is awful, or something like that.

After The Write Stuff appears in print, Rick posts it online at I usually try to tell the world when that happens.

By the way, if you are planning to do a reading in Taos, give me at least a month’s heads-up and a note about the date for the event. For sanity’s sake, I work way ahead of deadline.

Finally, if you are an author who fits the above description, mail your book to: Joan Livingston c/o The Taos News, 226 Albright St., Taos, NM, 87571 or drop it off at the newsroom. The staff will let me know it arrived.

One really last thing, you can find and review my novel, Peace, Love, and You Know What online at Peace etc. on Amazon

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Hank and I hiked a trail at the Taos Valley Overlook. That’s the view of the Río Grande in Pilar at our midway point.