Friday, July 10, 2015
Why I Take Book Reviews Seriously
I love hanging out on Goodreads and looking at various review styles from people there. Some are brief, one sentence reviews of a re-read. Some are pithy paragraphs pinpointing its virtues and its flaws. Some (OK, mine) are several paragraphs explaining, flaws, virtues, and personal reactions. All those styles I use in writing my own reviews. One I don't.
Gah, I can't even. < 3 [Tags personal friend who MUST READ this book]
Don't get me wrong, I love a book that gives you feels. I have lots of feels over books. In Skype chats and Facebook messaging, I'll sometimes give way to fangirling (Oh, yeah, totally, Schuyler, we've seen a lot of that from you. Lighten up.) and I admire friends who can be funny and write an informative book review at the same time. On the blog, however, it's straight business. Here's why.
1. I'm recommending a use of your time.
This is time you could spend going to the beach. Reading to your little sister. Reading your Bible. Writing that magnum opus. Exercising. Taking voice lessons. Visiting friends. I want to be a good friend, and not suck you into random, immature reasons for using that time. We all struggle with that enough as it is. Totes adorbs is cool and all, but I want to help you make reasonable, meaningful choices for the books you read.
2. I'm recommending something that will shape your doctrine.
By doctrine I don't mean theology. I mean the way you think about life, and act out that thinking. Books change you, and I want to make sure as far as I'm responsible that they change you for the better. I want to be as proud recommending a book six months from now as I am in the heat of the moment. I want to leave you a better person for having read it, not plant cynical, shallow, or irreligious thoughts that might grow into some pretty strong seeds. I want to be careful. Just because it didn't affect me doesn't mean it won't affect you. And as a side note, I'm always willing to discuss my recommendations with you, to find out how my review enhanced or damaged a life.
Recommending a book is a serious business, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. I want to make sure, when I'm reviewing a book, that I have a concrete, positive reason why I think you should read it. Here are some reasons I use.
If it changed my life on a spiritual level, I'm likely to write a book review about it. It might change you, too. (Though targeting specific people isn't wise in book reviews, so don't review a book to change one person.) If it enlightened my understanding of God, Scripture, or my own spiritual state, I consider it worth passing on.
There's a lot to learn about in life. Galaxies and science and art and the Crusades and Richard III and how to write a good book and how to raise children. Bugs and fish and Africa and foreign missions and World War One. Passing along books that inspire learning is something I want to do. After all, someone did it for me, and it expanded my horizons.
Sometimes I make a recommendation because the book is beautiful, or funny, or true. In spite of my seriousness, it doesn't always have to be deep. The brain cannot handle being immersed in deep things all the time. Sometimes it needs healing or resting through lighter things. That's where Grace S. Richmond, lots of adventure authors, and How Mr. Nary Got Published come into play. If a friend needs refreshment, there must be a nice book in my collection they can relax with.
5. Another wise opinion.
Sometimes I don't know what to think of a book. I'll suggest it to my friends and ask them to tell me what they think. Two heads are better than one, and they can see things my blind spots can't. It's okay to recommend books you're not completely sure of, as long as the other person knows that going in. When you can't make sense of it, find someone and try to make sense of it together.
My reviews, in part, shape the mindset you'll approach the book with, and set you up for serious thinking or casual entertainment. They also shape your first impressions. I've had my reading experiences ruined by cynical reviews, or too much praise. I've also had some enhanced by an excited, thoughtful reader who wants to pass on the thoughtfulness to me. That's why I put thought into my reviews, changing, adding, subtracting, mulling over things before I hit publish to make sure it's worthwhile and true.
It's completely OK to include plenty of hearts and fangirling in Skype chats, comments, and Facebook messaging. We're only young things, after all. But underneath all that, book reviews are a serious business. After all, a book reviewer is the gatekeeper for a brand new world. It might seem like a small job, but actually it's a pretty big one. It's one I've always loved, and will always try to fulfill to the best of my abilities.