Reviewing

May 17, 2021

I have recently had my fortieth review published at The Canberra Times. The book was a challenging and at times disturbing analysis of psychosomatic illnesses, entitled The Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories of Mystery Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan. You can read the review here.

Writing so many reviews has given me a lot of time to reflect on the process. I see a review as a kind of bridge between the book and reader. The reader can cross over the bridge, and then make the decision as to whether they will jump off the other side, to buy or borrow the book.

Questions such as whether the book is a good example of its genre, and how it fits into an author’s previous publications can be addressed. New authors’ strengths can be celebrated, and what they add to a genre examined. There’s no point reviewing a thriller and complaining about it being action driven, or a horror novel for trading in darkness, for example; that would be a misuse of space.

I will of course point out what I see as faults in a strong book, but if there’s a book I really can’t stand, I won’t review it. People want to be referred to books worth the reading, and have an indication as to why, rather than observe the reviewer’s vocabulary of negative words being taken out for a walk (or flaunt). I don’t want to dwell on something that I find annoying or repellent, either.

The wide variety of books available has taken me to places I wouldn’t necessarily have gone without having the ability to read for review (which entails free books, and being paid something for the effort). Would I have sought out a book about psychosomatic illness before I began reviewing regularly? Possibly not. So a reviewer puts herself over a kind of bridge each time she picks up a new type of book, sometimes checking out surprising views on the way to the book’s end, before going back and asking the reader to accompany her.

I think I’ve flogged the bridge metaphor to death, and must now blow it up in a River Kwai type action. I try and avoid that sort of exhausting overuse of metaphor in reviews. Honestly.

Thoughts? Carrots? Sticks? Comments? Go ahead!

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