People keep asking me whether I’m ambitious, and I don’t know how to answer that. I mean, I guess so? But recently I’ve realized that I have kind of an…odd ambition.
I want to be the Roger Ebert of book reviewers.
Ebert, who died last year, didn’t just enjoy movies; he was passionate about them, and he dedicated his life to sharing his passion with the whole world. He was deeply knowledgeable about the craft of film-making (having co-written at least one movie, the cult classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls), but what I always appreciated about Ebert was how plainspoken he was, and how approachable. He did or did not like a movie, and he would tell you why. Sometimes he wouldn’t know quite what to make of a movie, and he would tell you why that was, too. And while he never talked down to the reader, he spoke our language; his observation that “I hated, hated, hated this movie” (of something called North, which would probably have faded into a well-deserved obscurity without Ebert’s, um, famously emphatically-articulated opinion) reminded writers everywhere that sometimes, it’s the simplest statements that pack the most punch.
I read his reviews compulsively; even when I didn’t care about a particular movie, I appreciated his writing so much that I often read his review of it, just because. Do I ever read Cahiers du Cinema because it speaks to me so powerfully? I do not. I’m not interested in criticism. I’m interested in telling people what I think — and maybe hearing what you think, too. (That’s what the “comment” form is for. Hint, hint.)
This is my typically long-winded way of saying that I’m planning an adventure for this year. One of my favorite pop-culture websites, Pajiba, holds an annual contest called the Cannonball Read. The challenge is straightforward: Read and publicly review 52 books in one year. That should be within my capabilities, I think, and it will force me to keep to a schedule and be accountable, since, unlike Ebert, I can be a bit lazy sometimes.
The Cannonball Read began when two Pajibans, known on-site as Alabama Pink and Prisco, engaged in a wild contest to see which one could read 100 books first within in a year. Sadly, Alabama Pink died of cancer before the contest ended, but the CBR is still held annually in her memory.
My reviews will be posted here and on the CBR website (my Pajiba/CBR handle is Another Kate). I’ll be including a link to Amazon.com for each book. If you’re so inclined, a portion of each purchase you make through Amazon will be donated to the American Cancer Society (NOTE: As far as I know, this will only work if you click through directly from the CBR site, although I will be exploring a way to set it up through this site as well).
I haven’t decided what my first review will be, but it will go up by the end of the week. I’ll stick to a schedule; I’ll be accountable; and whether I love a book or hate, hate, hate it, I’ll do my best to be readable, approachable, and entertaining…and maybe raise a few bucks for cancer research, too.
Maybe this is an overly ambitious endeavor. On the other hand, maybe it’s not ambitious enough, and I should be writing about books in terms of bricolage and jouissance and the free play of signifier and signified, etc. just like I got to do back in graduate school. I am certain that Ebert knew all about jouissance. I am also certain he never felt it was necessary to inflict that knowledge upon his audience. I will emulate him.
Wish me happy reading!