Hoorah! A new book review!
It ought to be a fair appraisal, right? But so often it reads like more than that, like a judgement. There, I’ve said it.
Oh, look. Here’s another. And another. My Twitter feed, Facebook news feed and Goodreads homepage are choked with book reviews. Well, I’m a writer; what else should I expect given my sphere of contacts?
Book reviewing is a big thing now. It’s out there, everywhere, as it is for all products and services. But is it real reviewing or is it just saying something because someone put a platform there and having a voice is nice? Is it good reviewing or is just mud-slinging?
For me a considered, informative review ought to show an understanding of the difference between assessment and condemnation. Book bloggers tend to display this kind of understanding.
Oddly, it’s writers that very often don’t.
Perhaps, for someone who has only ever been a reader of books (as opposed to to someone who writes them as well) it’s alright to condemn a novel or a collection of stories. You’re a punter and other punters want to know what you think; it was ace/it was shit/I loved it/I hated it.
Take look at any title on a bookseller’s website or any title on Goodreads and it’s immediately clear that the combined summaries of the many have become a great barometer of the quality of a book – as they are of anything you can buy online.
For me, though, having written books for some years, reviewing another author’s work makes me uncomfortable, especially if I didn’t enjoy it. That’s why I almost never put pen to paper about a book I haven’t had a good experience with.
When I was co-running the Horror Reanimated blog, our policy when authors or publishers submitted books for appraisal was the same: we only reviewed the work that we felt deserved a bigger audience, books that really rocked our world.
Goodreads is one of those places where writers do review other writers – a lot. And, whilst there are clear guidelines for how reviews are written, I still think that writers should evaluate the efforts of others in their line of work with a little more thought, a little more awareness, a little more tact.
We are all, let’s face it, in the same business.
If you’re a writer, how often have you had this experience? You’re reading a book and you know darn fine that the author is light years beyond you in their skill with language and story-telling ability. And yet, their book just doesn’t quite do it for you. Or, worse, you abhorred or yawned through every page of it – except for those bits you just flat-out envied until you puked undiluted gall.
Been there? Well, for me this is a signal to either not review the book or to make it very clear that your review isn’t a raging ego-trip but just another opinion.
I recently read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. I love Cormac McCarthy’s work – The Road is one of my all-time favourite reads – and I’m aware that he is a superior writer to me in every way. However, whilst the language and imagery in Blood Meridian were almost transcendental, after a while the story lost its power over me. I rated it four stars on Goodreads but there’s no way I’m going to review the book. Not a chance. I mean, I can’t even be sure how much of it I understood. 60 – 70%, perhaps? How could I possibly make a judgement about it?
Judgement comes from above; only it’s cheap bastard cousin opinion can come from below, so why pretend?
And, really, it ought to be exactly the same when you read a book you feel is inferior in every way to what you, as a writer, are capable of. You know how tough this job is. You know what people go through, not just to complete work in the first instance but then in trying to garner some recognition. Is this really the moment to rubbish someone? Just because they’ll never be in the same league as you?
These days, anyone can be a reviewer. Anyone can have the pleasure of making their judgement (or is it just an opinion…) public. As long as it’s honest and not rigged, that has to be a good thing, because it leads to a kind of democracy of discernment that anyone can access and subsequently base their buying decisions upon.
But back to writers appraising the work of their peers. What does this really contribute?
You could argue, I suppose, that inventors of vacuum cleaners would be the best-placed people to judge newly-invented vacuum cleaners just arriving on the market. But could we really trust them to be objective when, like all other vacuum cleaner inventors, what they really want is a bigger share of the market?
Personally speaking, I will continue to save my book reviews for those rare diamonds that really knock the stuffing out of me – in a good way.
Because, frankly, I need every ounce of writing energy that I can muster, not for flaunting an opinion – something anyone can do – but for the real deal; putting all I have into creating the kind of stories that no one else but me can tell and doing it to the best of my ability.