Where the Past Meets the Present: Book Reviews

Monday, April 9, 2012

Today let's dive into the not-so-distant past to take a look at some thoughts from C.S. Lewis regarding book reviewers/critics (quotes from An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis, 1961):

 The Toll on the Reviewer:

"I am thinking...of overworked reviewers, getting through novel after novel as quickly as they can, like a schoolboy doing his 'prep'. For such people reading often becomes mere work. The text before them comes to exist not in its own right but simply as raw material; clay out of which they can complete their tale of bricks.... it destroys appreciation." 

Oh, how I can relate! I've swum toward a whirlpool (of my own volition), and now I've been sent into a spin that leaves me exhausted and rather breathless at times. I love to read. I love getting free books to read. I love sharing my thoughts (generally) about what I read. But reviewing has become more work than enjoyment at times because of the vast amount of books I request. And from what I've seen in other blog posts, I don't think I'm the only book reviewer who has experienced this. (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!)

Do you think this "whirlpool syndrome" affects our ability to fully appreciate books and review them in the best way possible?
 
The Value of Reviews: 
 
 "The truth is not that we need the critics in order to enjoy the authors, but that we need the authors in order to enjoy the critics."  
 
"We love to hear how others enjoy what we enjoy ourselves. It is natural and wholly proper that we should especially enjoy hearing how a first-class mind responds to a very great work. That is why we read the great critics with interest (not often with any great measure of agreement). They are very good reading; as a help to the reading of others their value is, I believe, overestimated." 

"I remain, then, sceptical, not about the legitimacy or delightfulness, but about the necessity or utility of evaluative criticism." 
 
Wow! These observations/opinions kind of knock the wind out of me. I enjoy being a book reviewer. I love when readers tell me that my review was enjoyable to read and that it helped them. But how do reviews help? What is the purpose in writing them? Am I keeping others from reading books that I might not "like," but that might have value for other readers? Are my reviews only valuable to those who have read the books I'm referring to? In and of themselves, what is their intrinsic value?

In regards to this topic, I think it's obvious I have a lot more questions than set thoughts. I try to write "honest" reviews in the sense that they contain my honest opinion, while still balancing between what I liked about the books and what I didn't like about the books. I like to include what I thought the overall message/theme was and how that affected me. But is there something I'm missing? What does a "good" review entail and what is its purpose?

Do you enjoy reading book reviews? Do you think book reviews are only really enjoyable to those who have read the books being reviewed? Do you think book reviews can be dangerous in the sense that they might keep someone from reading a book they maybe should read?
 
To Review or Not to Review?
 
"I suggest that a ten or twenty years' abstinence both from the reading and from the writing of evaluative criticism might do us all a great deal of good."
 
C.S. Lewis' suggestion is a controversial one in my mind simply because I spend a lot of time reading books for review purposes. If I stopped reviewing books, I wouldn't have nearly the amount of reading options I now enjoy. (I might be at a higher risk of going broke, too, LOL!) I might miss out on books that I normally wouldn't have picked up or maybe even heard much about. I wouldn't have the pressure put on me to finish a book - which could be a good or bad thing.

But at the same time, would readers miss my book reviews? Do my reviews make a difference? And if they do, is that difference good or bad? If I took a break from reviewing books, I would have more time to catch up on the books I already own that I haven't yet read, and I might get to re-read more books, as well. I might even end up appreciating books more in a way that I have lost in the mad rush of a book reviewer's world.

If you are a book reviewer, what do you think about the suggestion of taking a break from reviewing? If you read book reviews, why do you read them - and do you think they're valuable?

Lots of food for thought and fuel for discussion today, but I think this is a topic that's worth being addressed by book bloggers. I'd love to have you answer some of the questions I ask or just add your two cents' worth wherever it fits! 

6 comments:

Rel said...

Oh Amber, you know I hear you on this! I often have friends or family ask me when was the last time I read a book simply for enjoyment and not for the purpose of writing a review and I can't quite remember!! That tells me it has been a long while! I agree, there are times when reading a book for review can seem like hard work and as you know, it is incredibly time consuming and not something to be taken on lightly!!

I will say this though, reviewing books has not hindered my passion for the written word and only added to my enjoyment of sharing with others what I love or don't love about the stories I read. My desire to encourage authors with interviews and spotlights has not diminished although the burden of time and effort has increased.

And my hip pocket would definitely be affected if I wasn't reviewing - actually, I just wouldn't be able to indulge in my passion actually as the only way to read CF in Oz is to buy it. Public libraries just don't stock it other than the odd Dekker or Kingsbury novel.

As for taking a break from reviewing - that gives me cold shivers! My backlog is overwhelming as it is - LOL! That said I can see the merit of stepping back for a bit but while I still love what I'm doing I'm going to keep reviewing away ;-D

Julia M. Reffner said...

Wow, I never knew Lewis had a book about reviewing and criticism. Sounds worthy of a read. I do have very mixed feelings about reviewing. It must be taken on with honesty, yet also caution. I love what Rel shared here, too. I think a good review must combine honesty, tact, respect for the author, and a humility in realizing that our opinion isn't the only one out there. Great post, Amber, that has made me think about this further.

Erica Vetsch said...

I don't review books too often. I did for awhile, but I requested so many books, I couldn't get to them all in a timely manner and still write fiction at the same time.

I do read reviews, particularly on amazon.com and christianbook.com before I buy a book, and those reviews have influenced me.

Thanks for stopping by my blog today and pointing me toward this article. Interesting food for thought. :)

Christy said...

Wow, Amber...that was some post! I've almost thrown in the towel a couple of times with reviewing, but have still had this tiny inkling to continue on. Sometimes it can be so incredibly overwhelming...when will I ever find the time to get all these books read?!

One thing you said really stood out to me...how you might have missed out on books you might not have read otherwise. I cannot count the number of times I've experienced that very thing! Wow...the number of authors whose books I grab as soon as they are released has gotten out of control as a result!

Will I ever quit? Maybe, but I hope not. :o)

Candice Prentice said...

I'm not a book reviewer, but I do utilize reviews from time to time when I buy a book. I've often wondered how much personal preference comes into play with reviewers. That's why I appreciate reviews that spell out why a reviewer feels negative about a book. I'm sure that's hard to do without giving away plot, but I'll read those reviews closely to see if the things that bothered the reviewer will bother me.

Amber S. said...

Thank you all so much for your comments! I'm sorry for the long delay in responding... I'm a bit overwhelmed with my last few weeks of college life right now, LOL!

I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and hearing your enthusiasm for the written word and reviews! :) Thank you for your thoughtful responses that have given me some more food for thought about the benefits and usefulness of reviews.

Thank you all again, and I apologize for my short, late, and broad response!

~Amber

P.S. Julia, An Experiment in Criticism is an intriguing read that spells out Lewis' views on different readers, criticism, and more. Definitely some important things to think about!

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