In one of my columns about three years ago
I touched on the subject of writing book reviews.
Iíve been thinking about the differences in
reviewers' approaches and viewpoints and thought
it might be time to revisit the topic.
Iíve been reviewing books for several years
now, starting out by voicing my opinions at
Amazon and then on to a more structured environment
at myshelf.com and an occasional newspaper.
Iíve had the opportunity to swap thoughts with
other reviewers on the way reviews should be
handled. And Iíve been involved in panel discussions
on the subject at writerís conferences. Like
it or not, itís a subjective business and, like
all other reviewers Iíve got my quirks.
I feel itís important for the reviewer to understand
that heís not an editor or an acquisitions manager.
Weíre not here to look for reasons to reject
a book but rather for reasons to recommend it.
When I encounter something in a book that bothers
me, the first question I ask myself is: Is this
a matter of personal taste or is it a real flaw
in the book? Is it a subject that doesnít interest
me or is it a bad story? Is it simply a stretch
or something ridiculously unbelievable?
But there are definite characteristics that
I judge a book by. Strong story, solid characters,
and most importantly flow. I can almost always
recommend a book that is easy to follow but
the novel with fifty different characters and
set in twenty different cities in twelve different
countries over a seventy-five year time span
quickly loses me and I wonít mind saying so.
Confusing plots are a bookís biggest enemy.
And thereís a distinct difference between challenging
and confusing. Sometimes a good story can counterbalance
mediocre writing but nothing can cover up bad
writing. And even good writers are capable of
hitting a clinker here and there. I love to
be kind but I have to be honest. Sometimes I
canít praise a book but that doesnít give me
license to be rude or insulting.
Itís also extremely important to remember who
youíre reviewing a book for. In a past life,
I worked in an industrial environment as a supervisor
of skilled trades. All of my employees wore
coveralls and most of them carried a book in
their back pocket to read between job assignments.
They might be midway through a chapter when
a call came in that sent them scurrying to the
next breakdown. It was important that they be
able to slam the book shut and then, maybe an
hour or so later be able to open it and continue
reading without missing anything, thatís where
flow becomes important. There are many similar
situations among readers world wide. These people
make up the reading public. My guess would be
that a good percentage of them are somewhat
less sophisticated than the writing community
but they represent the bread and butter.
Iím a writer as well as a reader who consumes
close to fifty books a year. Iím exposed to
a wide range of writing styles and a wide range
of talent. One of the wonderful things about
being a reviewer is seeing so many debut novels
and finding that absolute gem written by some
young kid fresh out of college. Iíd love to
be the one who discovers the next Herman Wouk.