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.

1. Conviction
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.

2. Learning
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.

3. Refreshment
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.

13 comments:

  1. Loved this. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. I really liked this post, and I think you do a wonderful job with all you book reviews. You've always given a balanced review that lets the reader decide for himself whether or not he wants to read it. Keep up the good work. <3

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    1. Thank-you, my dear. I am very glad you find them so.

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  3. This is such an excellent post on reviewing, Schuyler, and I really loved reading it especially as I have been thinking more on being a serious person in my reviews on my blog (both more regularly and with more thought in them). I really want to develop a serious commitment to analysing my thoughts more perceptibly, glean the things I have gained from the book, and share that with others, while pointing out the things I also found dissatisfying or flawed in a graceful, sensitive way. It's a challenge, especially since my reviews tend to lean towards the verbosity of adjectives (this book was wonderful, it had such excellent themes, etc.) rather than exact nouns and verbs!! Sometimes the real key of what I am trying to say gets lost in my attempts of describing the experience of reading the book in a coherent way (I do honestly try to avoid the fangirly-ness unless the book absolutely warrants a little of that sort of love!) I have found that, I likewise, find it difficult to really benefit from a book review that goes "Gah, I can't even." (Besides, that is not even a full sentence ^_^). It can be fun from time to time to read and even write a more fangirly response to a delightful book, but as you pointed it out, I think one-on-one chat and on emails/messages/fb is more the place to do so than in a blog/youtube or even on Goodreads where others will be influenced by your words. Great point there! On that note, I am super glad you included Annie's review of P.G. Wodehouse - that review made me smile all over, and it just cheered me immensely, though I have yet to read a book for him. She just put her love of that book into words so cheerfully it encouraged me to read P.G. Wodehouse :).

    But I have to say for every single review I've read of your book-reviews which then encouraged me to read the same book, I have found your reviews to have enhanced and helped my reading experience, and inspired it, rather than pulled it down or discouraged it! The only time I recall reading one of your reviews in which I later on felt there was so much more to discuss and criticise was when I read "Plenilune" as I got a bit of a surprise after having read so many positive reviews (but it was so, so good when we later on discussed it via email, and were able to share together so much more than I feel were rightfully able to discuss on a blog-review). When I looked back on it, I realized your review was quietly cautious, and I admired you for that (but at the time, I was reading several other reviews that kept praising how bold and wonderful it was, I didn't take note of that negative side). I learnt a lot from both reading that book, and reading the various reviews from fellow Christian bloggers, because it taught me that encouraging others to read any book is a powerful thing, and should be taken seriously. What one writes is a serious matter, and should be taken with sobriety, even if you feel strong in your own convictions in your heart - the importance of not putting a stumbling block or cause of offence in our brothers or sisters' way impressed itself strongly on me. In that way, I have been greatly encouraged by how you write your reviews, and the way in which you take your job seriously and faithfully in sharing with others.

    I definitely have so much to learn!

    But also something I'm learning is that, in the midst of the seriousness of analyzing and reviewing works of literature (old and new), one should write them beautifully, in an inspirational and creative way as to excite the love and passion of words and stories in my readers, and to also give justice to the works I am studying.

    It's an interesting thing, and I am glad you wrote about this, Schuyler!
    Many blessings and much love,
    Joy

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    1. Dear Joy,
      Reviewing books is a worthwhile skill to develop, and one I have far from mastered. It takes time and practice to dig deep into the themes, flaws, and virtues. So be encouraged--it is a journey, not an overnight accomplishment! I, too, love reviews that not only capture the book, but how they affected the reader. That personal touch is special. :)

      One of my favorite articles on reading thoughtfully was from World Magazine. I highly recommend giving it a read. http://www.worldmag.com/2014/03/how_to_read_thoughtfully/page1

      With many books, I tend to err on the side of not stating myself clearly enough. I get wrapped up in the people behind the book, and the people who may have liked this book, and end up unoffensive and garbled. So that's something I want to work on. ;) But I am glad you feel encouraged, and able to judge for yourself after these reviews--after all, a good book review states flaws and virtues and then gracefully steps back and lets people decide, hopefully according to biblical discernment.

      I was very excited to hear of your own plans for learning about literature in our recent chat. It will be a wonderful, wonderful thing to see the Lord guide you in that area! :) <3

      Love,
      Schuyler

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  4. EEEP! thisarticleisSOOOOOawesome!!!!! 8D

    #bookreviews #thinkingdeepthoughts #icanteven

    LIFE PHILOSOPHY FEEELS... <3 <3

    Sorry. This post was so asking for it. ;)

    On a more serious note, thank you immensely for putting careful thought and prayer into every book you recommend, and thank you for encouraging us to do the same. Your deep conviction and tender conscience have pricked mine more than once, my dear girl. I am continually amazed at how the Lord uses Christians to grow and change and mold each other.

    Press on!

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    1. When you wake up in the night, remember that I forgive you.... :P :P :P

      You are precious, Philologist. You keep me thinking, and well loved, and today, quite amused. <3 I'm so grateful for godly friendships.

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  5. ^^*evil chuckle* *grin*

    You do a wonderful job with book reviews and I love reading them all. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this...keep posting! =)

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    1. *evil chuckle* *grins back* Thank-you for reading them all so faithfully, lassie.

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  6. I'm so grateful that you take book reviews seriously. It's so hard to decide whether or not a book will be worth the read without actually flipping through it myself. I haven't been following your blog for long but you've become a trusted source for good books.

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    1. There's nothing really that takes the place of examining something for myself, I find. That's the truest test, because ultimately I have individual standards and preferences that other reviewers might not. :)

      I'm SO glad you're enjoying the blog. You have blessed me with your comments!

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    2. I'm so glad, Gloria! Thank-you so much for your encouraging comments! It's been wonderful to "meet" you through our shared love of books. :)

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