Friday, June 17, 2016

I Can't Write Book Reviews

I’ve got a problem, everyone. I can’t write reviews, not the ones that we who are not critics by profession are allowed to let into the wild. I mean I can’t write good reviews.

I read plenty of books, with occasional droughts when what I want most is in limbo at the library and nothing from the shelves will scratch my particular itch. Often, I love the books, but what else can I say about that love. Perhaps I could scrape together a few desultory sentences about that character, this twist of world building, the words that tumble trippingly across the page, but that’s not really what I have to say. I put my love into the next things I write myself, twist what I want into the pattern of my work. That’s how I love a book.

What I can say, and have enough to say, about a book is what you’re not supposed to write, in this community where we all want to lift each other to the light. I can tell you what was wrong, the holes and awkward joints where things didn’t quite fit together. I can write five hundred words with ease on why I disagree with a single passage on page fifty-three and with its implications for the looming climax of your epic trilogy.

I read a classic recently: John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting. Quite a piece of work, and damn, I wish there was a sequel. But what I have to say, enough to say that it would fill this space and be a read worthy of your time, is all about what’s wrong; the things I didn’t love. Here’s the thing, I read the whole book with enough care to notice all those warts. I only bother with the ones I love. I cut open my delights and catalogue each flaw so I can find the bones, the things I need to rob for my next shambling creation. It’s a book I’d recommend, but I could fill a pamphlet with all the missteps I observed and maybe a paragraph with praise, before I got repetitive.

It’s not only a problem that keeps reviews off this blog; it’s a pitfall for my personal life as well. I tried a YA book on my partner’s recommendation (she reads YA a lot, I only rarely). I didn’t finish it. There were one too many problems, or rather a few that were too large for me peer around and be content. I still wanted to talk about it, to justify my disengagement, but also because it seemed worthwhile. The novel had good bones, just too much in the way for me to finish tracing them. She was less interested than I in a catalogue of failures for the book she’d just enjoyed, but it’s the way I have to engage in conversation about books.

I should do more to share the things I love, maybe on Twitter, where space won’t dwarf my capacity for cogent praise, and maybe I’ll figure out, in time, how to pare my deconstructions with a more detailed look at all the things I love to get a thing that counts as a review that helps the author I’d like to boost, but until then, no reviews.

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