The True Confessions of a Book Reviewer

I’m approaching my ninth month as a book reviewer, even though it doesn’t feel like it and I’ve been reflecting a lot on my blog and book reviewing in general.  It wasn’t until I saw this article on The Perpetual Page-Turner that I realized a lot of other reviewers experience the same things.  Well, here are my confessions:

1.  There are times when I don’t want to get out of bed, let alone write a review.

I love writing reviews and when I really love a book, writing a review is easy.  However, when there are mixed elements in a book it’s hard to write a review.  You have to balance out the good and the bad and say why certain aspects were bad.  Writing-wise, it’s much more difficult than to gush, but it needs to be done.  I owe it to my readers and the author to write a fair review, but that doesn’t make it any easier to write when I have writer’s block.  There are some days when I don’t even want to get out of bed to go to work and make money, let alone write a review for fun.

I go through the occasional period of writing trouble and feel under-appreciated; I’m not ashamed to admit that.  But then I get that one comment that makes my day and gives me new motivation to write through the good and bad times.  It’s comments that expand upon the article, promote discussion and show that someone appreciates what I’m doing that give me the motivation to keep writing every day.  To some it may seem pathetic, but it’s that occasional thoughtful comment that makes my day, especially when I’ve had a long day at work.

2.  I go through reading slumps just like every other reviewer.

If I’m reading a truly terrible book an author has asked me to review, I often find myself counting down the pages mentally or doing my time estimation equation: approximately 100 pages = 1 hour of reading.  Books like that suck the joy out of reading and make me want to sit down and watch an opera marathon, do a 1000 piece puzzle, get lost in TvTropes via tabbed browsing (I’m not going to link or I won’t see you for a month!)…just anything but read books.  So I procrastinate and don’t read any books for a week.

Eventually I do force myself to read something.  For example, I went through a reading slump recently and didn’t want to pick up The Song of Troy that I had just bought.  But I forced myself to read and Colleen McCullough’s book was so good that I went on a reading binge, finishing three books in a week.  This ‘reading slump’ phenomenon happens to me a lot and I’m pretty sure it happens to other reviewers as well, but it’s still hard to admit.

3.  I change my opinions.

Remember my ‘Self-Publishing: A Reviewer’s Perspective‘ article, in which I outlined my views on self-publishing?  Well, it’s useless now because my views have changed for what I like to think is the better.  We reviewers are human and we do change our opinions, not just on aspects of the publishing world but on books as well.  I know several people who have read books and hated them the first time around but read them again years later and loved them.  I did this with Douglas Adams’ classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because when I read it, I didn’t get his dry, ironic sense of humour.  Or with other books I re-read, I’m bringing more life experience into my reading so I see things that I didn’t understand before.

So why don’t we admit it when we’ve changed our opinions?  No one likes to look like a hypocrite, victim of foot-in-mouth disease or a politician (note that these are not mutually exclusive) and reviewers are no different.  It’s difficult to admit you were wrong, especially since, thanks to the magic of the internet, your flip-flopping will be out there forever.  People will dig it up years later and hold it against you, but it’s better to admit you were wrong than to stubbornly claim you were right all along.

4.  I bring my baggage into my book reviews.

As much as I try to write objective book reviews, no one can be completely objective.  We all have our own baggage that can show up in the least likely places possible.  For me, it’s the fact I was bullied for five years because of my grades, appearance and religious beliefs.  I tend to get sensitive when bullying or even school features prominently in fiction as it triggers a lot of painful memories.  I don’t actively hold a grudge against my tormentors, but I cannot forgive them and I can never forget.  Time will dull the anger and pain, yet I know I will never be able to write completely objectively on the subject because the emotional and psychological scars remain.  I try to avoid books that are likely triggers, but that’s not always possible.

Every reviewer, no matter how objective they claim to be, has baggage and it influences their perspective on fiction.  But reviews are not supposed to be completely objective: you are reading them because you want someone’s opinion on a novel.  Book bloggers are self-appointed critics.  Deal with it.

These confessions are mostly about the ugly side of book reviewing, the side you don’t see and rarely ever hear about.  But keep in mind that there are a lot of things I love about book reviewing: I get to stay in touch with my favourite authors, I get free books, I receive ARCs for free, get other reader’s perspectives on a novel, have conversations with passionate readers…you get the picture.  Like everything it has a good side and a bad side, but thankfully the good outweighs the bad.

Fellow book reviewers: what do you keep to yourselves?  Are there aspects of book blogging you feel are under-appreciated or are just plain ignored?

Readers: Do you ever go through reading slumps after reading a terrible book?  What do you think about book reviewers after reading one reviewer’s confessions?

7 comments

  1. Devina a Lemon flavoured Jellybean

    My blog, unlike yours, isn’t solely based on book reviewing but whenever I do post one I’m 99% confident that no on will comment. People might not be interested in that particular book but I would appreciate my readers sharing their thoughts. Something. Anything. Sometimes I feel like if I’m reviewing for myself with all the attention they get over all. However, I think I’m content with the ‘likes’ they have received, at least I know people had taken time to read the reviews.

    I know what you’re talking about in #2 and #3, actually all of them but especially 2 and 3. In all honesty, I think you’re a brilliant reviewer. Ever since I joined We Heart Reading I’ve been pushing to be a better reviewer. You set a standard for me to match and I’m not saying this only to cheer you up but I really mean it. Keep it up, Carrie 🙂

    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you very much Devina! Although it seems like it, I didn’t write this to have a self-pity party, but rather to show the not-so-fun side of book reviewing. I do content myself with the number of likes I receive, but I still appreciate a comment, even if it’s just a couple of sentences.

  2. Pingback: Review Policy | J.J. Massa – Writer
  3. James Kennedy

    Terrible books seldom cause me to have reading slumps. Terrible books actually make me more eager to put them down and get onto the next book before I start reviewing the terrible one.

    We always taint reviews with personal experience. That was the entire purpose of my short-lived music-review blog (jameskennedymelbourne.wordpress.com).

    I’m moved by the personal experience you’ve shared in this post, too. I often learn more not from blog posts themselves but from the personal experiences hidden inside.

    Thank you for blogging 🙂

    p.s. 100 pages an hour? I really admire your reading speed! x

    • Carrie Slager

      I guess everyone’s different when it comes to reading slumps. For me, it’s when reading feels like work instead of something I’d do for fun.

      Yes, my average speed is 100pg/h, although it definitely increases with books below my reading level, like The City of Ember. With books like that, it’s more of 150-170pg/h.

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