Friday, October 30, 2015

Reviewing Books

I tried dealing with the five-star system, and failed.

I started with Goodreads. I went through, methodically 3-starring everything that I read-and-remembered, 5-starring a couple of favorites (Watership Down for the win), 4-starring a few that seemed somewhere in between.  I might have given out some 2s.

But here’s the thing: I can’t give out 1s and 2s.  Not even if the author personally offends me with their scandalous life/politics/interests/body odor.  My 1s and 2s are someone else’s 5s. Judging a book as “bad” is mean-spirited, plus it reflects upon the reviewer as being too simpleminded to realize they’re reading a bad book and close it and go find a good one.  Furthermore, I adore bad books once in a while, as they encourage me to write better ones. Or worse ones, depending on my mood.

At the same time, I don’t want to hand out 5s like they’re easy to get. It’s possible my range is way too high, and 5 should signify “finished it, no complaints.”

Then there’s the motivation behind ratings.  A rating can mean “this author’s my buddy” or “I disagree with this author’s politics” or “someone in my brigade told me to dislike/like this author.”  It can mean “I want strangers to think I adore this high-minded literary work” or “my sister-in-law’s book club will never let me hear the end of it unless I high-rate this thing.” 

Then there’s fronting. I’m tempted to front heavily on places like Goodreads. Ooh, I just loved this critically acclaimed book! It had literary symbolism and everything! Oh, look at me reading this book that nice people read! I’ll bet people who went to Harvard read this book too!  There are many books that become bestsellers solely through fronting, so that nice people can display it on their bookshelves to convince everyone who visits that they’re the right sort of person. 

So anyway, I review instead, here, and usually only go for the books I really like. I have a recurring nightmare where I make a writer friend and we get along fabulously and then the writer friend asks me to review their book, and I say okay, and …

I did that for a friend-of-a-friend once. The novel in question started out being a historical novel, and then the author got fixated on a kinky relationship between two of the less-interesting characters, and suddenly they were getting it on for fifty-page scenes, and you can’t really tell an aspiring author their sex scenes are gross (that subjectivity thing again), so I think I wrote something like “I liked the scene with Historical Character, and wish it had been longer.” 

That’s why I’ll never insist anyone read my book, although I reserve the right to spam people with my feeble marketing efforts.

I do sometimes mention books I’m reading, without reviewing them. If I don’t review them later, it’s probably because (a) it was a lovely book but it didn’t grab me, I’m terribly sorry; (b) ummm … it’s not really my … genre; (c) because I often read 10 books at once, it probably got pushed back down to the bottom of the shuffle list; (d) it’s underneath the 19 books I just bought by this new author I discovered; (e) I accidentally opened a Harry Potter novel, which I keep corralled at the bottom of the list until my Kindle app gives me a way to organize my stuff in subfolders, and now I have to open everything else to get Harry back at the bottom with his sequels, because deleting/reacquiring is too many steps and you never know when you’ll need some Hogwarts, and your thing got reshuffled in the Hogwarts tide; (e) I hit a nope moment, deleted it and hit the next-song button, because it was that bad.

I don’t mention all the books I read. Some aren’t relevant to this space. My earlier incarnation of this blog went off in all kinds of directions, and this time I’m trying to stay on target, so I’m not going to talk about litfic or adult subjects or genres outside YA and science fiction, and maybe a little fantasy and horror. As for the books I don’t like, if you can’t say something nice …

My tastes can be offbeat. Sometimes I’m in harmony with the market, and stuff I happen to find and like explodes in popularity. Other times, my circuits light up with joy at things others despise. I’ve been on anonymous forums, all ready to type something about how much I hated that preachy simplistic pile of drivel, and then I see someone else writing “that book changed my life” and my finger hesitates on the key. So I’m going to stick to promoting the things I genuinely like.

Sometimes I think it would be cool to get book blurbs from regular everyday people. “This book kept me from getting bored on a three-hour flight, good job,” Peter S., West Coast Distribution Associate.  “I read this book while my XBox was broken and it’s almost as good as playing XBox,” Jayden R., student. “This statement of speculative fiction contains nothing egregiously erroneous,” Wilberforce S., attorney. “Reading books is good physical therapy following a retina injury,” Nancy M., ophthalmologist. 

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