How I write book reviews, part 2

Three years ago, I explained how I write book reviews. Having written literally hundreds since then, I’ve got a few more things to add!

I consider if a book is a debut. It’s well-known that debut novels are usually followed by even better novels, as authors are becoming more practised and developing their styles. If I’m reviewing a debut and I have mixed feelings about it, I emphasise the aspects I enjoyed and possibly be open to reading the author’s next book. I think authors have a peculiar fondness for their first book. It’s like your first home after moving out of your parents’ place – it’s not perfect, you know you’ll move on to a better one, but at least it’s your own space.

I tend to be more understanding when reviewing independently published authors, as they haven’t had access to the many services which traditionally published authors benefit from. As I know from experience, writing, editing, formatting, publishing and marketing a book on your own is very hard work indeed! That said, I’m still honest in my reviews, particularly if I think the book needed improvements in editing, proofreading and formatting. I aim for constructive criticism and I hope the authors appreciate that.

I always assume that translated books are best experienced in the original language. Therefore, I take into account that the book is a translation. If the writing style seems a bit off, or there are strange word choices, I might suggest that the translator is responsible. However, it must be very challenging to make a book understandable for an English readership while ensuring the writing flows. I don’t think translators are given enough credit, so I make sure to mention them.

I prefer to separate art from the artist, although there are exceptions, such as autobiographies, autobiographical fiction and personal manifestos. Distancing myself from the author’s life and opinions allows me to focus on the book. Unfortunately this is the era of ‘call-out culture’, a toxic and vicious aspect of social media. It seems that no moderately famous person can do anything or have an opinion without their actions or beliefs (sometimes from a long time ago) being dissected and served up for the trolls to feast on.

I will mention the use of language and stereotypes that would be considered offensive by today’s standards. It’s an advance warning and shouldn’t be considered the sole reason to avoid that book. Such usage is generally consistent with the context in which the book was written. As I have said before in my post about ‘outdated cultural depictions’, the further we go back in time, the more likely we are to encounter these in all kinds of media. Instead of censorship, it’s wiser to let people make their own minds up.

I don’t let myself be swayed by pretty book covers. If the cover is nice, I might say so, but I won’t give a more positive review just because of that. Interior illustrations are a different matter and I’m likely to mention how they contribute to the reading experience. One thing I don’t have to worry about is giving a book a more positive review because I was gifted a lovely finished print copy and would feel guilty for saying anything negative – I rarely get sent these! But if I did receive stacks of pristine free books through the post every week, I’d have to be wary of this issue.

That’s all for now, although don’t be surprised if a ‘part 3’ materialises in another three years.

5 thoughts on “How I write book reviews, part 2”

  1. Thanks for that.
    It was interesting to go back and read your first post on the subject and realize how different everybody’s process of writing book reviews are. Therefore I should probably blatantly steal your idea and write my own version of this post.

    Also it made me realize that I should probably be kinder when reviewing debut novels that didn’t quite work for me.

    1. Thanks for reading both posts! 🙂 Everyone has their own unique style and process for writing reviews and which will evolve over time. Please do steal my idea if you wish 😉 I do try and consider that a novel is a debut, but if I really didn’t like it I’ll say so.

  2. Great post, NS! I realized my reviews have changed so much throughout the years, learning from experience, trying to put myself in the author’s shoes, to make my review as balanced as possible and leave it to the reader to decide whether to read the book or not, etc. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Fantastic points! You write a great book review–which is an art itself. Love that you try to always mention a translator of a book in translation. On Twitter recently, a voice actor asked book reviewers to please mention the audiobook narrators–when reviewing an audiobook. I know I haven’t always done this in my little Goodreads reviews and will, going forward. Sometimes the actor makes a world of difference to my “reading” of a book. I’m currently listening to Nathan Hill’s THE NIX, narrated by Ari Fliakos, who is great!

    1. Thank you! That’s very kind 🙂 That’s a great point, one’s enjoyment of an audiobook is dependent on the narrator and deserves to be discussed in reviews. I just looked up The Nix and see it’s almost 700 pages long, so it’s just as well the narrator is excellent!

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