akura, Alex Alba, Amazon, Black Jasmine, Blood Orchid, book reviewer, Book Reviews, Book Riot, Books, Darryl Campbell, George Orwell, GoodReads, Hawaii, hawaii book, Hawaii Book Blog, Honolulu, J. A. Konrath, Jane Friedman, Kim Akura, Lei Crime Series, Leilani Texeira, literature, Mignon McLaughlin, Misty Sanico, NaNoWriMo, newbie writer, Quotes, sanico, Sock Puppets, Storify, Toby Neal, Torch Ginger
Writerly Wednesdays are devoted to all things writerly. I may share a favorite writerly nook or share some new found tool, gadget, widget or app. More commonly, Wednesdays are about my creative process.
This is a continuation of my ruminations about writing book reviews. I have yet to write an official one. And none for my writerly friends. I have to ponder a bit before I can strike out on this adventure. Book Review: Measured By The Stars & Written By Sock-Puppets is the first in this series.
A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote.
In the Storified TweetChat I mentioned in last weeks, Book Review piece, Misty Sanico of HawaiiReads (formerly known as The Hawaii Book Blog) shared the link above from Book Riot. It’s worth a click over there. Go ahead. We’ll wait.
As you can see, or you could if you had read that piece, Kim Akura takes exception to the elitism expressed by fellow book reviewer, Darryl Campbell’s “Is This Book Bad, or Is It Just Me? The Anatomy of Book Reviews.”
So I think we can all agree that A) the “book review” is a prestigious class of writing that people aspire to write, and B) there is a continuum of, shall we say, critical perceptiveness — what in the pre-everyone-gets-a-trophy age we might call “value” or “quality” — on which the multiple-thousand-word, tightly-argued essays of the New York/London/L.A. Review of Books reside at one end, and the rapid reactions of John Q. Tumblr reside at the other. ~Darryl Campbell
My sympathies are with Kim on this. I believe that much of the grumbling of lack of quality among “amateurs” really has more to do with shifts of power and importance. Who is a reader going to believe? A pretentious, pedigreed reviewer from a well-heeled periodical? A fellow member of their local book club? A trusted blogger reviewing from their personal site? A friend or acquaintance on GoodReads? A five-star review on Amazon? And more importantly which one of these sources directly influences their probability of actually purchasing the book?
The Four Elements Upon We Can Agree
Drum Roll, Please!
“One’s real reaction to a book, when one has a reaction at all, is usually ‘I like this book’ or ‘I don’t like it,’ and what follows is a rationalization.” ~George Orwell
“In the case of fiction, its plot, its characters, some of the backstory, and the setting. In the case of nonfiction, the overall narrative or argument of the book, the author’s source material and expertise in the subject matter.” ~Campbell
- Aesthetic Appraisal:
This was precisely the topic of the final volleys of yesterday’s WSS [Wordsmith Studio] TweetChat. Polish v Substance. Those with hard-won degrees tended to favor the former. Those of us with hard-won experience tended to favor the latter. Check the Storified version here.
- Historical Appraisal:
The aspect of this that is most important to me deals with issues of the colonial lens. I live in Hawaii. Even recreational and lighter fare has broader implications of which I have an acute awareness. Likewise, I have a sensitivity to treatment of female characters.
While a site like Goodreads caters itself to reviews that achieve the first and second elements (with starred ratings, shelving, and space for writing reviews), it doesn’t mean Campbell’s four-part reviews couldn’t be there. The fact that they often aren’t is, I would think, more a result of the fact that readers as consumers care less about those questions and more about information that will tell them if a book is worth spending their time and money on. ~Kim Akura
My Star Rubric
My unvarnished assessment: I hate the star system of ratings. It fails to add clarity. It punishes authors. The appeal is the ease of use to unthinking consumers. But it is. So therefore, I have to address my relationship to it.
- Can I honestly review your book using all four elements above? Did you exceed my expectations of the genre and your experience as an author? If yes to both, then all five stars are yours.
- If yes, to only one of the questions, you’ve earned a four star rating.
- Did I finish the book? If yes, then I should be able to write a review based on the first two elements. I’m fine with that and you got yourself three stars.
- If your book falls beneath this threshold, I will not review your book. I believe it unfair and of little use to give categorically negative reviews.
I asked Toby if she were game for me to analyze her books for this series. She writes thrillers and my mysteries are of a different flavor, but I don’t believe it a stretch to think that our fans would read each other’s work.
She was more than game. She gave me permission to point out the strengths and weaknesses. I did give her 5 stars on all three of her current offerings. The reviews will have more substance. The particulars will be laid bare.
We are friends, and I respect her efforts. Her struggles and misses could be mine as well. That is one of the reasons I love reading her books. I can see some of the issues she’s up against. I enjoy it when I see her master an element. Equally, I love to see her stretch to the next level. She’s a risk-taker with a solid grounding. I admire that.
Much as a younger sister watches her older get ready for a high school date. I have been watching Toby thinking some of this could be, would be, will be happening to me. I’m just a few years behind.
So next Wednesday, look for the third installment. This next one will be titled, Book Review: Serial Thriller.
Do you have an author review site on GoodReads? Do you review books on Kindle/Amazon? Do you have a book blog? How do you feel about reviews as an author? As a reader? Do you find book reviews influence a purchase? How to you dish out the star ratings? Do you agree with the four elements? Lots to discuss. Come, talk story with us.