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."

1 comment:

Sybil Johnson said...

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