On Reviews

As anyone who knows me IRL can tell you, I read A LOT.  There have been periods of my life where I haven’t done much reading (most notably, after becoming a Mum for the first time, when I didn’t finish a book for a looooong time!) but generally, I could be described as being a bit of a lot of a bookworm.

One thing I am NOT though, is a reviewer.

I am so rubbish at reviewing anything, if I’m honest.  Whether it’s a day out with the kids, or a new washing powder.  I might have things to say about it, but somehow never get round to sharing my thoughts with anyone other than Chris.  I am PARTICULARLY bad at reviewing books though.  If I hate a book (and this happens quite rarely) I can usually explain why to a friend, but I would never then go online and broadcast my views to the world.  I guess I just think “well, they probably did their best, and who am I to judge, and anyway, I wasn’t forced to read it” and then I’ll put the book on Read it Swap it, or give it to charity and that’s that.

If I love a book, I’m even worse!  The more passionately in love with the story I am, the less I can explain it, the less I want to explain it, in fact I don’t usually want to even talk about it, except perhaps to tell everyone OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS BOOK, YOU SHOULD GO READ IT NOW!

It’s not that I can’t articulate my thoughts and feelings (although that is sometimes the case initially, but I can usually work through it!)  It’s more that I don’t want to.  I don’t ever choose what to read based on (written) reviews.  I choose based on word of mouth recommendations, and what’s in front of me at the book shop/library/amazon page, I consider covers (terrible of me, I know) and blurbs.  I don’t care if it says “RIP ROARING SUMMER READ!” (Daily Fail, 2014) or “THIS BOOK WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!” (Name of famous person, 2014) on the front or back.  Reading is subjective.  So for someone’s opinion to sway my decision to buy or read something, they’ve got to either be pretty close to me, or else an expert in the field that the book they’re talking about covers (If that makes sense?!)  So random celebrities and newspapers don’t mean shit as far as I’m concerned.

As I get older though, and as my dream of one day seeing my own stories in print moves simultaneously closer (I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT!) and ever further away, fading on the horizon (WILL IT EVER BE GOOD ENOUGH TO PUBLISH?!) I am aware that book reviews are a pretty vital part of the whole process.  People who love books need to tell people that they do, and explain why.  Otherwise how does the author know?  How do the publishers know?  How do other readers know?

In my case, I think it’s that I don’t want to spoil the book by explaining it.  It’s almost like book-reviewing proper reminds me of writing comprehensions in high school English, where we had to break down every single passage until it lost all meaning. “Why did Shakespeare put that comma there, do you think?” is not an exercise that helps you to feel an emotional connection with Romeo and Juliet’s story.  So I have grown up to be afraid of deconstructing things to examine what makes them good (or not, as the case may be).  If I have a delicious meal in a restaurant, or read the most earth-shattering novel, perhaps I want to leave those experiences whole in my mind and only comment on them in the briefest of “you should eat there/read that” way.

It feels like I’m betraying those experiences by not shouting about them louder though.  There are some incredible writers, and short of sending them a letter to say “I LOVE THE WORDS YOU MADE!”, a review is probably a good way to let them know how their work has affected me.

I just (yesterday) joined Goodreads, and it wants me to rate at least twenty books so it can recommend some to me.  Even a basic 1-5 star system, without an actually worded-review, is making my feel uncomfortable.  “If I give that book a four, but then this book a five, does it mean I loved one more than the other, or that I loved them both but one was flawed?  Maybe I should read that book again to check it isn’t a five…What if I give all these books a five and then one day someone writes something that needs a six?!  What if I give this book one star and an angry mob descends on my front gate?!” etc etc etc.

You can see my dilemma I think (or my mental problems, in any case).



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