Prelude to Some Reviews « Once & Future

Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

December 1, 2010

Prelude to Some Reviews

I’ve been terribly, terribly lax about reviewing lately. I’ve been reading, taking notes and thinking, but I’m torn at the moment on the notion of publishing those thoughts. I enjoy it – it’s the natural output of an opinionated reader. But at the same time, my reviews this year have tended towards the testy and the cranky, and I’m feeling poorly about that. I know that every book speaks to each reader in a different way and so, as a reviewer, you have a certain responsibility to highlight the book’s strong points even if you didn’t really take much pleasure in them. But by the same token, I have read very few books this year that I would rate, on a scale of five stars, higher than a three; and I don’t think I’m doing anyone a service by blowing sunshine about something which is essentially mediocre.   It doesn’t help that in the very exciting flurry of early review copies I received at the beginning of the year I got some real duds and reviewed them as such, which probably put publicists off sending me anything ever again.  It feels a bit like betraying their good will – but at the same time, it isn’t my job as a reviewer to white-wash a book just so I might continue to receive future free books.  You wouldn’t buy it anyway.  It doesn’t sound true coming from my (metaphorical) lips.

I thought I might, then, avoid reviewing books unless they were really noteworthy.  In a way, this has just served to emphasize, to me anyway, exactly how mediocre most books are.  With the exception of Essex County and Doctor Zhivago (review forthcoming), most of the books I’ve read in the last four months have been disappointments.  They weren’t terrible, of course.  They had their moments.  But I’m hardly prepared to rave about them in public, or even lend them off to other people.  (Don’t read too much into this, by the way – just because I haven’t linked a review to a book on my reading list doesn’t mean I didn’t like it.  I am also sometimes just lazy.)

So do I publish cranky reviews or make nicey-nicey?  Leave off reviewing altogether and tell you about the latest frustrations of running an independent bookstore?  To be honest I haven’t quite finalized a long-term plan yet, but I have decided to do a review dump.  Over the next few days I’ll give a cluster of paragraph-sized reviews of some of the more interesting things I’ve read.  After that, who knows.  I’m inclined to give my blog a new subtitle: “Thoughts from a very ornery individual” or something, which will serve as a warning to anyone who prefers rainbows and lollipops.  After all, we can’t all review with the same voice, just as we don’t all read with the same eyes.  Diversity is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.  Consider me the resident badger!

2 thoughts on “Prelude to Some Reviews”

  1. steph says:

    Not sure if your questions were rhetorical but I would say go with your gut. If publishing cranky reviews makes you feel badly, sure, don’t do it, but if it doesn’t bother you all that much, then by all means, go ahead. I don’t want to read only good reviews. For one thing, I like the warnings. For another, and importantly, I go into a book with high expectations, or I wouldn’t have bought, borrowed, or requested it. If that book disappoints me, then I’m also disappointed in the author and sometimes even the publishing company. Of course, it depends on why it bothered me. If I simply didn’t like the style or story but recognize that it is still good literature, then fine. But if it was poor quality and so on, then bah humbug. I think saying so serves to improve standards. Or at least hopefully helps do so.

    There are a number of us, I think, who don’t mind reading negative reviews. Write what you feel like. Without guilt. If I can’t say anything nice I typically don’t publish a review, but a negative review can still be intelligent and articulate and fair and I have been known to do them, one even recently. More than anything, I think people expect us to be honest. And publishers know we won’t like everything they send.

    1. Charlotte says:

      Thanks, Steph! At the end of the day, as long as I can walk the line of remaining critical without being unkind, I’ll probably just say what I’m thinking. That’s my forte, anyway… and as I get older, this curmudgeonly-ness might start to suit me. 😉

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