Friday, May 15, 2015

Why I don't review books

I have a brain-wrenching quandary.

Ever since I started hanging out online and chatting about writing, I've had a clear policy of not talking about books I've read.

There are three main reasons for this.

#1) I find it incredibly disrespectful to dump on something I don't like because it might be someone else's favourite thing in the world, and because the (in this case) author worked darn hard to get their book in print.

#2) As part of the whole respect-thing, I will never lie or exaggerate. If someone respects me enough to ask a question, I want to respect them enough give them an honest answer. I want to own my words.

 #3) I (unfortunately) know myself.

The first one is easy. It's pretty self-explanatory. Disrespecting others is about the one thing that snaps my usually calm/patient state of mind and has, on the rare occasion, gotten me so furious that I can't speak/articulate a single word. I could write an entire post (or several) on why I care so much about respect/disrespect, but it boils down to: when you disrespect someone, you're essentially treating them as less-human than yourself, which is a very slippery slope upon which can be found the greatest atrocities in human history.

But let's avoid a hearty dose of over-analysis for today, yes?

And the second reason is also pretty clear. I'm not going to talk-up a book I didn't particularly like. I might suggest it to someone who I think will like the book, but I will avoid talking about my own reading experience.

So what do I mean with the third reason?

I (unfortunately) know myself.

From #1 & #2, you should be able to guess that I don't want to talk about books I have not liked.

So that narrows the potential list to review and leaves the books I tolerated, I liked, and I loved.

All of which come down to personal taste. "Would I have it again?"

...and I'm not shy about admitting I may have bad taste.

Because the things I like, the books I am attracted to are... strange. Or the reasons I am attracted to them are strange.

Like, I've read Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' probably 50+ in my life and it is one of my favourite books, but probably not for a reason anyone else likes it...

I love that, through the entire book, no character ever tries to sympathize/reason with him. They simply label him as a monster (which I'm not arguing, he is, and that's awesome), but at the time when Dracula was written, most intelligent people still judged those from other cultures as sub-humans and sought to destroy them with the same level of dedicated arrogance as Van Helsing & co set out to destroy Dracula.

I have a set of world mythology books published by professors from Yale/Harvard/Oxford/etc in the early 1900's where they consistently refer to other cultures/people as barbaric, etc and how difficult (and necessary) it was to 'civilize' them. That's only a hundred years ago...

So, assuming Dracula is a monster, sub-human, and not worth trying to empathize/reason with, fits perfectly in with the world-view at the time. It's a nearly-honest, non-white-washed, non-PC-glossed glimpse into how people actually thought about those outside their culture at the time.

Now... to anyone out there who's read "Dracula", is that something you noticed, or cared about? And for those who haven't read it... does that even remotely entice you to read it? ...I'm guessing "no".

Let me reiterate that I read it for the first time when I was 9, and I couldn't articulate all of this back then... but I did ask myself why they didn't just talk to Dracula. So even way back then, this was the odd reason I connected to the book and the reason I re-read it... because I couldn't understand why they didn't just sit down and have a conversation. It seemed the obvious thing to do.

I almost never lend books to other people because usually the books are returned... unfinished. Most of the books I love and re-read,no one has ever heard of. But I don't really care. Just like I want to own my words without being ashamed, I also want to own the things I love without being ashamed.

Which makes me want to write reviews for books I love...


I like books for weird reasons. Like a character who is creepily OCD. Or the author is amazing at playing with words to create sentences that have multiple meanings. For clever description. For philosophy, for irrationality, for humour, for the way words are strung together so they look good, or sound good or taste good. I like books that are so ridiculous that they hit a level of absurdity that's baffling. Characters who are arrogant, or dense, or broken. I like seeing how skillful an author is at emotionally or psychologically manipulating readers. And subtext... shovel on the subtext and I will revel in it :)

There's no set reason why I like a book, other than, maybe, it gets me to look at something from a new angle. Good, or bad.

Now, add in the fact that I'm prone to over-analysis... if I wrote a book review...

...and focused on what I liked...

Like, analyzing the use of 'I' in 1st POV. Or cataloguing the use/frequency of colours. Or how the author uses a specific word which manipulates the reader into thinking "x". Or how I like the taste of a set of letters/sounds/words in a particular sentence. How the order/arrangement of a couple lines can completely change the subtext. Or the progression/arc of emotional intelligence or self-awareness in a side character.

...can you imagine the result?

Well, most likely any potential readers' eyes would glaze over and they would die of boredom. The things I seem to like and care about are not generally things that others are interested in. Thus, not enticing others to buy my favourite books... which would be the opposite of what I set out to do.

And therein lies the quandary. How to go about sharing books I love, while being honest/true about why I loved them, yet also succeeding in not actually scaring people away...

Suggestions? Advice? Thoughts?

(other than I'm crazy and you feel the intense need to run far, far away)

As a curiosity, here's a random/short list of some of my favourite non-YA books. Three gold stars for anyone who has heard of, or read, more than two of these:

Edward Carey's "Observatory Mansions" and "Alva & Irva"
Jostein Gaarder's "The Solitaire Mystery" and "Sophie's World"
Helen Oyeyemi's "Icarus Girl"
Banana Yoshimoto's "Amrita" (and nearly everything else she's written)
Elizabeth McClung's "Zed"
Catherynne Valente's "Orphan's Tales" (books 1 & 2)
Nicholas Christopher's "A Trip to the Stars" and "Veronica"
James Thurber's "The Thirteen Clocks"
Kris Kenway's "Bliss Street" and "Too Small for Basketball"
Lulu Wang's "The Lily Theatre"
Joe Coomer's "Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God" and "A Pocketful of Names"
Sean Dixon's "The Girls Who Saw Everything"
Stephen Walker's "Danny Yates Must Die"
Jim Munroe's "Angry Young Spaceman"
Emma Donoghue's "Room"

Probably the last one, Emma Donoghue's "Room", is the only one you've likely heard of/read.


  1. You know I've read Munroe :) Also read Sophie's World but didn't much care for it at the time -- possibly because of how it was sold to me. Lent Room out and haven't had time to read it yet. Have heard of the Thurber one, and the Danny Yates I think I've heard of...

    The fun part is often how much is out there some can adore and others have never heard of, even acclaimed classics and the like. Heck, there are some authors I really like and can't recommend to others due to the content of their works. Which is often a nicely surreal experience. Plus a lot of authors I really like publish rarely (or wait 1+ decades between books).

    1. What's really funny is, as I was typing the list, I was thinking, "Well, I know Alcar and I talked about Munroe, I think I gave him one of the books, and I know I lent him 'Danny Yates', and I know we talked about 'Sophie's World'... and I borrowed 'Room' from him originally..."

      So it was almost like it was back in Victoria and we were chatting about books like we used to :) I miss that...

      You NEED to read 'Observatory Mansions'. Seriously... I think you will appreciate its... strangeness... like few others would.

      Yeah, I would never recommend 'Zed' to anyone, or another book that I didn't list: 'Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World' (Haruki Murakami), and a few others that I didn't put on that short list.

      Remind me, what was the story about how 'Sophie's World' was sold to you???

    2. I don't even remember the gist of what was sold to me now as 'this is why you'll like it'; probably need to re-read it at a later date.

      The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is the only Murakami I've read so far; I liked it, but at the same time it seemed a bit too distant. Shall look into the Mansions one via library soonish. I'm reaching the mental point of 'take break from writing to go on a reading binge' over the summer :)

    3. I know what you mean about Murakami... all his stuff has that same voice, but every Japanese (translated into English) author I've read also has that distance-feel to their work, so I'm not sure if it's partially due to translating a different language -> since (from my own knowledge/experience) We English speakers are a lot more blunt/direct when we speak, and that's considered impolite in Japanese.

      Hahaha, 'Mansions' is definitely one of the weirder books on my help, but not in a silly/incredulous sort of way, like the talking gun character in 'Red Robe', or the comic-book characters zapped into reality, like in 'Danny Yates'. It's weird in that the characters are... weird.


Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)