Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I’m a radio guy myself. Each morning, after waking up, I turn on WSHU National Public Radio while doing stretches and some weights. Here on the East End of Long Island, Connecticut Public Radio is as accessible as any local station. Driving around town doing errands, I listen to this same station. When I’m in my office I listen to the streaming sounds of, the jazz station out of Seattle/Tacoma—for my money the very best jazz station in the universe—while working on my computer. And here’s another perk: I’ll often hear Joan Baum on WSHU doing one of her extraordinary reviews.

Enough about me. Time for some background that Joan offers about herself:

“Ph.D. from Columbia, dissertation area: English Romantic poets. Did my thesis under the direction of Lionel Trilling.  B.A. from Queens College, CUNY. Graduate of the High School of Music & Art, like Marty, the Master-blogger.  I write book and art reviews and articles for Dan's Paper. Besides reviewing books for WSHU, I also write  reviews for Hadassah Magazine and sing tenor in the Choral Society of the Hamptons,  where ‘t’ and ‘d’ sounds also give trouble.”

Now on to the meat and potatoes of her blog:

“A long time ago in a fallacy far away (that one could make a living as a freelancer), I was asked if I’d be interested in doing science book reviews for NPR, courtesy of  a two-year National Science Foundation grant. Science?  What did I know?  Exactly so, came the reply. We want someone who’s not a specialist to look at these subjects for a general audience. I was thrilled, challenged, and intimidated. Little did I know that two minutes of air time could be used up fast just reciting a book title, particularly if the work under review came out of the polysyllabic field of chemistry, or when the author was listed as the head of an et al. team. But the experience was fun, and doing radio reviews sharpened my writing skills. The unexpected dividend was that radio and print supported one another. Radio made me more conversational than academic, and I learned to not always dismiss in print what worked well on the air: repetition of key words, overall short sentences. Other lessons were to come.

“When the NSF grant was up, I was picked up (ah, someone was listening) as a general book reviewer for Christian Science’s Monitor Radio, and it was there that my reliance on Roget’s became a happy addiction, for at the time the editors made it clear that certain words were to be avoided for taboo reference. Sorry, but you can’t have someone smoking, I was told, when I was reviewing the biography of a famous man who did smoke, or mention someone being fired by way of receiving ‘a pink slip’ as it was too suggestive of a negligee. As for a line about a certain medical procedure in regard to a major illness, I was asked to please see if the person couldn’t just fall down a flight of stairs. And then get therapy. There were also words to be avoided for reasons of sound and clarity: words that ended in ‘t’ or ‘d’; familiar expressions in another language that I’d lose time explaining; puns that depended on visual as well as an auditory sense. I always felt that a good book review would give an example of an author’s style, but what to choose as representative?  Print allows, radio restricts. Concision would rule. I soon discovered that the advantages of doing both print and radio at the same time were reciprocal: radio can enhance the sense of voice and rhythm in print, and print narratives help direct the logical structure of an on-air review.

“Commercial radio book reviews are rare—as opposed to mass media interviews, which tend to concentrate on author intention rather than book evaluation based on timeliness and significance. But commercial reviews tend to follow celebrities and even then typically run for no more than 50 seconds. My own radio experience has reminded me that there’s nothing wrong with entertainment as a means to inform and persuade. Once upon a time my dissertation advisor pressed me with a rarely heard question: ‘Wouldn’t you like someone other than your mother to read this?’ Well, my mother’s no longer around, but knowing there’s an on/off button out there does the job.”

I hope you will comment on Joan’s blog both on this website as well as emailing her directly at

COMING NEXT WEEK: Lon Kirschner, an exceptional designer, will be posting his blog: You Can Judge A Book By Its Cover, which will include some exciting visuals.



  1. Love the "pink slip."

  2. I never knew Christian Scientists had so much in common with the Taliban. Small world.

  3. Wow. Those restricted words must surely complicate things. Though I have to confess, in my innocent youth I was indeed confused by the phrase "pink slip."

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