Alvah’s Books

December 15, 2015Alvah's Books
Alvah Bessie in Spain.
               Alvah Bessie in Spain.


At one point, Alvah’s Books was a stand-alone book review site. I kept the site live because I thought I would come back and write more reviews. Unfortunately, I became too busy. With the revamping of this site, I plan to revive it.

For new readers to the site who don’t know of my obsession with Alvah Bessie and why is this section named after him, here’s a little story that will explain it all:

Alvah’s Books provides book reviews. The name of this section is a tribute to the cantankerous novelist, radical, Spanish Civil War veteran, and “Hollywood Ten” screenwriter Alvah Bessie.

As a young man, Bessie had theatrical ambitions, but once he realized that he wouldn’t make it on Broadway, he wrote the following:

“I had spent four years getting exactly nowhere on the New York stage; unless you consider a six-month case of gonorrhea somewhere. I had somehow acquired 1,000 books (mainly by theft, I’m sure) during my four years in high school, four in college, and another four on the stage, and I decided that there was only one thing for me to do; I would sell the books for one dollar apiece and go to Paris–to write. And that is what I did.”

To Alvah and his one thousand books.

Books written by Alvah Bessie.
Books by Alvah Bessie.

Alvah’s Books

March 27, 2011Reading

I’ve been saying for months that I was planning to revive Alvah’s Books and I think I got my groove back. Two reviews in a week. Not bad. Although I would like to get it to three reviews a week, but I think I’m pushing my luck.

Why did I let Alvah’s Books lapse? Writing book reviews is not an easy task. It’s work. And because I aggressively outreached to so many publishers, I got on many mailing lists and received many books. Too many books. So many books that it would take a lifetime or two to read them. But truth be told, I simply burned myself out on reading tome after tome for Alvah’s Books and for publications that pay.

But I’m back to it for Alvah’s Books, for HAND/EYE Magazine, and now for Kirkus Reviews (well, it will be my first review and it’s a nice publication to have under the belt). But back to Alvah’s Books, the two most recent reviews are up, and you can read my impressions of Jonathan Rabb’s The Second Son and Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke.

What’s on the burner for right now? I’m currently reading Triangle: The Fire that Changed America by David von Drehle. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen my posts about this tragedy. Why am I so intrigued by it? Several reasons ranging from an interest in New York City history specifically my beloved Lower East Side, but also the birth of industry reforms for safety and labor laws. So it’s all related to my obsessions of when the Left actually had some power to make important things happen.

After Triangle, I have a towering pile of books to go through, as well as a long list of ebooks to be read and then decide which one will be lucky to be scrutinized. Now what I learned about reading for review, especially if you’re doing it for the fun of it, is to not to be so strict with yourself. My first year with Alvah’s Books, I was trying to get as many books under my belt and writing what would be upcoming that it suddenly became a chore. Then I got into this habit of reading books that I considered so-so and not bothering to review them, which then moved on to not finishing them at all.

And that goes against my maxim of book reviewing. You simply don’t read and review the good books only. If you have an audience and they’re curious about a certain book, you have to provide them the good, the bad, and the ugly. Of course, the books I’m not wild about you can tell by my lackluster writing, which typically means I didn’t want to write the review in the first place.

In any event, Alvah’s Books was meant to be a fun and interesting exercise in reading and writing book reviews, and I hope to return to that original goal. In the next few weeks, I’ll be making some changes to the site (no, I am not changing the theme or the look. I learned the hard way of screwing around with the design the first time I did that). It will just be more resource stuff and some cleaning out of old posts that no longer matter (like old NYT bestselling lists).

Okay, back to David von Drehle’s Triangle


Reviving Alvah’s Books

October 9, 2010Reading

It’s been a while since I posted anything on Alvah’s Books, and I have a huge stack of books to read and review. Most of these are for pleasure, and some are from publicists have asked me to review the books. As the pile gets taller, I start to feel overwhelmed. Reading and writing a review feels more like schoolwork. However, I’ve been chastising myself for months for not getting back to Alvah’s Books and it’s time that I start reviewing on a regular basis. So that being said, I’ve  reviewed Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny. Please visit Alvah’s Books to read the review.

And since I am in this revival mode, I figure it’s time to develop some sort of editorial calendar. I have four books on the blacklist that need to be read and reviewed (also serves as research). Plus two introductory primers on Marxism (thankfully, they’re very short), one on the Spanish Civil War by Paul Preston, a book on the Rosenberg case, and Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (that will take the longest 500+ pages). After that I’ll focus on some literary fiction before I delve back to any special interests.

I guess better start reading. First on the list: Dorothy Healey Remembers: A Life in American Communist Party, by Dorothy and Maurice Isserman.