Before I post my first book review (of many, hopefully!), I just wanted to share some of my thoughts on reviewing books, and what makes a book great. See my little *’s for some great links on the subjects!
I absolutely love to read, and I love to exchange thoughts and opinions with others who have read the same books (or have recommendations for new ones!). But like any piece of art, books are so subjective. What one person loves, another will hate, either because they have different emotional reactions to the piece or because they are judging “goodness” on totally different merits. People have so many different criteria that they are looking for in a book.*
I am NOT a book snob. My thought is, if you’re reading, that’s awesome. No matter WHAT you’re reading-War and Peace or Twilight, Maya Angelou or Stephen King-who cares? The point is, you’re reading, whether it’s a popular bestseller or a classic piece of literature. And maybe a bestseller is “better” than a classic, because more people enjoy it, because I can read it without falling asleep-who’s to say? But from the other side, will a bestseller stand the test of time like a classic? (That’s a rhetorical question but the answer is probably no). It depends on what your definition of “great” is. Personally, I want the best of both worlds-a novel that is in some way “literary,” yet also captures my interest and keeps me turning the pages. I can’t read a classic if it puts me to sleep, and by the same token I can’t read a popular page turner if the writing’s horrendous. You need a little of both.**
So when I personally judge and review a book, I’m judging it purely on enjoyment. Not on literary merit, or whether it lived up to it’s “theme” or made a statement about society, or any other highly literary criteria. I’m not an English major or a reviewer for the Times, I’m just a person who reads for enjoyment. To that end, I judge a book on the simple question of, did I have a great time reading it?
Of course, there are many, many different things that can make a book enjoyable. Maybe it was un-put-down-able (everyone loves a page turner!) A book needs to have characters that are real-meaning they are not cliche, they have good sides and bad sides (like real people), they are three dimensional-not flat cardboard cutouts. It needs to be well-written. I appreciate when there is a psychological aspect to a novel-you get inside the character’s heads (this brings them to life for me). Sometimes I enjoy non-fiction or a biography because I’m learning something fascinating. With a great book, I’m not bored. The character’s actions seem realistic, or at least you can understand the motivation behind them. You CARE about the characters. You feel some emotion. These are just a few of the things that can make me love a book.
And a quick word about book reviews-I don’t love when the “review” is largely a plot summary. Plot summaries are easy to find on Amazon. I want to know the person’s reaction to the book, what they liked, disliked, etc. So that’s the way I’ll be writing my reviews! Little plot summary, lots of review.
*”Great Literature” versus “popular books” will always be a debate. This has been widely discussed, especially when it comes to literary awards like the Man Booker Prize. What are the criteria that make a novel worthy of such an award? Even the people giving out the award can’t tell us, as this blog post from bookpage.com points out. Also see the very interesting article What Makes a Book Great? by Laura Miller for Salon.
**If you’re interested in the whole literary vs. commercial fiction debate, check out this very interesting bookpage.com post about all the friction on the issue when Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom came out.
Sources: all images via pinterest