Books reviews: better reading, better writing
If we believed social media, we might assume that book reviewing is every bookworm's duty, that we owe authors a debt of quotable tribute, that we're responsible for guiding bewildered book-buyers, that posting book reviews is basic good manners and proof we're not aliens or bots or trolls or ninnies.
Maybe all that's true. The trouble is, it places book reviewing into the dreaded obligation category, along with activities like dusting, eating kale, and faking workplace enthusiasm.
There's another, deliciously selfish reason for posting book reviews. Let me tell you a secret: I review books because it's making me a better reader, which is helping me to write my own books.
Reviewing (on Goodreads) has changed the way I approach books and deepened my delight in them. Without setting out to, I've become more:
Attentive - aware of my head and heart responses to sentences, characterisation, structure and plot.
Reflective - thinking between reading sessions and after I've finished a book about whatever has stayed with me.
Inquisitive - getting to the bottom of whatever got my goat.
Appreciative - re-reading favourite passages.
Patient - when I don't fall head over heels with the first chapters, I'm wondering why and looking for the strengths in the writing, giving books more time to surprise me.
Pragmatic - acknowledging that my responses are a matter of my preferences and mood, other people will react differently, as would past/future me.
Compassionate - if I'm not enjoying and struggling to learn, the book and I are incompatible. I’m not the right reader and need not finish. No regrets. Others will love the book, let them review it.
If, when I began reviewing, a passing library sprite had foretold that my pleasure in reading would double, I'd have said bobbins, or poppycock, or possibly even flapdoodle. The sprite would have been bang-on. I'm noticing more, understanding more, savouring more, am more intensely moved. I'm not wasting time beating myself or books up. It's flipping ace.
Oh, and I read more books too, about twice as many as I used to. I'd rather dive into a book than float about online.
We must hoard all the books, consume them greedily, digest and take the learning into our beings. We must be made of books. If you don't believe me, ask these guys:
When you start reading in a certain way, that's already the beginning of your writing. You're learning what you admire and you're learning to love other writers. The love of other writers is an important first step. To be a voracious, loving reader.
Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it.
If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.
The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing.
Read a thousand books and your words will flow like a river.
You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.
Better reading means I'm learning writing craft - the techniques I love, that I can make friends with, be civil if cool with, or quietly drop. I see my own writing anew, realise why this or that hasn't come alive, or why I'm stuck, how to solve a problem or realise an idea. Checking out headlines on my phone does not offer me that, watching telly hardly ever does.
If an author is pleased that I've reviewed their book, that's brilliant. If a reader finds my review helpful, that's dandy too. Frankly, I intend to carry on regardless, because reviewing books changes the way I read, which only improves my writing. Most importantly, it has revivified my love for books, so that I'm reminded daily why I started writing in the first place. Hooray!