Friday, July 31, 2020

Sweating Reviews

No, I'm not worrying about the reviews my books receive, although I should. I worry about the reviews I give other writer's books. 

Right now I'm reviewing a very difficult academic book, When Sunflowers Bloomed Red: Kansas and the Rise of Socialism in America. The book is not difficult because the writing is poor. But it's hard to capsulize because each chapter is self-contained. It's an excellent, very distinctive book, based on unique research that delves into a little known subject. Heroic research, in fact. 

I can happily recommend this stellar contribution to Kansas history. 

Oh to be able to give good reviews to all of the books I read. Nevertheless, I have a formula. I do not lie, but I do not give negative reviews. It takes a lot of work to write a book. Even a very bad book. It's much easier to find what's wrong with a book than what's right. 

So here's what I do:

1. If  a book is well-written--my review will mention traits that make it special. Perhaps that is characterization, or an intriguing plot. Sometimes I will love a well-developed theme or an author's unique voice. My enthusiasm will show. 

2. If the book is mediocre, I will find some one thing that an author does well. After all, someone did select it for publication. I try to avoid reviewing genres that I normally don't read. Because I don't know what I doing. 

3. If a book is rather poor, I summarize the plot without commenting on the book's merits and suggest an audience for the writing. 

4. If a book is terrible and I think the writer should quit. Period. Never write anything again, I refuse to review the book. I ask the editor to find someone else.

Although I don't lie in a review, I certainly am capable of misrepresenting my reasons for refusal to said editor. I have used such ploys as "I don't have the time." "Something has come up." I hedge. 

But most of the time I simply tell the truth, which is "I don't believe I am the right person to review this book. It's too far removed from my personal tastes for me to be objective."

The truth is I have no idea why someone loves a particular genre and another hates it. For that matter, no one really knows why a book clicks with the reading public. 

The best writing advice I ever received was "write what you really want to write. There's so little money in the business that it's stupid to do it for any other reason."


Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for this. I never know what to do about reviewing someone's book, especially a person I know.

Charlotte Hinger said...

I hate to review someone I know, Sybil. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a position where I love a person, but not their writing. However, it is true that unless a book is just awful one can find something--a character, the plot, something--that deserves a compliment.