Not a Book Review

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A book that shall remain nameless

Thoughts on book reviewing

I agreed to read a book for review, but I found that I just didn’t much like it.  The book was all right, nothing wrong with it as a book, but it didn’t do for me what I like books to do, which is take me out of my mundane world to a different time and place.  I could not get into the world.

The author did an honorable job. The writing was lucid, descriptive, grammatical. I just didn’t see any point in the world being set up the way it was, so the story seemed contrived, unmotivated. Maybe that’s being too critical. I see a good bit of that in the steam-punk I’ve read, too, which has the benefit of making up new words, and if well done, twisting history in interesting directions.

What does that say about the book? Nothing. It’s just not my genre, and I need to be more careful in choosing what I read, making sure there is more fantasy than romance. Romance novels, paranormal or otherwise, leave me wanting something else—like eating cotton candy.  A romantic subplot is fine, adding another layer of conflict to the story. But I want the story to be something more than getting the characters hooked up.

I just don’t get off on watching other people do it.  I want to see how they live, what their values are, how they think differently than I do.  Robert Heinlein and Terry Pratchett do that. Jane Austen does that, though her books are certainly romances.  So I have a dilemma: Write the review or not?

I decided not to. I can’t write a review to do the book justice. I know how it feels to get a review like the one I would write. As my Mom would say, “If you can’t say something nice…”

Now I have to go back and look at my own work to see if my intentionally generic setting is getting in the way of the story I want to tell, as one of my reviewers suggested.

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8 Responses to Not a Book Review

  1. CarolynW says:

    your post reminded me of being in high school and being forced to read books that I much didn’t like – I learned to read enough to get a good grade without having to actually read the entire novel

    • Charlotte Henley Babb says:

      As a former teacher, I’ve known many folks who had to read things they didn’t like and didn’t see any purpose in reading. If we wanted to make people hate reading, the way many people teach literature is about the best way I know to do it.

      In fact, I had one student whose reading ability was so limited that I taught him how to fake a book report by reading the first and last paragraphs of each chapter. He then commented that the information was related to what they were being taught in class. What a concept.

      I will say, in my defense, that reading something new, unfamiliar and even unenjoyable (The Scarlet Letter?) can be a good thing if you can explore why that work was chosen, what themes it deals with and how it may be a way to see how cultural values have changed.

      If you are just having to read it to take a test on it, that’s a waste of your time.

  2. Janet says:

    it’s still somewhat of an anonymous book review in my eyes! I had never heard of steampunk as a writing genre, only as the fashion/style and I think music? Would be interesting to read a steampunk piece. I imagine it would be kind of like weird sci fi or Chuck Palahniuk style. You seem like a pretty good critic of books. I wonder how my future book(s) would fare!

  3. Susan says:


    I think you made the right decision. I once did a book review on a book that didn’t do it for me and well….it wasn’t pretty…

    Hey have you heard of Genesis of Memory?

    Might be more up your alley. Not sure…give it a whirl..

    To your happiness & harmony,

    • Thanks, Susan. I’ll take a look.

      The reviews I have gotten that were not flattering mostly had good points to make.

      I don’t see writing a review that’s bad just because I was reading out of my favorite genre. I could have shared it with the author, but there was not reason.

      Why complain about spaghetti if you don’t like pasta and tomato sauce?

  4. Lori says:

    Oh wow – I hear you. When I read fiction it’s to leave my world behind, and I can read almost every genre with enjoyment if it pulls me into that state.

    I wonder if it’s easier for writers who do not plot (write by the seat-of-their-pants) to make that happen, or if the plotters are more effective?

    BTW – Good choice to follow your Mom’s advice.

  5. Lori, I like lots of different genres and even literary fiction if it is not too bleak. I expect fiction to take me out of reality–so I don’t like Jody Picoult. She seems to write only about child abuse–at least in the ones I’ve read. But she is an excellent writer. So, I don’t review her books.

    The good thing about book reviewing is that I’m reading things that are outside my norm, and that tells me more and more about my audience.

    As for plotters and pantsers, pantsers just write more revisions, and plotters write more outlines. I think it’s the same amount of thinking, just applied differently. For my current WIP, I have an outline of sorts, but I’m stuck at making a list of scenes. So tonight, I’m going to write to learn what happens.

    Now where did I put that interface plug for the Collective Unconscious?