Tobias Buckell writes about a book blogger who struggles with how to keep his reviews original after reading huge volumes of books. I write reviews for The New Podler Review of Books, so Buckell’s piece hit home for me.
1) When you get to a point where you’ve read an amazing number of books, you change. You’ve read so much that what may seem new or interesting to most (and even to the writer of the book you’re reading) is just a variation to you. Your expectations regarding the work change.
2) If you’re able to either unconsciously or consciously navigate the above, what you’re left with isn’t a raw, initial passion for reviewing what you love, but a more craftman’s-like examination of the book for an audience you may no longer really be a part of, but can remember being a part of. It’s easy to slip into this vein, by will or luck, because it does allow you to keep reading a ton while reporting back on the basics of what you read.
What those reviews are basically covering is “If you like X sort of thing, this hits X okay, with some additional Y and Z, if you also are into that.” Do they feel sucked dry of a bit of the reviewer’s authorial voice? Yeah, probably, because the reviewer has had to step back out of necessity in order to report back to a larger audience.
I see lots of queries at New Podler for well-written books. But lately I find myself passing over queries that I may have once grabbed simply because they sound like books I’ve already read. And when I do take a book, I feel like my reviews are “craftman’s-like” as Buckell described.
I still love discovering new authors and reviewing books. But how do I learn to see the unique wonder in each book I review, rather than its similarities to other books I’ve read? Buckell touches on the answer:
At a workshop not too many years ago a newer writer began to condemn a best selling novel, pointing out all its flaws and jagged edges. I listened for a long time, nodding.
“All those things are true,” I said. [...] “But until you learn what the good parts were that excited the reader, you’re always going to be bitterly upset about what is wrong with that bestseller. Learn to spot what worked in that book, and you’ll be able to move forward. And you’ll be a lot less upset all the time as well.”