Last year in November, I decided to start doing book reviews the way I like to talk about books. This is why I like it, this is why I didn't like, this is who I think would enjoy it. I'd done reviews and author features before, but they just didn't quite flow the way I wanted.
I can talk about books all day long. I was recently out for drinks with a friend who mentioned she liked to read. Thirty minutes later, I'm sure she was sorry she'd said that!
As this year starts to wind down* and the suffocating stress, um, I mean joyful excitement of the holidays looms ahead like a big dark storm—um, light shower of blessings, (UGH, I give up) I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what I've learned this year about my own reading and talk about my plan for the future.
*I was a school teacher for 18 years. I'm pretty sure this is the first time in my life I've actually measured a year from January to December. I've always thought of it in terms of August to July.*
So here is my list, in no particular. order:
I still love to read and talk about books but...
I've always loved reading and telling stories. That will never change. But my thought process as a reader has definitely changed. I don't know if it comes from reading with the idea of a review in mind or learning so much about the craft as author, but I'm quicker to see inconsistencies in a plot and slower to forgive them. I'm also quicker to DNF (Did Not Finish) a book that doesn't keep my attention. Did you see that bookshelf in the picture? That plus my Kindle times an Amazon account equals more books than any human really needs at one time. If the author can't hold my attention or I can't suspend my reality long enough to become fully emerged in the story, I'm moving on.
I refuse to write a review that does not benefit the author.
This doesn't mean I am not honest in my reviews. Not every book I read is a five-star work of literary perfection. I try to be frank in my reviews and list any glaring flaws I find with the plot, the characters, or the writing itself. But if I truly dislike a book or truly think the writer should be exploring other career options, I simply don't review it. I've read multiple books this year that I either bailed on after the first 25% (my personal test) or I skimmed to the end because I had to know what happened but didn't enjoy it enough to tout it to the world, which leads me to numbers three and four below.
Not every book is for me and not every book is for you.
I can name several books that I read this year that I thought were awful. I mean, A_W_F_U_L. Some that I didn't finish. Some that I forced myself to the end because "It has 3K 5-stars on Goodreads, I must be missing something!" But I'm not. Everything about reading and writing books is subjective. Sometimes it is my own experiences that make the book annoying. For example: one of the books-that-shall-not-be-named took place in a high school setting. The whole premise was based on something that would be ridiculous for a teacher to do and, at least in my state, illegal. It ruined the rest of the story for me. Sometimes events in the book trigger a response in me that other people don't seem bothered by. I started a very well-loved series because everyone claims it is hilarious and a "must-read." What most of the reviewers saw as "hot", I saw as creepy and pretty much the definition of sexual assault. I couldn't make it to the midway point.
A great story can trump mediocre writing.
I chose my words for that sentence very carefully: a great story can trump mediocre writing. A good story can't save bad writing. Nothing can save bad writing. You may have the most intriguing plot in the world, but if it sounds like my eight-year old nephew is trying to tell it to me, I'm out. (Not for my nephew—I'll listen to his stories all he wants.) But I encountered more than a few books this year that the writing style did not set right with me, or maybe it just needed cleaned and tightened a little better, but I kept reading. Why? Because I had to know what happened. The author had pulled me in just enough to keep me at the party until I knew who was kissing who at midnight, then I was leaving. *If I really can't take the writing any longer, I'll totally hop on Goodreads and look for spoilers. I have no shame.*
I really like doing reviews.
Even though they don't necessarily start conversations about books in the way I would prefer, I've truly enjoyed doing reviews. I especially love posting them to Amazon and hoping that's a boost for the author (even if it is only the tiniest bit). So, I'm going to keep doing them.
MY FUTURE PLAN OF AMAZEMENT
I'll be taking a break over the holidays and posting some of the "Best of" from when I only had my Writer In Waiting blog and a maybe four visitors.
My reading challenge for next year is to tackle the bookshelf shown above. I'll be posting about the books on there soon and exactly what I intend to read and why, but (with a few exceptions) I'm taking a break from reviewing ARCs and going a little old school.
I usually don't ask questions at the end of my posts, but if you've bothered to read this far, I feel like we should chat.
Have you enjoyed my reviews this year? Is there something missing that I should add? Do you have reading suggestions? Because I am ALWAYS up for those! And if you're curious about the books that I chose not to review, feel free to contact me. I'm happy to give my opinion privately.