Lev Raphael came to BiblioBuffet courtesy of Nicki Leone. The two have been longtime friends, mostly via mail and e-mail, and are great respecters of each other and of their mutual passion for books. Nicki often talked about her writing and about her new role as Managing Editor. And at some point he offered a piece to us. Titled Stet! Stet! Stet!, it was an erudite rant about the role of a particular copy editor for his (at the time) upcoming book. It appeared in early August 2008, and it attracted attention. I wanted him to write for BiblioBuffet on a regular basis, but was too intimidated to ask. Lev was on his nineteenth book, had been the host of a National Public Radio show where he’d interviewed some *big* names, and had written for the Washington Post, the Boston Review, and more.
Let’s face it, I cannot yet pay the writers much, certainly nowhere near what they are worth. In Lev’s case, it was a particularly daunting request given his credentials. I hemmed and hawed and bounced around the issue, not wanting to insult him yet wanting him very much. I evidently waited too long because in January 2009, Lev wrote to me asking if I’d like him to become one of our regular contributors.
The resulting wind as I reached out to grab him probably set off alarms in his hometown, and he began writing the Book Brunch column in February. So while I did get him, I didn’t get everything I wanted. He has stayed just outside my tightest grasp by writing monthly rather than bi-weekly. But he’s worth it.
I’ve mentioned before but perhaps not in detail the editorial freedom BiblioBuffet’s contributors have in determining the direction, pace, and choices of their work. Other than a couple of ethical guidelines (no reviews of books by those with whom the contributor has a personal, financial, or business relationship; no selling of review copies) every contributor makes her or his own choice. I don’t always agree with their choices or points of view, but I fully support them. The reason: excellence.
Nicki Leone and I firmly believe that passionate writing comes from writers who write about their passion in the way that best suits them. Regardless of what subject they choose or how they approach it, if given complete freedom they are going to produce writing worth reading. It’s not because they can’t produce it under tighter restrictions; they could and they do. Professional writers do it every day of their working lives. But when they have genuine fun with it, the writing goes to a whole new level, as Lev noted in a private e-mail:
I don’t think I ever mentioned that I stopped subscribing to Salon.com because I got tired of seeing them review the same books that everyone else reviews: big books from large houses. Like today. The NYT reviews Lorrie Moore’s new book, and so does Salon.com. Boring. Inevitable. Copycatting. Seeing the two reviews reminded me of this point.
With few exceptions, Salon.com tends to ignore independent publishers. I had been published in Salon and had a good email relationship with several of the writers there as well as with the publisher, but when I raised this whole question I got absolute silence, which I thought was pretty rude, given that I’d been a contributor (ok, one-time, but a contributor just the same).
When I had my mystery column at the Detroit Free Press it was important to me to review as many indie books I could, or books by lesser-known authors, or foreign authors, or whatever—even trade paperback originals. The pressure from above was to keep focusing on big names in one way or another. I explained to the editor that those books got plastered all over the book store and the Internet and what readers needed to hear about was the books they would likely miss that deserved their attention.
When I had my radio show, I loved interviewing stars like Erica Jong (who wouldn’t?) but I leaned towards authors most people wouldn’t come across.
Another reason why I love reviewing for Bibliobuffet: it’s not the same-old same-old. It’s not bound by “status” or even by “timeliness.”
It’s hard not to have one’s head turned by a compliment of this nature. Or by these, arriving unbidden but by no means unappreciated:
Writing for BB reminds me of the glory days of writing for the Detroit Free Press when I could review anything, and the editing was topnotch.
It was you and Nicki who did it! BB has revived my enthusiasm for “print” reviewing. I love working with you both.
It’s such a joy to come across a book and think, “Oh, I’d love to review that for BB!”
I’m delighted at the growing renown of BiblioBuffet and proud to be part of it. You’re the New Wave!
BB is a thing of beauty.
Once again, I love writing for BB. . . . Working with you and Nicki is very satisfying and stimulating.
I’ve thanked Nicki and Lauren privately, but hey, why not go public: I LOVE WRITING FOR BIBLIOBUFFET.
Lauren, you’re on the cutting edge, or the cliché of your choice.
I’m so glad, btw, to be part of the BiblioBuffet team. I love writing for/with such great colleagues.
His enthusiasm is shared by all of our contributors (including our newest, Gillian Polack, due to join us next month). Nicki and I try to be the best editors possible, and I think we manage to do a good job. Certainly, the e-mails from our contributors bring broad smiles to our faces—thank you, Lev!— in the same way that we hope all our efforts bring joy to the hearts and minds of you, our wonderful readers.