The sweet spot of book reviewing
Sometimes, I like a book far too much to review it.
It’s easier for me to come up with the words to review books I liked a lot, books I sort of liked, or even books I really didn’t like all that much, than a book that I absolutely adored and dove into. That’s even more true when it comes to series books I love. I have not blogged nearly enough about the books in the Billy Boyle series by James R. Benn. Each of the ten books in the series is, I assure you, that good in terms of interesting military plots, and that holy grail of series books, ongoing character development. If I were a better, more disciplined book blogger, I would go back and review each book, singing the praises of the setting, of getting to learn more about World War II. The entire series stays consistently good, and turning the last page makes me wishing James Benn would write faster, as well as wondering what on earth I can read next for that combination of great characters, interesting setting and mystery that goes dark in spots but maintains a certain optimism about humanity.
Speaking of which, I’ve blogged about my consistent fondness for Phryne Fisher mysteries. They also have the interesting setting in a historical mystery, the crime and suspense grounded in warm characters who support each other. And wry, funny bits of dialogue and narrative. Added bonus: getting to watch the series, and see the characters, and Phryne’s outfits. It takes me twice as long to watch each episode, because I’m pausing to admire the outfits.
I’d think re-reading a series helps me temper my adoration for a book, or a series, enough to blog about it in coherent sentences. But that’s proving not to be the case either. Recently, I treated myself to the New Millennium editions of the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane. I first read the series when it came out, and was thoroughly happy with the combination of magic and science and social responsibility. I loved how the wizard characters were developed as powerful enough to have great magical adventures, but also realistic kids with families and doubts and things to figure out. Plus, the series is solid fun to read. Recently, I treated myself to the New Millennium edition e-books, updated versions of the books in the series. It’s been long enough since I read each one for the first time that I can’t entirely spot how they’ve been updated: mobile phones and better computers, and maybe a few plot tweaks. Still just as good as the first reading. I have been telling myself I need to settle down and blog in praise of each book. And then I don’t blog. Because I am hungrily reading the next book, to stay in touch with the series.
Maybe a third reread would be the charm?
It’s so much easier to blog about books where my enthusiasm is tempered. Where I can step back, and figure out ways to think through and explain what I liked and why. If I can find a way to pull out things that didn’t work as well to contrast with things that blew me away, I feel like I have more to say. Not altogether sure why. Maybe it’s because the raw emotions and enthusiasm are dialed back, or that I have to spend more time thinking about putting dislike into words. With a mixed review, I stand a much better chance of being able to form sentences and hit “Publish.”
(Given the above mindset, I’m amazed I managed to be coherent enough to review Shadowshaper.)
For books I absolutely love, it’s a lot easier for me to talk about them outside of my blog: recommending them in conversation with friends, fellow librarians, booksellers; lavishing them with five star reviews on Goodreads, praising them in 140 character increments on Twitter. So I’m out there singing their praises… just not on the blog.
Books I really don’t like are also a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s kind of fun to snark and tear a book apart. But I don’t really feel right doing that on the blog too often. When authors and publicists send me their books to review, I feel bad ripping it apart, because work and hope went into it, and because they reached out to me thinking I’d like it. I’d rather not review it than sharpen my claws on something that was sent to me. I’ve gotten much better about not finishing books I’m not enjoying, whether they’re library books or review copies. Which reminds me, I should probably post a list of books I haven’t finished, because it would probably be instructive to see them in a group.
All of this said, I really need to get back in the habit of writing reviews of the books I read.