I really enjoy book reviews as a literary form in themselves. I really only discovered the New York Review of Books within the last 15-20 years but it is probably one of my favorite sources of reading material now, even if it takes me a month to get through an issue. It does provide reviews of books, but really each piece is so in depth and places the material in such a rich context that you can forget they are addressing a particular book. The breadth of topics is superb. I’m a complete layman when it comes to understanding things like art or architecture, but I can become completely engrossed in an article which is ostensibly a review of a ‘book’ such as a compendium of art pieces which are featured in a special showing at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, or a book about 1960’s and 1970’s ‘brute’ architectural styles. I think more than half of the novels I’ve picked up over recent years have come from what I’ve gleaned from the NYRB pages.
Sometimes I wonder if the reviews are a way of cheating on the fact that I simply can’t read fast enough or find enough time to read what I want to or ought to. That feeling is stronger, I think, when I read film reviews where I want to know the story without needing to see the film. It’s a bit ironic that film, which is such a shortened sugar-high-like version of entertainment compared to literature, seems to offer a comparatively higher cost in terms of invested time. To see a film, you need to sit for 2-3 hours in addition to setting up (either at home or at a cinema). If I want to read, I can do it for 15-20 minutes or an hour or more if I want to. Yes, it takes a lot longer (for me) to get through it, but it has that built-in flexibility around when, where, and for how long.