Important pre-post disclaimer: I am not The Great Decider, On Whose Review Hangs the Fate of Every Book, and I realize that.
I’ve been a blogger reviewer for Tiber River for a few years now and enjoy getting to read new titles as they come out. It’s an opportunity to read books I may not have heard about otherwise and to think about what audiences would best appreciate a given book.
How I put together a review
Here’s my basic approach.
I’m a pretty snobby reader. There are going to be a few books I absolutely love and think should be force-fed to everyone, perhaps while they’re waiting on oil changes at car dealerships.
Then there a lot of books that are well-written, enjoyable, but not necessarily my “thing.” With these, I try to ask “who would really like this book?” and craft my review accordingly.
On the rare occasion that I can’t really recommend a book, I…feel real bad and do nothing. I generally avoid this scenario by requesting review copies of books by authors I’m familiar with and can be fairly confident I’m going to enjoy.
Procrastination and the glass case of emotion
Right now, I’m so behind on book reviews that I imagine my picture on the bulletin boards of several publishers, with an “IF YOU SEE THIS PERSON, ASK FOR OUR REVIEW COPIES BACK” advisory. And it really has nothing to do with the caliber of the various books in the “to-review” basket. In fact, I’ve already read some of them – most notably, the works of both Hallie and Dan Lord – and am eager to recommend them. But this is what happens:
1. I read the book, or look at the author’s name and think, “hey! I sort of know this person on the Internet! This is going to be great! I’ll write the most thorough and insightful review of all time!”
2. I lapse into Project Amnesia, a condition which also explains why my kitchen window has a random piece of fabric clipped to it for a curtain and why my sons’ pants will never be patched at the knees. I completely forget that I want to write a review of said book.
3. I see the book again. Now, I imagine the author, fretfully clicking over to my site every few weeks, cursing the day that a copy went out to me in the mail when I so clearly don’t appreciate the time and effort—the blood, sweat, tears, and soul—that went into the writing of the book.
4. I feel bad. Real bad.
5. I decide I’m going to write an even better review and I absolutely cannot start on it until I have time to really peer into the heart of the work, transcending space and time to distill the work into its purest essence through my words which will then launch an avalanche of purchasing that will let the writer take early retirement.
Meanwhile, my other reviews are read by, on average, 15 people per annum, half of whom are Ukranian spambots.
6. I feel more bad – so bad that I deliberately squint so as to not see the Book Review Basket as I sprint past it on my way to the computer.
Do you read reviews? How do they affect your purchasing decisions?
So – here’s my question. What to do when it’s a book that I can’t recommend, for whatever reason?
To whom is my obligation, as a Two Bit Reviewer? Am I here to promote all of the great new works by Catholic writers and help them find audiences? Or am I writing reviews so that readers can make good decisions about what books to buy?
I saw this on Twitter the other day and I hadn’t really thought about taking this approach to reviews:
— hollywood housewife (@hollywoodhwife) May 4, 2013
I’d like to know, if you’re out there:
- what you hope for when you read a book review
- how the review colors your own experience of the book (or other media)
- how often you choose to buy a book based on a review
And I’d also like to know what you consider to be the ethical obligations of a reviewer, to get all high-and-mighty about it.