As someone who reads and reviews a staggering amount of books on a regular basis, it may come as a surprise that I do not always find books easy to review. There are some books that are so wonderful that they are a pleasure to review, and there are other books that are easy to review, but do not inspire more than tepid praise and fairly pedestrian commentary. It is difficult, though, to fairly review a book that one does not like at all, for even if a bad book can inspire particularly fierce commentary, it is not always enjoyable to write such book reviews. And so, knowing I would have to write a fairly adverse book review (even without any idea as to whether that book review will actually be published), it took me a long time to write the book review I finished tonight. This is not because the book itself took me a long time to read, for I finished reading the book in July, only a few days after receiving it during the time I spent with a close friend of mine in the countryside of rural Clackamas County.
What struck me about the book in particular and that deeply troubled me was that the author, who happens to be an adjunct professor of history in Maryland, used the example of William Tecumseh Sherman, most famous for burning his way through Georgia and South Carolina, for making Georgia howl, for being the villain of novels like Gone With The Wind, and so on, as an example of the attractiveness of the postwar South as a residence for Northern-born Southerners. Given the nearly total hatred that Southerners possess for the memory of Sherman, enough to forget that according to the definitions of the book that I had a hard time reviewing, Sherman was an adoptive Southerner, even if he was one no one wanted to claim was a Southerner under any circumstances, despite his loyal service to the Louisiana military academy that later became one of the campuses of the Louisiana state university system. Burning your way through much of the Deep South does tend to make the people of that region not want to claim you as one of their own, which is a good lesson for those of us inclined to alienate people in our adoptive home regions. That said, any statistical analysis by which the postwar residency of William Tecumseh Sherman would be used to demonstrate his continued loyalty and identity with the Deep South or the cause of the Confederacy is at best a woefully inadequate methodology, and is at worst worthless from an analytical point of view.
Why would such a book be so difficult to review? For the most part, it is because I dislike having bad things to say about books. There are a few book reviews of mine that have drawn a lot of negative attention from the author, or from those who either loath a book that I love or love a book that I loath, but for as biting and sarcastic as I can be about writing, as someone who spends a lot of time writing, I dislike saying negative comments about writing, since I am more aware than most about how difficult writing is and because I wish to show a certain solidarity with other people involved in the same sort of activity as I am in writing for the edification and education of others. And yet, as someone who agrees to write a book review within 90 days of receipt of said book, I had a responsibility to write honestly about that which was unpleasant to read, and that which was seriously flawed in its approach, and that task was accomplished. After all, book reviews do not write themselves, and so I set aside my time to do what I would have preferred not to do, but which was my place to do, and I am a man who will fulfill such duties as I have, no matter how unpleasant I find them.