Carolyn Sienkiewicz does the extraordinary. Last night I heard the Peabody-trained oboist play with the American Balalaika Symphony. I’ve read her articles in Cruising World, Living Aboard, Chesapeake Bay Magazine and SpinSheet about living with her husband, Mark, aboard a sailboat for eight years—although from talking with her I know that she and Mark both got seasick the first time they sailed. When you next visit the “Charm City” of Baltimore, if you treat yourself to a visit aboard the sailing ambassador, the Pride of Baltimore II, know that Carolyn was among the volunteers who worked over a recent winter to keep the swift clipper shipshape. And she is a reviewer, editor, and member of the editorial board of the Washington Independent Review of Books.
I asked Carolyn what readers should look for in a book review.
A: “I think that’s a great question and is entirely dependent upon a reader knowing what she/he wants to get out of a review. There is so much context involved since each reader is unique. Where is she in her life? Is he looking for nitty-gritty literary criticism? Or perhaps a general cross-section of opinions to help in deciding whether to spend time and money on a book? The more precisely a reader can identify the kind of information she finds most valuable, the more focused she can be in her search for the best fit in review sources and sites.
“Speaking for myself only, I especially appreciate two specific types of information in a review. 1) How enthusiastic is the reviewer’s response to the book? Can I identify with what the reviewer is enthusiastic about? 2) Give me the names of comparable books (or even opposites) so that I have something to compare it to. I don’t have much patience, so those two criteria are key for me as a consumer of reviews. Inevitably a review can’t be all things to all people, but one that happens to be an entertaining pleasure to read is definitely a bonus.”
Carolyn, tell me about a couple of the many noteworthy books reviewed by the Independent during the past year, a couple of books that especially spoke to you.
A: “Varley O’Connor’s The Master’s Muse is a treat if you like books about ballet, theater, or performers (this is a fictionalized version of a particular ballerina’s life). My love of water and stories about people that take place well outside of ordinary society led me to read and appreciate Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World by Sabina Berman, and Alexander Maksik’s A Marker to Measure Drift. A popular return to Afghanistan came in And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner). These are all worth checking out—but are nothing alike”
Carolyn, I wouldn’t want anyone to ask me what my favorite five books are. The question would keep me up several nights, after which I know I still wouldn’t have an answer in sight. But among your many favorites, pick the first five that come to mind and tell us about those.
A: “Number 1 always: Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
Henning Mankell, Depths
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
James Lee Burke, any of his Dave Robicheaux novels
Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
John Burnham Schwartz, Reservation Road
Oops. Sorry. I can’t count.”
On October 1st, Carolyn Sienkiewicz will write for mystery lovers and will focus on mysteries in translation. Join us then!