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 youâ€™ve read an amazing number of books, you change. Youâ€™ve read so much that what may seem new or interesting to most (and even to the writer of the book youâ€™re reading) is just a variation to you. Your expectations regarding the work change.
2) If youâ€™re able to either unconsciously or consciously navigate the above, what youâ€™re left with isnâ€™t a raw, initial passion for reviewing what you love, but a more craftmanâ€™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. Itâ€™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 â€œIf you like X sort of thing, this hits X okay, with some additional Y and Z, if you also are into that.â€ Do they feel sucked dry of a bit of the reviewerâ€™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.
â€œAll those things are true,â€ I said. […] â€œBut until you learn what the good parts were that excited the reader, youâ€™re always going to be bitterly upset about what is wrong with that bestseller. Learn to spot what worked in that book, and youâ€™ll be able to move forward. And youâ€™ll be a lot less upset all the time as well.â€