Jonathan Yardley on Book Reviewing, Book World, and DC Literature

Jonathan Yardley, former editor of and current reviewer for the Washington Post‘s Book World, was interviewed in 2007 by The Washingtonian‘s Ken Adelman.

Yardley shuns standard political novels, preferring instead the works of Jones and Pelecanos, two revered names that come up time and again in discussions of D.C. literature.

The best writing about Washington hasn’t been political. It’s been by Edward P. Jones and George Pelecanos. Jones tends to be pigeonholed as a black writer; Pelecanos’s work is unfairly dismissed as genre fiction. Yet they’re both writing about how ordinary people live in Washington—who are not the same as those living in Chicago, New York, or another big city.

K Street interests me more than Capitol Hill, as K Street is a peculiarly Washington institution. Christopher Buckley’s Thank You for Smoking sticks a foot in the door of K Street. I’d like to read more like this. Few people who know about that world are sufficiently irreverent to write good fiction about it.

Yardley offers what he has learned about reviewing books:

I’ve learned that the best reviews delve into what the author’s trying to do. That’s a judgment call, but I’ve received many gratifying letters from authors appreciating that I grasped what they were trying to say. In some cases, these came from authors whose books I had given a mixed or even negative review. . . Above all, I’ve learned—though I may not show it—a good deal of humility.

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