You too can do a review

I’ve written my first online book review. I’m not sure what to think about it.
Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never voluntarily read with a commitment to give public feedback. I had never shared what I liked or disliked about a book. It always seemed presumptuous on my part to analyze someone else’s work, or even to click stars. Who am I to criticize another’s labor? Who would care about what I thought? Why should I put this pressure on myself?
My thoughts were the price of an opportunity to download a new e-book on effective storytelling. This is a skill that most people take for granted and think themselves better at it than they are, so I decided to presume guilt for myself.
It couldn’t be that hard. I’ve read probably hundreds of reviews over the years, on the web or in publications that I subscribe to, often by authors I respect. Articles on how to write them are as numerous as stinkbugs in spring (Google returned a mind-boggling number of links when I searched how to write one). Everyone else who has ever been on the Web has apparently already done this.
But actually sitting down to write it was something else.
I figured to compose a review just like those I enjoy reading–with cultural context, historical references, broader discussions of ideas. Get into the whys, connect the dots, dissect the relationships, clarify the Big Picture. I would tell the author things about his work that even he didn’t know.
So heavy research would be involved. No problem, I could do that. These people have all obviously been at this for years. So long experience would help. Fine, I’ll get there, I’ve read a lot. Insightful prose was needed to tie everything relevantly together. Writing ability, working on it.
Yep, this was going to make me look like a backbencher, at best.
Still, I looked forward to reading it. There was an interesting subject. I wanted to give an honest review. And since it was my first try I’d likely remember it, so it counted.
With all that in mind, I read it straight through. By straight through, I mean as time allowed in the small flashes of free time one gets every so often today. In actual time, it took more than a week. Since it did not occur to me that a second, more measured attempt was unlikely, I had not bothered taking notes.
So I had no idea what to write after that. No insights, no engaging observations, nada. I learned a lot and enjoyed the work, but the blank page just stared back at me, daring me to make sense of my jumble of thoughts.
I managed to reread most of it in bursts, intent on stumbling across some worthy bit that I hoped someone else wouldn’t think to post. Might have found a couple. In any case I missed the deadline that was asked for in the confirmation, because I was too busy swiping the pages faster than I could read more than a couple of words on at once.
I ended with three mediocre paragraphs, and the same feeling I used to get in school every time I turned in a blue essay test book. Maybe I passed, and maybe I didn’t.
In any case, I can’t wait to try it again. Maybe something a bit less complex next time, like Hop on Pop.
This is the book I reviewed. It was quite helpful and well done. My feedback is probably somewhere among the middle of the Customer Reviews, or if they were watching, removed by now as Least Helpful.
I did get something out of it though. The experience did force me to read much more carefully, and make an effort to fully understand. That can’t be bad, even with a blank review page staring at me.

Have reviews ever affected your decision whether or not to read a book?

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3 Comments

Filed under Writing

3 responses to “You too can do a review

  1. I think book reviews are a great way to break into writing; they really allow a writer to understand who he or she is by developing and expressing views. As a writer with a literary blog, I think its a great way to start.

  2. Pingback: One, two, another review | Indefinite Articles

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