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Sunday Salon: On Reviewing Books

Posted by Sherry on 5/23/2010 in General |

I found this list at Janet’s Across the Page blog. It’s a list of ways to respond to a book, questions to think about, ways to engage the author and his work without having to follow the “review formula.”

Says Janet, “I’ve been trying to brainstorm some writing prompts to help me engage with my reading without falling into ruts or formulas. In fact, I think I’m going to do away with ‘book reviews’ altogether, and switch to ‘book engagements.’ Most of the time, my responses are complex and hard to “score” in the way a book review seems to require.”

Then, I came across this quotation from George Orwell: “Prolonged, indiscriminate reviewing of books is a quite exceptionally thankless, irritating and exhausting job. It not only involves praising trash but constantly inventing reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feeling whatever.”

It seems to me that both Janet and George make the same point. I don’t write traditional book reviews, even though I call them “Semicolon reviews” when I link to them. I write whatever the book makes me think about. Sometimes I write down what the book was about and who the characters were because that’s the part of the book I want to remember and the part I think my readers might find interesting. Sometimes I rant about the author’s bias or the characters’ vile behaviors. Sometimes I write about whatever was lovely, true, honest, just, pure, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy in the book. Sometimes I follow a tangential thought that engaged my attention at some point in the reading and never come back to the main point at all. It might even seem to those fellow readers who peruse my non-review that we could not have read the same book since my thoughts are so off the beaten path.

Other times I want to make a list of books or authors that the book under examination reminds me of reading. Or I try to compare novels or ideas or characters or settings. Sometimes it’s a tiny mistake or an insignificant incident that gets my attention. And sometimes I’ll tell you what I learned. All of these responses are useful to me, which is why I write this blog in the first place. I use books and writing to clarify and refine my thinking. I hope some of the rambling is useful to those of you who visit the blog, too. There’s something about writing for others, even if it’s only a few readers, that makes the thoughts come clearer and become more profitable.

Thanks for reading. I’m blessed that this blog gives me the opportunity to write about books (and other things) without having to always score or invent reactions where there are none.

2 Comments

  • I love the variety of your book posts, Sherry. You have such a broad context of reading to compare your current reaction to. It makes for very rich reviews.

    I agree with what you said in your post about starting a book blog: the most interesting part of a review is the personal element, the discussion of how a book impacted you or what it made you think about.

  • […] Sometimes it is just lack of a reaction, or a lack of connection. When I read this Orwell quote at Semicolon, I thought it came close to the truth. “Prolonged, indiscriminate reviewing of books is a quite […]

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