I had the opportunity recently to write a few book reviews for the Washington Times, and I’m really excited for them to come out. In the past, I’ve been terrified of writing reviews to the point of paralysis because I absolutely HATE saying anything negative about anyone’s work. But this time around, maybe because I’ve had the experience of seeing negative reviews of my own work ranging from tepid to hateful, I had a more balanced attitude about it. I also recognize now that while it’s not true that any publicity is good publicity, chatter about a book doesn’t need to be 100% positive for it to have a net positive effect.1
Beyond that, I really like the challenge of book reviews on an artistic level. It’s a really tough balancing act to be fair to a book without discounting your own opinion. I loved the challenge of representing the “about” of the book accurately, which is not easy to do with much brevity. One of the most important beliefs I have, left over from library days, is that every book has its reader, and every reader her book.2 Trying to help books find their readers beyond the keywords in the book is hard. How do you cue readers in to things like tone and humor, the feel of a book?3 And how do you do it all in 800 words?
I’m still figuring out what I think a really well-written review looks like, but I think I have a clear idea of the balance between criticism and outreach I like to strike. Anyway, I’ll be collecting links to reviews I’ve written here on my website as they come out. I’m hoping to do a lot more, so I hope you like them, and that you find some good books!
- Plus, as a writer, I actually did enjoy seeing criticisms I thought were well-reasoned, especially when they were criticisms of strong artistic choices I’d made and stand by. Different opinions interest me, and my feeling about reviews is that even if a reader didn’t like it, anyone who genuinely engages with my work critically, you know, like literature, is doing me a real honor.
- This is not, by the way, a statement against criticism. Paradoxically, I do believe in objectively good books, and that quality is real. But there’s a difference between “the best book” and “the right book” for a moment, a person, an information need. You can believe in quality while still believing in the individuality of need. Jesus I should have finished my MLS degree.
- And how do you do that without just showing off your own writing skills?