By Marj Charlier | Contribution columnist
Every month I read 6-8 books. Mostly fiction, but sometimes I read as many as two non-fiction books. The time you spend sitting on the couch under the reading light, lying down your cell phone, or raising your feet on the coffee table can feel like you’re overdue. One way I try to relieve my guilt is to write a book review. I write 4-6 monthly for the book review site and my website.
I don’t get paid for these reviews, but writing them helps me think about how intrigued, challenged, repulsed, or entertained the book at hand I will. This is a pedagogical excuse because I am a fiction writer. I learn a lot about writing by reading. Isn’t it everyone?
Reviewing a book carries the risk that critics of any medium must endure. Prejudice telling (or suggesting) what you like, what you don’t like, what you should write, what you shouldn’t write, which browsers you should or shouldn’t consider , Pedants, cultural myopia, and stupidity can easily be blamed. And, in general, it doesn’t mention what’s happening in the world.
All of these indictments may be valid. And since I’m over 65 (I don’t think I need to be more specific), anachronistic accusations are probably the most rational. I have no children or grandchildren to stay up to date. All my nieces live at least 1,200 miles away. But reading itself is one way for the baby boomer generation to catch up with the trends, attitudes, habits, and vocabulary that have skyrocketed since they speeded up decades of our youth. For example, I read Sally Rooney, Rachel Kushner, Lilly King, Mona Awad, Tea Abret, Laila Lalami, and Sloan Crosley (present tense). The obsession may sometimes look a bit alien, I think they are more familiar than some writers of my age. Mary Piper and Cynthia Ozic come to mind. On the other hand, you don’t have to break the intergenerational gap to read Jess Walter, Secret Nunes, Margot Livesey, and Geraldine Brooks.
In my review, I’m sticking to elements that are as noteworthy as (usually minor) bookings. I strive to be fair and balanced, and my loyalty to the publisher does not affect my critique, even when reviewing books published by my publisher.
But as a writer, I face special risks as a reviewer. Is to make an enemy of other writers. They are all free to peer review my books. And since most of them are more fluent in language than I am, there is a risk of being ridiculed by retaliatory mega-talents. Indeed, as I read my book, I find oversights, sloppy word choices, improper settings, oxymoronic behavior, and shallow themes. The only way I can get out of bed and sit on the keyboard in the morning is to assume that the perfect book has never been written, even considering the classics. It fermented over time and lost its cultural and ethical relevance. But when I put my book out into the world for judgment, I think of a writer who has criticized being with me, given how easy it is. I did. (Of course, there are still 1-star reviews by non-experts who didn’t like your politics or philosophy, or how you dealt with their religion, state, city, hair color, etc. There is nothing you can do about it, except for writing with no perspective at all.)
Does this make me more cautious about how to evaluate the efforts of other authors? Yes, it is. We have a policy of not reviewing books that cannot be completed or that you simply do not like. If I hate it, I might not only review it, but even throw it (in recycling, of course).
Does this make me an unreliable reviewer? Perhaps the only reason I avoided reviewing books negatively is because I’m a chicken and I’m afraid of retaliatory reviews. In fact, that’s not the main reason. That’s this: If I rigorously review a book, what I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, who would benefit? Readers don’t need me to get this book to their attention — they shouldn’t know about it (in my opinion). And the authors don’t need any more effort to make a living more than they already have. It’s hard to write a book, but even authors with Big Five (or soon Four?) Publishers will say it’s much harder to sell a book. That also applies to writers other than the privileged equipment on NYT’s best-selling list. So I’m calm but fair. If you find a book that redeems quality, review it. But I don’t jump to a poor fellow writer who is struggling to get up in the morning and face that blank screen.
Some of my reading friends asked me if I didn’t like books. And I’m happy to talk to them because I want them to lend, buy, and read only the books they enjoy. But I never write it in writing.
Marj Charlier is a Palm Springs-based writer. Her latest novel is “The Rebel Nun” published by Blackstone Publishing.
As a writer, reviewing books can be quite a quandary – Press Enterprise Source link As a writer, reviewing books can be quite a quandary – Press Enterprise