Christmas Critics

Jonathan Yardley

Oh, you have the best job in the world!” people say to me all the time. “Being paid to read!” It is a good job, and as book critic of the Washington Post I occupy a modestly visible forum from which to harangue an especially responsive readership about new books. But the thing about new books is that they are, well, new, and most of them fall somewhere in that large, gray area between very good and very bad. For me reading is work, much of it of a decidedly quotidian variety. Very good new books do cross my desk-in 2005 these included Michael Connelly’s The Closers (Little, Brown, $26.95, 416 pp.), Penelope Lively’s Making It Up (Viking Adult, $24.95, 224 pp.), and, most particularly, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (Alfred A. Knopf, $23.95, 240 pp.)-but not often.

So it came as a decidedly welcome change when, about three years ago, I started writing from time to time about old books. For more than two decades I had written a weekly column for the Post about pretty much whatever crossed my mind, but the column had run its course and was closed down. In its place I started writing an occasional series (it appears more or less every three weeks) called “Second Reading,” longer pieces in which I reconsider notable and/or neglected books from the past. Now, as it turns out, I really do have the best job in the world, as I am paid to reread books from my...

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About the Author

Clare Asquith is the author of Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare (Public Affairs).