My READIN’ for reviews
British readers of a certain age will have grown up with a radio programme that began “Are you sitting comfortably?” Following that tradition, my reading has to be, first and foremost, an enjoyable and relaxing experience. Weather permitting, that might entail lounging in the garden; more often I’m in the sitting room on a reclining armchair with a cup of tea. Then, although I’m bound to have some preconceptions from the cover, blurb and, occasionally, other reviews, I try to read with what Freud termed evenly suspended attention, letting the book take me where it will. I’ve come across other reviewers who have a checklist of things to look out for (e.g. character, plot, etc) but, although those are important characteristics that often crop up in my reviews, I don’t keep them consciously in mind.
Although there’s no formal contract when I receive a book from a publisher, I do generally feel a sense of professional accountability both to read to the end and to write up a review, especially if it’s a book I’ve requested (although, like JJ Marsh, I value my time more than the price of even a hardback, and my accountability to my blog followers trumps that to the publishing industry). And, if I’ve received a copy sufficiently in advance of UK publication, I jot down this date in my diary and try to post my review on that day. (If and when either A or D get too chaotic I revert to R. As it happens, 9 April saw five novels from my TBR pile published but, when it came to it, I didn’t post a single review on that day. Although I take my reviewing seriously, I’m doing this for pleasure, and the sky won’t fall down if I don’t do it right.)
With my evenly suspended attention, I’m looking out for something interesting to share on my blog. Sometimes it will be around what I can take from the book as a writer; sometimes it’s the pleasure of the prose. Sometimes I find I have more to say about the subject matter than how it’s been fictionalised. While I probably have a particular blogging style, and there might be more repetition from one review to another than I’d like (although, as you’ve probably noticed, I do like making links between my reviews where I find them, which can sometimes throw a review out of shape), I’m aiming to maintain both my own and my readers’ interest by making my reviews almost as individual as the novels themselves.
So that’s the HER READIN’ of my review process. I wonder if anyone has any suggestions for a descriptor beginning with G?
On that note, there’s no doubt that readers’ feedback has shaped my review process, whether it’s your generous cheerleading, tangential discussions or additional questions, including pushing me to come down from the fence when I’m fudging it. Another thing that undoubtedly helps, although I don’t have as much time to do so as I ought to, is comparing my reviews with those of others. Sometimes, it merely confirms the fact that different readers take different things from a novel; other times, such as with A Spool of Blue Thread, it points the way to doing it better. Though I have no particular ambitions for my reviews, as with many things, I hope to improve with practice. While there are plenty of book bloggers I admire, my gold standard – not that I always agree with them – comes from the weekly review section of the Guardian newspaper.