Don’t ever invite me to play Candy Crush on Facebook or ask me to write a book review! I like to read reviews but I’ve no desire to write one – it feels too much like an assignment for English homework.
What I do enjoy is going to lots of writer events and blogging about the writer’s work and how it impacted on my own writing. I mention books a lot in this blog (as a writer it would be weird if I didn’t!) but I don’t write extensive book reviews on this blog for a few reasons. The main one is that I know how hard it is to write a novel so I’m reluctant to criticise anyone who has gone the distance and managed to have their writing traditionally published – something I can’t brag about! I’m also wary of making negative comments because I know how hurt I’d feel to read a bad review if I ever did get my novel published (take note book bloggers, if the dream ever comes true I’m more sensitive than I look).
Of course, no book will please everyone and if I come across a novel I didn’t enjoy (‘enjoy’ being an unsophisticated term I was encouraged not to use during my MLitt course but that’s mainly why I read) I deal with it by not airing my opinion on social media (or make it as tame as possible) and I don’t pass the book on to my pals to read.
I also don’t review books because there are hunners of great blogs specifically for book reviews (Isabel Costello’s On the Literary Sofa is excellent) so why bother trying to compete with an already saturated market? And my blog is not a big hitter (I can only rely on my best pal to read it) so it wouldn’t generate huge book sales for writers anyway. It’s a skill to write a comprehensive balanced review and my ‘Reading Journal’ was the part of the MLitt course I least enjoyed. I do like to reflect on books; privately and with friends but having to analyse a novel in detail and comment on how I engaged with it isn’t something I want to take the time to write about.
On Fridays, if I remember, I join in with the hashtag #FridayReads on Twitter which is a great way to engage in a bit of chat between chapters with like-minded folk who tweet about what they’re reading on that particular Friday. I’ve picked up a few good recommendations (although my 2014 New Years Resolution apart from the annual ‘lose weight’ plan was to stop buying books until I’ve already read the ones on my To Be Read pile – I’m in denial with that goal as much as my weight problem).
I must’ve been a good girl, or got away with it as Santa was good to me and added another four titles to add to my mountainous TBR pile. One of the books made a big impression on me so I made an exception and went to the very rare effort of writing a brief review on Amazon.
The book is Maggie and Me by Damian Barr and it wowed me – a genuine 5/5 stars! I was wary of reading it because it covers the same time period as my own WIP (mid 1980’s) in a very similar setting (small working class Scottish town). I was worried that the subject matter would be too close to the same issues I’m trying to highlight and it might impact on my own style unconsciously. The theme of sectarianism is in my novel too but that’s where the similarity ends (no spoilers here!). The one thing I do hope to achieve is the authenticity of the narration. Damian’s voice is honest and ultimately inspiring. It was inevitable that the next book I read was never going to beat Maggie and Me no matter how good it was (I won’t name and shame its poor use of stereotypes). I think I’ll struggle to read something else in 2104 as moving, the book captures the gritty reality of growing up in an abusive environment without being a misery memoir and still manages to feature humour from start to finish.
P.S. Unlike some writers who don’t respond on Twitter to a positive tweet about their book or deign to follow a mere reader back, Damian acknowledged my praise and is up for a bit of banter – what’s not to like about the man and his writing? @Damian_Barr
16 thoughts on “A Rant and A Rave Review”
Just want it noting that I read your blog (and I’m not your best pal, as far as I know), and a very enjoyable blog it is too. One of my fave books of 2013 was one recommended by you – Death of Bees – and you’ve just managed to sell Maggie and Me to me as well. You should be on commission. 🙂
Hi Wendy, Thanks for reading and your kind comment. If you enjoyed Death of Bees you’ll LOVE Maggie and Me. 🙂
I enjoyed this Blog piece very much. I particularly found a common connection with your TBR shelf and the weight loss hopes. I am aiming to remove excess from all kinds of shelves this year:) Eileen….
I would also like it noted that I read your blog! This post is a reminder of the importance of saying no, especially if you are juggling a paying job with writing (which might pay a bit one day, maybe, but let’s be honest, we don’t think about that…). It’s flattering to receive requests but important to focus on what will help your writing goals and what will hinder them. Great post to start the year, Helen! 🙂
Hi Josephine, Another faithful blog reader! I’m an avid reader and it might be nice to have the time to write a review of each book but like you I’m trying to fit in my writing aspirations between day job stints and it’s not easy. Your new job sounds a perfect match for your experience and interests and hopefully it will feed into your poetry too. All the best for 2104! 🙂
And me! I enjoy (word choice?) reading your posts. I write reviews – not to promote books really, just as a way of having a conversations about the books I’m reading. It’s possibly just me being geeky but I miss all of the uni essays and discussion so like to have some way of getting it all out.
As you know Jennifer I read your blog and find the reviews interesting and well written – that’s a good reason for me not to try and match the excellent review blogs out there. Keep up the good work!
I agree with Josephine. Your post is so resonant; I am currently writing (or meant to be writing) a book review for a magazine (my second) and I really don’t enjoy it. As you say, it feels like a school assignment – I have to take notes when reading the book to include in the review and I really don’t want to say anything negative about another person’s writing (who am I to judge). So, it will probably be my last and I can then go back to enjoying reading again. Keep ranting and raving Helen!
Hi Peter, Thanks for the comment and I’m glad it struck a chord with you. It’s exactly that fear of ‘judging’ someone that makes me shy away from review writing. I too felt bogged down with note taking when reading my uni set texts and couldn’t relax into the book with the assignment aspect hanging over me. Here’s to reading for pleasure!
Ah, there are loads of us who sneak a quick look at this blog, you know …
I loved Maggie & Me too, and enjoy Damian’s tweets (they seem to involve a lot of cocktails, which is obviously beneficial).
Thanks Isabel, And there was me just believing my pal was my die-hard reader! Yes, Maggie and Me is great and Damian’s tweets entertain too. Make mine a Pina Colada! 😉
Hi Helen – great post and I’m very touched that of all the thousands of book blogs out there you chose to mention mine so thanks for that. You know I’m a loyal follower of your blog (and one of many, whatever you may believe!) I love a lot of things about reviewing that many people dislike and I think being slightly critical in a balanced and substantiated way is quite appreciated by authors, although I wouldn’t spend time on any novel where the positives didn’t far outweigh the weaknesses (in my opinion). I can imagine that being made to write reviews would be no fun at all. Keep doing the things you enjoy!
Thanks Isabel. Your reviews have made my TBR pile sky high! I respect your opinion and you always give a balanced view. But I also enjoy your blog for the personal posts on your own writing and I notice those ones generate the most comments. Like me, people admire your honesty and this shines through your reviews and your writing journey posts.
I quite enjoyed your book review and I always have a chuckle to myself when you hand me a new book to try.The new book doesn’t quite leave your hand until I’ve reviewed the previous book at length. Still, it’s worth it for all the hours of great reading you have handed my way.
Talking of homework, the 5 and 6 year olds in my class love writing book reviews. Feel free to read ours! The children would be really impressed to receive a message on our class blog. .
Ah my loyal reader! Yes, I think a bit of book banter is fair trade for a new book.
I’ve left a comment on your class blog and like the fact that they all found the books funny – an important feature of reading! 🙂