The (fully tolerable) woes of book review bloggers

A couple of my regular stops in the blogosphere that also review books had some comments this past week I could plainly identify with.

Grumpy Old Bookman led off a post of short reviews acknowledging a problem similar to one of mine: “It has finally dawned on me that if I am ever to mention all the books in the increasingly large pile beside my desk, I am going to have to write shorter reviews than is my wont.”

Of course, some of that might be solved by the fact I apparently also suffer the same problem as Kevin Holtsberry at Collected Miscellany. He opened a recent review with the following:

One of the perils of reading books for review is that you lose some of the enjoyment by concentrating on what you will say in the review (or making sure you have something to say). While this does affect me on occasion (I more often feel pressure to read every book someone sends me), I generally don’t have this problem. Because I don’t get paid to write reviews I don’t approach fiction any different than if I were just reading for myself. The problem with this strategy – if you can call it that – is that on occasion I read a book, enjoy it, and then have very little intelligent to say about it.

My problem may be even worse. I read virtually every book I get as if I were reading it simply for pleasure. Couple that with my almost pathological aversion to writing in books and a tendency to scrawl short notes on whatever scrap of paper is handy at the time (and then leave that scrap wherever I happened to be) and even I am surprised that some reviews see the light of day. (As an aside, there was an interesting discussion of note-taking by reviewers at Critical Mass a couple months ago.) Of course, all this also means I spend perhaps an inordinate amount of time going back through the books to write a review. But then, that allows me to remind myself of how much I liked or disliked the book.

Perhaps I should quit worrying about this and simply get to either the stack of books to be read and the stack that have been read and need to be reviewed.

Literary criticism can be no more than a reasoned account of the feeling produced upon the critic by the book he is criticising.

“John Galsworthy,” D.H. Lawrence, Selected Critical Writings

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