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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Oftimes Difficult Task of Reviewing Books

It's a sometimes treacherous walk we take when we offer ourselves as book reviewers.  It actually puts us in a place of having to become certain critics, certain experts or certain knowledge ables about books.  There's a serious responsibility to reviewing books.  It's not a thing to become cavalier about.  Nothing to toss around lightly.

In this time of technological genius and fast-moving words and blurbs, we may tend to forget that reviewing a book is quite a responsibility, actually.  With a false word, a flippant slip, a dismiss of something important or a misunderstanding of text, a reviewer can set in motion a small wave that could cause a book to be remembered as; "I heard something strange about that book, but I can't remember where..I don't think it got good reviews."  The slip that sank a ship.

Just as we're required to read and structure our reviews in an honest and just manner to the best of our abilities, I truly believe that also means we cannot always give 5 stars to books and authors.  To do that would diminish the standard we use to evaluate books altogether.

To me, 5 stars means I want to keep the book in my library forever. I love it so much and found so much literary merit in it. I want to see it again. 
4 stars means it was so fabulous I want everyone else to get one, too!  I recommend it to everyone.
3 stars means it was a good read, I liked it, but I probably won't keep a copy. You'll have to choose to read it for yourself after evaluating my review.
2 stars means; good try but I couldn't finish it and can't recommend it.
1 star is something I can't even give a book!!

I take my role as a review writer so seriously that I study the art of writing.  I have taken time to learn grammar and spelling.  I read other reviewers' work so that I can learn from the best of them.  My searches include finding books, new and classical that continue to educate my mind and, hopefully, keep me from becoming intellectually stagnant.  I consider myself well-red, well-educated, a good writer and a conscientious person who takes my book reviewing role seriously.  Books are very important to me.  I'm interested in being a part of the big wheel that keeps them alive and well in our world.

Sometimes we won't please an author with our review.  We won't mesh with them, or we won't understand what they've tried to convey, or we won't appreciate their craft in the manner they've employed it.  I hope my readers know that in such cases I look very hard to pull out the gold from books and that I don't knowingly mislead anyone.  I see my role as a scout--going ahead to let my readers know what to expect.  Some will want to follow...some will not.  Some writers will want to hear the response to their writing, some really will not unless it fits their own perceptions. 

It seems to me, as well, that the role of a reviewer is also to convey something to the author about how their book may be perceived.  I recall a professor once saying that when Faulkner (or some such great author) was asked if he meant to say thus and so symbolically in his story...he answered, "If you say so.  I never know what I meant to say until you tell me."   It's this idea that once that word is written down in the way it is, once it leaves the pen of the writer and becomes a page in a book that's sent out to readers...it becomes the property of the readers to define and to evaluate.  No matter how the book was conceived of and birthed onto the page from the mind of the author; ultimately, it will evolve into the product of the minds of its readers.  Of course there's room for debate here, but Faulkner isn't here anymore to debate that issue, and, yet we still find and dismiss all sorts of things in his novels!

All in all, what I'm going on about here can be summed up this way:
We have a responsibility to authors, publishers, readers and the book world on a whole to be the best we can be at our craft.
We have a responsibility to be honest in the delivery of our reviews regardless of how the writer may like or dislike the message.
We have a responsibility to our readers to actually read and think and take time to give a review that will lead them to make an intelligent decision about the purchase of a book.
Books are important.  We have a responsibility to keep them around.

All this being said, I'd like to most gratefully acknowledge the wonderful publishers who make my book reviewing possible:
Hachette Publishing Group: Little, Brown & Co., LBYA, Mulholland Books, Grand Central, and others; Simon & Schuster, St. Martin's Press, Bloomsbury, Random House, Overlook Press, Penguin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books, Poison Pen Publishing, Crown, Harper Collins and others.

Thank you so much, my very special publicity friends who make things happen for me, kind and caring authors, faithful readers and visitors.  You make it all work together for good for me.  I'm so appreciative. 



Rachel Brooks

You're right about book reviewers needing to be carefully about 5 star reviews. If almost all your books receive a 5 star review, then I start to wonder how I tell the difference between the ones that are REALLY great and the ones that are just good.

Also, I’m a new follower— wonderful blog! Stop by my blog and follow me too? :) http://rachelbrookswrites.blogspot.com/

Tribute Books

Deborah - what an insightful post. As a fellow book reviewer, I appreciate the time and effort you put into expressing your thoughts on the subject. I love the quote from Faulkner - brilliant!

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