Reviewing My Reviewing…

I’ve been thinking this weekend. Dangerous I know. However when I went on a mission to work out just how many books I had yet to review that I had read this year I was rather shocked by the pile that I was confronted with…

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Uh-oh! This was made considerably worse when I thought I had missed four from the pile to realise I had actually missed about seven. Whoops. This pile of potential reviews both had me slightly panicked and also pondering over reviews going forward with the blog. I have discussed review policies quite a bit this year but other than the constant desire to review better I haven’t thought about it that much. These are now my thoughts and you can add your thoughts on my thoughts (oh that sounds more confusing than it is) in the comments below.

Reviews are hard work. Be they positive reviews or negative reviews, reviews are bloody hard work and really time consuming, yet I love them. People ask how long a review takes and the answer is… weeks. You see I write initial scribbles in my notebook, and keep notes or take pictures of paragraphs I want to use that capture the book/writing, as I am reading. I then spend quite a while (an hour or two) writing a post not long after I have read it. Then, and this has only happened in the last two or three years, I go away and leave it to settle (both the review in a document but more importantly the book in my brain) before I go back, with some more themes and things I have thought of to add plus most importantly a more rounded picture of it. Some books grow on you, some books fade.

Reviews get read but not so many comments. Slightly annoyingly a post like this which looks at reading and reviewing will get more comments than any book review I do and yet take nowhere near as long as it is more a stream of consciousness/ponderings out loud. Now admittedly I don’t blog for comments, though they are lovely to get, I have always blogged to keep a reading diary, occasionally poorly. Yet a comment or five are nice especially when you have put so much time in to them. That said I am crap at commenting on other blogs when I haven’t read the book because to say ‘nice review’ seems a bit empty, must try harder Simon!

When I don’t review I don’t feel like a “book blogger”. That simple, though what a book blogger is nowadays I am not so sure. Anyway… Recently writing more posts about reading and other booky things I haven’t felt like much of a blogger more just someone who is waffling on about books and not actually analysing them and getting excited about them which is my favourite bit really. Next year there will be a better ratio I think.

I need to be timelier in my reviews.  Some books I have forgotten I have read or what happened in them, these are the ones that have escaped the above picture. I read a lot and some get forgotten, but then that might mean I didn’t like them so much. So be more timely or…

I don’t want to review everything I read. At least not all of it, and not some of it in great detail. Out of the books above there are a few that I have really enjoyed but don’t have much to say other than ‘well it was nice’. I have also noticed with some Hear Read This choices and You Wrote The Book authors because I have thought about those books so much before talking about them so much I don’t have the urge to then talk about them more and more. Interesting. This will probably mean a) I don’t review everything I read AND like, because I don’t review stuff I don’t like and can’t be constructive and/or give up on b) I may do more round up posts now and again.

I want my reviews to be better. This is something I am always striving for but sometimes, like with my latest review, a few days later I think ‘oh why didn’t I mention that?’ or ‘ what about that bloody theme’ etc. This will happen. What I mean is that I want to try harder to get the essence of the book, its themes and its effects on me as a reader in a more fluent and interesting way. Gran used to say she was getting more and more proud of my reviews after they ‘started a bit like rushed Amazon ones’, I would like to up my game even more in the next few months warming up for 2015. Basically I want to write like myself but with the insight I love from all my favourite bloggers, one of which (Eric of Lonesome Reader) I have told to their face makes me vomit in my own mouth a little bit with green eyed envy at what he produces.

I want my reviews to be me. This may mean some jokes intertwined but no swearing, unless really called for I think swearing in reviews looks a bit naff and unintelligent. I need to think about this a bit more.

So there, that is my thoughts on reviewing my reviewing. What are your thoughts on reviewing and reviews? What really makes a review stand out for you? Do you have any favourite reviews? What makes you read on and what makes you not bother? What makes you comment or not? Do you have to have read the book first? What are the things you like, and those you loathe, in a review? Why do I always have so many questions?

28 Comments

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28 responses to “Reviewing My Reviewing…

  1. As I started reading this, I was wondering if you review everything you read but you answered that one for me. When I first started blogging that was my intention, but I realized that some books (even if I enjoy them) just aren’t that interesting to write/read about…it’s been a relief to let some of them go.

    I totally hear you on wanting your reviews to be “you”. I always thought my reviews had to be really formal or professional sounding and held on to that. A few months ago an editor at one of the sites I write for told me he loved a review where I dropped the third person and just sounded more fun. Since then I’ve been trying to let go of the formal structure, but it can be hard!

  2. I am beginning to think that perhaps I don’t like reviews. I don’t need to know if the reviewer enjoyed the book or not, all I need is a synopsis of the early part of the book and from that I decide if it is the kind of book I might enjoy. I find if I have been fed every last detail and nuance and theme it detracts from my enjoyment of the book, from making my own discoveries. Perhaps book reviews are meant to be read after reading a book when there is a possibility you might enjoy the extra insights, more of a one-person class discussion. So… I don’t know what that makes me. I just know I will continue to be a regular visitor to several blogs, usually without commenting. Actually perhaps Book Commentary would be a better title than Book Review – a review comes before, a commentary comes after.

  3. Truthfully when I open up a post and it’s a very long review I don’t read it. Life is too short. I much prefer those blogs that talk about books. They talk about the books they have read, write a blurb about it, how they liked it and why. They didn’t tell me the whole story etc. I just want to know if they liked the book or not and why. Tell me a little bit but don’t go on for ages in small print. I won’t read it. I also like the personal side to book blogs. I like to feel I am getting to know the person and be friends. I read your blog for the personal information about the books. Your book activities, stories of your gran, books you’ve enjoyed or not. If I want a strict review I’ll just go to amazon where most books have reviews or library thing. I don’t need 50 reviews of the Luminaries. I would much rather make friends with the person who talks about the Luminaries and has a bit of humour and local information of that person’s country also or city. Keep it personal I say. Comment back and forth and get to know them. Who cares if you;re a serious reviewer. If that’s your thing then fine. If you enjoy it but there are enough jobs in life why create more and stress yourself out. My 2 cents..

  4. A good book review for me is one that piques my interest and leaves me wanting to know more, but doesn’t spoil the plot by revealing too much. It is personal, shows how the book made the reviewer feel or think.

    I didn’t use to do any reviews (of anything) on my blog when I first started, but I found it to be a good way of keeping track of what I think or feel of something. Writing a review – as you’ve mentioned, is a lot of work – and in doing so, it makes me slow down and think (instead of rushing from one book/restaurant/trip to another).

  5. You are being way too hard on yourself. I was a weekly columnist for a decade. My column was called Another Viewpoint. Back in the 70s. At any rate every so often I woukd write a great column and be flooded with praise from colleagues and readers. Then, after one of those terrific pieces, I would be blocked, which is another way of saying, I was swept away and felt I could never top it. Then would follow a slew of so-so’s. The blog nomination and the recent awards may have thrown you off kilter. You are very, very good at what you do. Do it for fun and you will continually hit a homerun.

  6. You bring up so many good points and questions, one of which is that is much easier to respond (comment) on a review of a book I have read. Unless the reviewer says something provocative/discussion worthy in the review of a not-read book what do you even say? I find that I skip a lot of reviews, particularly of the books I’ve not heard of which feels a little backwards as how then do you discover new books?
    I’m constantly struggling with how to write reviews so that it is engaging to read and gives the reader everything they need to know to decide whether to read or not. I’m not sure I’ve ever written a review that meets that criteria, lol! I will occasionally write a review that I am particularly pleased with and of a book I love and want the world to know about which then makes the no comments and only a handful of views even more sad.
    Here’s a question. Would you prefer someone not comment on a review if they have nothing of much substance to say or if they enjoyed the review and added it to the TBR simply say that in the comments?

    • I totally agree with the catch-22 situation of only reading reviews of books you’ve read, which stops you discovering new books. Also, with an ARC, I feel so guilty if I don’t review it – as though I’m letting the publisher down – pathetic I know! Also, like Simon, I have a few books from earlier in the year I need to review – admittedly not as many – but I remember so little about them it’s almost a case of, “I’ll have to pretty much read that again!” Which you don’t want to do as you’ve a pile of new ones waiting! Blogging CAN slightly take the enjoyment out of reading, but on the other hand it encourages me to read more, and think about what I’m reading. It’s my own fault for making myself feel pressured, I know that!

  7. I also find reviewing very difficult and time-consuming, but I’m still committed to posting about every book I read. I try to post within a few days of finishing because I have a very short memory. As far as reading reviews, I think what makes me keep reading is either the book sounds like something I might like, or it’s a book I’ve read (or even just heard about) and I want to hear another take on it. I’ll admit I have a very short attention span so I don’t always read the entire review if it’s long, sometimes I’ll just read the beginning and the end to get the idea. The only thing I can think of that I really don’t like in reviews are when the reviewer uses the Goodreads summary rather than describing the book in their own words. I also really like personality in reviews so, for instance, what I like so much about your reviews is your conversational style and your sense of humor. I don’t comment a whole lot, just usually if I feel like I have something worth saying.

  8. quinn

    Good questions. I feel I need to have read the bk to comment most times. I don’t need a complete rehash of a bk, it’s enuf for me to become familiar w/ a bloggers taste…have had great success w/ their recommendations in the past…then all u have to say is ‘love this…if u liked pym…second only to Rebecca..etc’ and since i trust your taste, i might give it a go.
    Short reviews are great, a bunch of them so I can get a feel for what u are reading these days. Of course i never assumed that u could possibly review every bk u read…too many🙂
    and u better be u…cause u is big fun!! blog any way u feel…change it as u feel best every now and then…u do it so well….many thx…quinn

  9. I really appreciate this post. I agree, reviews are a lot of work. I go through a similar process: taking notes while I’m reading, writing a quick bit after I’m done so I get my first impressions down, then waiting a bit (well, not really waiting, but going on to read another book), then combining it all and adding and changing. I don’t write reviews for every book I read either, that would drive me mad. Some books are just mindless fun (“pudding” as a friend of mine calls them) and you need to let go of that critical mind for a bit. And then I also don’t always review books I liked but don’t have much to say about, although I do try to pin down why I like something, so I can know myself better.

    As far as feedback, I publish my book reviews in a print zine (I know, I’m so ancient), not a blog, and so some people are reading them years after I wrote them! So I don’t get much feedback. Except from close friends and family that I give the zine to right away. And that’s really enough for me, I guess. I love the writing, I do it for myself. I used to write reviews for a great review magazine called Rain Taxi, and I loved doing them because I had a great editor and the books were always quirky off-the-beaten-track things, but a couple of years ago I decided I loved reviewing but wanted to review what I wanted to review, with no restrictions. So that’s why I do my zine. And once I decided I was really doing it for myself, that helped me loosen up my writing and infuse more of myself into the reviews. I do think it’s really important to have your reviews be you, s you say, but I think that it takes time to develop that, so don’t be too hard on yourself, just keep writing. I do think you already have a recognizable style that is very YOU, so I wouldn’t worry. Maybe finefix43 is right and you are freakin’ out because of that blog award nomination…suddenly you feel expectations! No, remember, this is YOUR blog, you get to do it how want, and, oh yeah, people read it because of how you are already doing it.

    Um, yeah, that is a really tall pile to catch up with. Don’t panic! Maybe you could allow yourself to write some reviews that are not so “complete.” You know, you talked about thinking of things later that you didn’t talk about in a review, but really you don’t have to cover EVERYTHING. Try just focusing on a couple things. Sometimes it’s harder to write shorter reviews, because you feel like you have to be very succinct, but sometimes it can be easier if you allow yourself to just focus on a couple things that are specifically important to you. And if you feel you really do need to review all those in that stack, then chip away at it a little at a time. That’s what I do. Because you obviously can’t stop reading to write all these reviews. Must read next book.

  10. I detect some of my own malaise about reading, reviewing, blogging… Is it worth the effort (it does take a lot of time)? Especially when I really want to write my own work? Is it better to write lots of little reviews of all the books I read, or occasional deeper reviews? I think your reviews are on the profound side, and of course you can’t possibly give all books that same undivided, deep attention…

  11. David

    As you know, I don’t blog, but I do sometimes write little review-ettes on Goodreads, though these are intended as more of an aide- mémoire for myself and your Gran’s “rushed Amazon ones” description would fit them to a tee; but maybe half the books I read, even if I’ve enjoyed them, I can’t think of anything much to say about (I neither loved nor loathed them, they didn’t have any themes I wanted to note down etc.) so I can completely understand your not reviewing everything, and I imagine if you tried then it would just be reviewing for reviewing’s sake (and there’s nothing worse than that kind of review – even broadsheet papers occasionally publish reviews that amount to little more than an extended synopsis with a couple of quotes, but almost no opinion, and you just know the reviewer could think of nothing worth saying about the book, which amounts to the same as damning it with faint praise, except without the praise bit).

    As for commenting on reviews on blogs, I honestly don’t see the point unless I’ve read either the book under discussion or other books by the same author that might be relevant. I can understand that a ‘I really like the sound of this’ comment acknowledges the effort you’ve put in to writing the review and indicates that you’ve represented the book favourably, but it isn’t something I’d do myself. It doesn’t mean however that I haven’t read and appreciated your review (I read almost all of yours).

    By the way, of your non-reviewed pile I’ve read two. I surprised myself by enjoying David Nichols’s ‘Us’ a great deal, but (*ducks*) I’m still not sold on Rose Tremain, though I did slightly prefer ‘The American Lover’ to ‘The Colour’ which is the only other book of hers I’ve read. I would love to know what you made of the Kamila Shamsie and Emma Donoghue: I liked Shamsie’s ‘Burnt Shadows’ but not enough to make me desperate to read the new one; and whilst I loved ‘Room’ I thought ‘Frog Music’ sounded more akin to the stories in ‘Astray’ which I was really underwhelmed by.

  12. Reviewing is hard isn’t it! Having started blogging as an aide-memoire to my reading, I still aim to write something about every book I read – and usually within a few days of finishing it – admittedly some books continue to grow on you and others fade quickly but a snapshot of first impressions is fair enough. Once I find the hook for my review, then they tend to flow quite quickly – but it can take a while to find that inspiration with many books.
    I too don’t comment a lot of the time if I have nothing to add to the conversation, but I continue to find titles to add to my wishlists from others’ reviews – so keep them coming!🙂

    BTW, I was disappointed by Frog Music, and loved the Robert Aickman stories from your pile. I have several others there waiting for me including the Sarah Pinborough ones and David Nicholls which I’m looking forward to.

  13. For a year or two I reviewed everything I read. Then I realised that was silly and limiting (who wants to read about the mundane?) It also caused me to procrastinate, so now I’ll review what I want and leave the others; I can always cover the rest in my round-ups. I also changed my reviewing style to be less personal, found that limiting and uninspiring and am currently working towards more of a balance. My favourite reviews are all older! I think sometimes you just have to write it, post it, and forget about it. Reviewed well enough is better than not reviewed at all, in this context.

    I comment mostly on reviews of books I’ve already read or know a bit about because there’s obviously more to say, but I do try to comment on others, too. I know my comments there won’t be great but, especially if there are few comments, I want to let the blogger know someone’s reading.

    If there’s soon going to be more books on that pile and you’ve books there you don’t *have* to review, definitely prioritise and mini-review/leave the rest unreviewed. Being daunted just makes it worse in the long run.

    If you’re writing about books then you’re a book blogger, reviews or no reviews🙂

  14. see comments! I must admit, the no comments after a review post is a bit disheartening but we continue to review anyway! Liking what you have said! x

  15. Ann

    I had a good laugh at your photo of the books you have to review. It looks like my nightstand by my bed. Too many books – but don’t get so stressed – just take one book at a time and soon the pile will be gone and your reviews will be too. Good luck.

  16. I had a discussion with a well known author about this. She said that I wasn’t a reviewer, but a recommender of books. I rather liked that. I am not knowledgeable enough to provide a proper analysis on a book I have read. I can however provide an overview of the plot and explain why I liked it and why others might like it.

    In general I don’t read long analytical reviews from start to finish, unless I have already read the novel. It spoils it for me. I will read a recommendation though.

    I enjoy your reviews though, especially about books I have already read. Perhaps do a mixture of reviews and recommendations?

    Having closed my blog a week or so back (a sad, sad day), I am now just keeping my book journal and oddly I seem to go into more details when it is just for me…

  17. I basically sat here nodding the entire time I read this. My pile of books that I have read but not reviewed is overwhelmingly high right now, and I’ve also been thinking about how I review.

    I *try* to review everything I read, but I’ve accepted that I don’t always have a whole lot to say about a book — whether I really liked or disliked it. I’ve found that mini reviews work really well for this, when I have 3-5 books I don’t feel like reviewing completely. It’s so nice to just write a paragraph saying, “this is what the book was about, and I really enjoyed it/it didn’t quite work for me.”

  18. TU

    This post will hit home with a lot of readers because yes, reviews take *ages* — I end up reading a book that’s 10% post-it notes with scribbles in the margins, and often it takes a second read to finish the review, plus in-depth rummages to locate passages I might want to quote, or comment upon. Then there’s editing the review, polishing it… I struggle to write concise or effective reviews, but love to read them. One of my favourite reviewers is Valerie O’Riordan — both at Bookmunch and also her one-line-review reading lists.

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  20. Excellent post. It really is amazing how long reviews take. Like you I’m always trying to get better and I think that is where the no comments can be annoying. Sometimes I want people to disagree or maybe have an alternate point about something (anything) so I can get feedback. Without feedback, it’s hard to figure out where to improve. Totally understand the frustration on that.

    I’ve actually started working on a personal review bible of things I want to remember to look for when reading a book/watching a movie or whatever. Which reminds me, I need to finish that…. first I need to find it though, lol.

  21. Pingback: A Look into My Review Bible | Green Embers

  22. This is such a thought-provoking post. I find I comment on review posts if I’ve either read the book already, or if the review has introduced me to a book I feel I really want to read. I must admit, the best part of blogging about books is talking about the excitement and the anticipation. Which is what I tend to do most often, rather than write reviews. I find I only want to review books I loved, the ones that waltzed into my life and totally swept me away – and the problem is, when I start writing about these books, all I seem to end up saying is, This is a great book! You must read it so you can share my joy. Which is probably not particularly helpful for someone looking for a good review of a book they are considering spending their time and money on.

  23. You’ve articulated my feelings about reviewing pretty perfectly here…

  24. I’m with you on not wanting to review everything you read, sometimes the pressure of knowing I have to write a post can really ruin my reading experience. I wonder if reviewed less, with more time spent perfecting that review, it would be better. But, I also don’t feel much like a book blogger when I’m not writing specifically about a book, I like my blog to have balance if it can. Saying that, I’ve not written a review in a week or so.

  25. Rob

    I read your blog to be entertained and you certainly do that!!!!!

    A dear friend of mine works in the book “industry” and often says that, “a good book is hard to find”.

    Since I SO trust your opinions about books, I am interested in reviews about the good ones and the bad ones……..so let’s just leave the mediocre ones out.

    I read your blog every day to see what YOU are up to, what sort of day you have had, who has made you cross and who/what has made you happy and ALSO about books.

    I am guessing MANY of those MILLION hits that you have had are doing the same thing.

    Please just keep on being Simon and don’t worry so much about reviewing………….YOU are the star of the show!!!!!

    All the best!!!

  26. I completely agree: reviewing can be really hard. And sometimes you just want to carry on getting sucked into wonderful new books and not go back to an old one to tease out intelligent thoughts about it. Recently I made the decision to let myself write much shorter/faster reviews if that’s all I have time/brain space for and it’s been freeing. I know that I could write something sharper and smarter if I had time but I don’t.

    I think as long as books remain the focus of your blog, it doesn’t matter if reviews become a smaller proportion of what you write. Some book bloggers I follow have switched in recent years to writing more of a reading diary, with weekly thoughts on everything they’ve read, rather than individual reviews, and that works fine too.

  27. SammyMannatee

    Reblogged this on Why's That A Classic? and commented:
    An interesting look at reviewing as a book blogger – and maybe a look into why I am finding it hard to post frequently at the moment!

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