Saturday, August 22, 2009

Those Pesky Book Reviews

On Monday, author T.L. Hines posted an article on his blog about book reviews -- and about why you shouldn't do them if you intend to be a published writer yourself. His reason, and it's a valid one, is what can happen when you review a book you hate -- and you later run into the author who wrote it, like at a writer's conference. Without a doubt, your name has been burned into the writer's mind. It can make for general unpleasantness all around.

I wrote a review of his latest novel, Faces in the Fire, and posted the review on Amazon and some thoughts about the book on this blog. That review doesn't apply to Hines' argument, because I really liked the book and my review and my blog post reflected that.

I've learned to avoid the problem Hines discusses by writing reviews only of books I like, and like a lot, books so well written that they make me think of something in a new way, blow my socks off with an incredibly crafted story, or send me to Amazon to find everything else this author has written.

But there's a key word in the first sentence of that paragraph -- learned. I once wrote a review that cited a book's fine writing but pointed out some problems. Some saw the same things but weren't as bothered by them; others felt more strongly than I did. But for whatever reason, it was my review that caught people's attention. It caused some nasty reactions, it did, from the writer's fans. It got so nasty that I ultimately removed the review (in that sense, online is much easier to manage than print). Some Christians can sometimes be very un-Christian like in their behavior. All of us have our moments. But it wasn't worth the general nastiness. (And Hines is right -- those names and comments are burned into my consciousness, and this was just a book review.)

But I still write and post reviews. I read a lot of both fiction and non-fiction. I review perhaps a fifth of what I read (ask my wife how the books pile up around here). I read a variety of genres. But I review very little of what I read. Some books begin with an interesting premise and then fade into triteness. Others promise something different but then discourage you with the utterly expected. Others have characters that never move beyond cardboard. Still others go well for the first three fourths of the way and then collapse into compressed and hackneyed plot resolution.

And then there are the ones that make reading pleasurable and completely worthwhile, including the ones you wished you hadn't read. These are the authors whose writing is consistently good because they work at it hard and work at telling the best story they possibly can. They may not be the "brands" that dominate the best-seller lists but they love what they do and they compel the reader to love what they do. And it's not just the "literary" crowd but writers working across all the genres. Some are well known but many are not, and I'll write reviews of their works and post them and blog about them and tweet them and retweet them, because they deserve a wider audience and readers deserve to find them.

Here are some of them: T.L. Hines, Dale Cramer, Athol Dickson, Travis Thrasher, Chris Fabry, Charles Martin, Bonnie Grove, Susan Meissner, Anne Lamott, Michael Snyder, Charles Martin, Marilynne Robinson, Brandilyn Collins, Mike Dellosso, L.L. Barkat. Check them out.

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