Friday, October 13, 2017

Reviewing That Tough Book

Writing a book review can be challenging for a book that on first reading isn’t quite “your thing.” It’s so easy to find fault with a book, to pick it apart for grammar, spelling mistakes, and overall continuity. Taking some time, and a step back, to purposefully look for the POSITIVE elements can bring out a much better, and still honest, review.

That’s what I did for Reggie! Ringling’s First Black Clown.

I let myself get all up in arms when someone didn’t get Jerry Lewis’s name correct in a photo caption. I very nearly forgot to look at the book as a whole, complete work that had a lot more to offer than the editorial mistakes of the self-published volume.

Add to that the fact that my review would be the first one on Amazon and Goodreads put me into a much different position. I would be able to set a positive tone for a deserving book that needed a boost.

I went back and reread the preface. I found the information and therefore the balance I needed to write a much better and more accurate review. I’m glad I took the time. Here is my review:

Reggie! Ringling’s First Black Clown

This slim book covers a brief period in the life of Reginald Montgomery when, through chance and choice, he was in the crosshairs of history as a pioneer performer.

As the title says: He was the first African-American clown in a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that was under new ownership at the time and willing to expand its frontiers. Those efforts were needed to adapt the circus, and probably save it, for the second half of the twentieth century.

Authors Hepner and Roseman piece together a narrative out of an autobiographical play, coauthored by Reggie and Hepner; biographical interviews of people who knew Reggie; and family history, complete with photos.

The action is kept mainly in the time frame of 1968-1969 when Reggie toured as a graduate of the first clown college. Background information about circus history, circus life, and current events are added as needed. 

What emerges is a poignant look at the struggles and triumphs of a talented young man who saw himself as a serious theatre actor first and foremost. 

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