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Saturday, August 24, 2013

On reviewing

Dave Wolverton/David Farland's recent post on reviewing spurred me to thoughts on reviewing.  Why do I review?

  1. I review for others:  to lead readers to  books they might like, to steer away those who may not like it, to keep in mind varying tastes.
  2. I review for me as a writer:  to make concrete what I learned from a book, assessing strengths and weaknesses.
  3. I review for me as a reader:  to give like-minded readers a full sense of the work.
  4. I review for the author:  to give the book or story it's best aspect, without over- or under-selling.
  5. I review as if all of the above were friends.  This means finding the right language, the honest yet tempered* language to give the book its proper audience.
One thing I always try to do is his fifth tip:  "A great review doesn’t just give praise but also offers a caveat or two."  I agree.  If it's all praise, is the author a buddy or the reviewer a lapdog?  Is the reviewer capable of analysis?  When I scan reviews, I look for an honest grappling--not all praise or condemnation.  Is there a perfect book?


The comments he wrote that sparked thought dealt with book blurbs:
"I’d much rather have a blurb that reads.... A good review often praises both the book and the author repeatedly, so that when an editor is selecting cover quotes, he has several options at hand."
"[The reviewer] writes... in short sentences that will easily fit on the cover of a book and capture’s the audience’s attention." 
I thought about blurbs early on, when I first started reviewing--not much since.  Some reviewers (rightly or wrongly) appeared blurb-whores, out to get their names on as many books as possible.  I purposefully wrote in a way that was not meant to be blurbed.  When my name popped up on a book or two, I was genuinely surprised.  They'd carved my prose into a blurb.  At first I thought I'd failed--had I unintentionally tried to get my name on books?--but I considered this part of the book-publishing game.  After all, I read blurbs, too, weighing them in my purchases.

The above quotes on first glance seem that reviewing is all about the author.  But if I, too, use blurbs as a book buyer, why do I not write them as a book reviewer?  

This will take some time to ponder.  If I agree, I may have to start reading book blurbs--a difficult prospect living in a foreign country.


A final comment:

"A good review will not just recommend a book but will also recommend the author."
This requires having read multiple works--perhaps short stories will work.  This is useful to both reviewer and readers, but this doubles the work load, if not more so.


* tempered but not wholly. Colorful language livens up an article, as above.

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