Friday, February 11, 2011

Writers who Review

I like to read book reviews by readers of books who read because they like to. I get insight from their disappointments and criticisms that I can weigh against my own preferences as a reader. I enjoy reading encouraging reviews by readers who were impacted positively by the book, whether it's a how-to, an esoteric exposition, or a work of fiction or literary art. It's neat. I'd say a good 90% of reviews by readers are useful in some way.

But I have become wary when I'm reading a review by a published author, or a would-be published author. Writers can be mean about things that don't matter to most readers, like grammar and editing (I'm guilty of that). We read from the perspective of a fellow craftsman, not just as an audience. We think about how we would have said something, and if the author we're reviewing has said it worse than we would, we feel cheated, "I could have written that better, and here this a-hole is getting published for it!" Or if they write it better than we could, it rankles.

The worst, in my opinion, is when I read something in the exact style, format, level of diction, and artistic license with the grammatical guidelines that I would have used if I had written it. DuQuette does that to me a lot, writes the same way I do, thinks about things the same way, and says things that I would say. He finds the same things fascinating that I do, and the insights he shares are exactly the ones I would share too. Gets right on my nerves.

Some writers give too much praise for what they've read because they understand how fucking hard it is to get something out, and give the author credit for even being able to get as much across on a dense subject as they manage to, even if it's weak. Other times writers will go off on barely related tangents about what they would have written instead, things they think are missing that they would have included, and basically review a book that exists in their own mind only, that's only distantly related to the actual book they are supposed to be reviewing. To these types, I say write your own book if that's what you want to do, but in the review, fucking review the book you're talking about, not the book you would have written. Don't waste my time, eh?

I've been really enjoying Jow's reviews lately. His reviews are from the perspective of a seeker, and he shares what he got out of the book, as well as a summary. Jason's a writer who can review a book honestly as well*. There's another blogger, Karmaghna, who has been reviewing Jesus the Magician, and I'm enjoying that a great deal. It's like the Cliff's Notes version of the book, and I'm learning a lot in small chunks, delivered neatly to my Google Reader in easily digested chunks. I like that project a lot. It's a different style of review, almost more of a summary, but it's interesting and entertaining as well. Like a Book Report, but by and for grown-ups. I think those are my favorite kinds of review. The Book Reports.

I don't review books much these days because the last few times I tried, I couldn't stop being a writer enough to be able to really focus on the important thing, the experience of reading the book and how it affected me. Also, I haven't had time to read shit. When I read, it's emails and blog posts mostly, news articles on occasion, or something work-related. The magical stuff I read is almost all Agrippa these days, with some Trithemius or Corpus Hermeticum as needed. Maybe I'll start reporting on those things more often. Maybe not, I don't know.

* Have you updated your RSS feed and links to point to Jason real blog site? Hurry up and do so, he's posting videos!


  1. Besides the fact that I haven't had as much time as I would like to read, as a writer I am incapable of not taking "fellow writer potshots" if they're there to take in terms of grammar, pacing, etc. so I don't review. I do agree that if there's so many things one would do better than write the damn book your damn self.

    I was just complimenting Jow about how good his reviews have gotten, I know he'll be pleased to hear a less biased source agree! ;)

  2. Despite the fact I'm an English major (and would hope to be a writer at some point) I rarely focus on the mechanics of language. Spelling and grammar only come up in my reviews if the problems really detract from the writing. Most editors will miss something, it happens, but sometimes there is a book so filled with errors that I can't get past it.

    Thanks for the links, I'm a bibliophile and like reviews. This all reminds me, I have a review I'm supposed to upload tonight...


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