I don't really enjoy writing book reviews. For starters, who am I to judge another writer's work? I am certainly not qualified to give a scholarly critique of literary merit, but I know what I like and when I find something worth reading I want to share that information with anyone who will listen. This is what initially sent me down the route of producing literary magazines instead of concentrating primarily on my own writing. Ten years ago I was forced to give up these endeavours because of ill health. Major fatigue and my particular regimen of pharmaceuticals also hampered my ability to read and write for personal enjoyment. Over the past few years I have managed to reduce medication levels enough to clear some of the brain fog. I still have visual problems and find it difficult to hold a print book for any length of time but my new kindle paperwhite has allowed me to read again. What a pleasure this has been! I had been reading only on long flights to and from the United States. Lately, though, I start reading when I wake up in the early hours and continue until the middle of the afternoon when I take a nap. I burned through my backlog of ebooks in short order: some classics, some written by contemporary writers I have befriended over the years and some that popped up along the way. Not long ago I stumbled upon a link for BookBub, a service that recommends limited-time free and deeply discounted ebooks. My first search loaded me up with a collection of independently published mysteries and historical fiction to which I have been adding daily. If an author is any good, I’ll go back for others and pay the full price.
As an editor, I am highly prone to spotting missed opportunities for correction of grammatical and typographical errors. In these days of books going rapidly from pen to press I find myself wincing in sympathy, groaning in disbelief or dumbfounded by the ineptitude of works presented by so many self-published authors. I hesitate to use the phrase “independently published” in these cases. By my definition an independent publisher upholds the principles of traditional publishing concerns by producing quality work (well written, skilfully edited and artfully presented) allowing the author to circumvent the submission/rejection cycle and maintain control of publishing rights. Fortunately, there is a lot of good reading to be had outside the mainstream.
My reactions to the work are personal and subject to the halo effect—the last book I read and enjoyed seems like the best. If I write a review within hours of reading, the obligatory star rating system of most review venues will end up being either higher or lower than it probably or possibly should be. Kindle throws up a screen at the end of the book asking for a rating. I ignore the request for that reason. I don't usually use Amazon book reviews to judge whether I will read a book. When I look at the reviews for books I have enjoyed I find they usually range from one extreme to the other. I do sometimes leave comments on other people's reviews, but usually I just speak the words to myself and move on.
I am more likely to read reviews on goodreads—maybe because the books aren't being sold there. They tend to be more thoughtful and intelligently crafted than the ones on Amazon. Most of my goodreads friends are other writers whose opinions I respect. Still, I try not to read these reviews until after I have read a book. I like to go into a book with very little knowledge of what is going to happen.
A better test is reading an excerpt from the book itself. It has been a long time since I have selected reading material in a book store, but in that environment I am attracted to a great title and cover. I never read any of the blurbs on the back. Instead, I open to the first page and start to read; if it's worth reading, I'll know right away. Once I find an author whose work resonates with me I go back for more. Sometimes I am in the mood for something with a little meat on it and other times I just need something light. It’s a lot like my taste in television and films. The kindle is perfectly suited to my changing energy levels. If my brain isn't up to a literary challenge, I just turn to one of my guilty pleasure genre selections and jump in. There aren't enough hours in the day to write reviews for these, but I do like to add them to my goodreads list with an appropriate star rating. I used to hold a more rigid standard for doling out the stars and I am a bit stricter with established writers with a five-star rating reserved for those who are most awe inspiring. I've recently noticed that the stars give guidance when you hover over them: 1 = I don’t like it, 2 = it was OK, 3 = I liked it, 4 = I really liked it and 5 = it was amazing. I am using these guidelines now so I have no problem giving the same star rating to a literary classic, a Booker Prize winner and an enjoyable genre work.
Energy levels notwithstanding, there are some books for which I do want to try to give a more comprehensive review and those I hope to be posting here on my blog as well as on goodreads. Bearing in mind that it has been a year and a half since my last blog post, don’t expect any miracles.
Thanks for your patience and support, readers.