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A love of books became hundreds of reviews for Johanson

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Local book reviewer Judith “J.J.”Johanson has published her final review

After more than 20 years and hundreds upon hundreds of books read, a longtime contributor to the Fort Frances Times is putting down her quill.

Judith Johanson, or “J.J.” to those who followed her book reviews in the Wednesday paper over the years, signed off on her last review in the December 30, 2020 edition.

While Johanson said she's not sure on the exact number of years she's been writing the review at this point, she's pegged her volume of reviews written at around 1,400 in total, an astonishing output for someone who was asked to just try on the role and see how it fit when she was getting started.

“The person who had been doing book reviews decided they couldn't do it anymore,” Johanson recalled of how she got started doing book reviews.

“Between Margaret Sedgwick at the library and Linda Plumridge at the Times, they asked me if I wanted to give it a try, so I did.”

It helped that Johanson said she was already an avid reader when she started doing her reviews. In the early days she stuck with books that she had already completed and enjoyed in order to ease into the world of writing reviews, as well as to help her build up a backlog of written reviews that she could then rely on while searching out more books to read and, hopefully, enjoy, and she often found herself working with the Fort Frances Public Library in order to suss out more enjoyable reads.

“I tried to keep a few ahead all the time so that I would have time to find another one that I liked, and certainly the library was helpful,” she explained.

“Sometimes they would suggest a book and of course they have the new releases. That's basically how I went about it, which meant that I usually had several books on the go at once trying to find one that I really liked.”

While a book reviewer in a larger publication might be asked to critique or criticize the novel of the day in their reviews, Johanson explained that the idea for her book reviews was a little bit different in order to serve a more positive purpose.

“I was not requested to review books that I didn't like and criticize them,” she said.

“Because the intent was to get more people going to the library to read. So they thought if I did books that I really liked then it would come across and people would be wanting to read them more.”

Over so many years and so many books read, Johanson said she's been able to follow along with authors she liked from before she started, alongside new authors she's read because of her reviews. She explained she has a preference for science fiction and mystery novels, but that a “good story well-told” is the biggest appeal.

“I have some favourite authors,” she shared.

“There are some mystery writers that I really like very much like Charles Todd. I really like his mysteries, they deal with the First World War era. I'm not into the hard science fiction, I'm more into the fantasy science, but someone like Guy Gavriel Kay, who is just an amazing author, and the series starting with the book The Passage by Justin Cronin, who I really really admire. S.M. Sterling is another of my favourites, he wrote a series called 'Novels of the Change.'”

Having so many books and authors under her belt, Johanson said she sometimes has trouble remembering who wrote what, but she has always made sure to finish the books she has chosen for review, even if she reaches the point where she could make a good enough review earlier in the novel.

“I had one person ask me if I actually read the books,” she said with a laugh.

“Or if I just looked at the covers and copied off what was written on the book jacket, and I said 'no, no, I actually read them all.'”

Even as her obligations to write reviews comes to an end, Johanson said she doesn't see a lot of things changing in terms of her book habits.

“I'm not slowing down as far as reading is concerned,” she said.

“I like to have something on the go. I go back and read books more than once, I don't know if everybody does that but I have favourites that I like to go back and read again. Right now I'm re-reading one of Guy Gavriel Kay's books because I really enjoyed it so much, and every time you read it you find something you missed the first time around.”

Looking back on the time she's spent as a dedicated book reviewer, Johanson said that aside from the actual reading part of doing her reviews, her favourite part of the whole process was learning how to craft the perfect review.

“I think trying to tell enough without telling too much so that people then want to find out what happened,” she said of writing.

“That can be very tricky to do. I got faster at it as I went along, and as you go along you do begin to see how to do it more efficiently, and of course the computer helps.”

Still, Johanson said she hopes that all the work she's done in writing her book reviews has reminded people of the magic of books and encouraged them to keep on reading, particularly in our tech-driven world.

“I just encourage people to read,” she said.

“Especially children today, they have so many gadgets which are all quite wonderful, but if they don't learn to love to read that's a real shame.”

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