On reviewing/opinionating about books

In a former blogging life I used to a bit of the old book-blogging; that is, reviewing novels (and non-fiction). This grew out of doing a PhD. I needed to record what I was doing research-wise, and as I was working in the fields of creative writing and historical fiction, making notes on the reading seemed only a sensible thing to be doing. That blog's gone now, faded into the suspended animation of deactivated Blogger accounts. Somewhere along that way, I'd lost the utility and also the pleasure in making short-ish notes on what I'd read. Plus, to some extent, there was a feeling of being leaned on a little.  

I'd got onto the lists of a few book publicists, who were understandably keen to get notices for their wares. The old free-copy-for-an-unbiased-review trade-off didn't seem overly burdensome, especially as I was largely being offered work that I'd have got round to reading anyway. And besides, who doesn't like a free book? I'm not genetically predisposed towards hardbacks, so I didn't even mind if the ARC (advance reading copy) was a shop-ready tome, a proof edition with provisional artwork and as-yet-unfinalised interior matter, or else access to an e-book through NetGalley.

But, over time, I lost the urge. Partly because the course was coming to an end and I didn't need the raw material, and in some degree because there were instances of pushiness. And, like, most folks, I don't care to be jostled.

Reading a novel takes a few hours. Let's call it eight. Add an hour or two for writing something up and posting it; a book review is a day and a half of someone's time. And that's time that I could have been spending doing other stuff. Writing, for example. Or reading things other than those I was being offered. So I backed away from the whole cottage industry of book blogging.

Cut to the present. I'm writing reviews again. Short ones, because of time, and because all I'm doing is recording an opinion; essentially putting a few scraps of meat on the bones of the five-star systems used by the likes of Amazon and Goodreads.

So why go back to posting reviews? This comes out of self-publishing a couple of novels myself. I can see the usefulness in reviews to authors in a fresh light, being in my own little working-off-the-kitchen-table way one myself. A review is a little note in a bottle washing up on the writer's shore that says "Hey, I read your book. And you know, it wasn't totally sucky." That can mean a lot. 

Even if you spend a morning with a stick trying to lever that scrap of paper out of the neck of the bottle before smashing it apart on a rock to get to the feedback only to read "Hey, asshat. I torrented your piece of crap and it wasn't worth the bandwidth. Screw you and your offspring for seven generations!" then at least you've got an emotional reaction. Even if the reviewer's taste is obviously in their mouths; someone noticed what you were doing. That's worth something in itself. Not much, but something.

So., as I've come to acknowledge the usefulness of reviews for my own output, it's only right that I look to myself again and do the same for others.

If a book sucks, though, I'll reserve the right not to comment, or else note only that it wasn;t for me. Folk commenting on the net are, after all, invariably not offering a review, but presenting an opinion. There's a difference between the two that needs to be understood and respected. 

Reviews will be posted on the site where I got the book from (or the online equivalent of the bricks-and-mortar store) as well as Amazon UK and on Goodreads. Though the latter are the same company they don't cross-reference reviews; largely, it seems, because of nuances in the ratings system between Amazon and Goodreads. Three stars on Amazon is a tad less positive than the same score on Goodreads. Who knew? I'll probably stick at least some up on this blog too (or links to them). 

The upshot of all this is that I'm learning again the value of an opinion, so it's only right that I pass along those that are mine, in the hope that they'll be of use in some tiny way to others, both other readers, and to writers. Sounds fair, right? 


My novels Torc and The Prospect of This City are available via Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords