As an author, it’s hard to know where to stand on reviewing the works of others. I enjoy reading and never get to do enough of it (more about this later) and I tend to read a heck of a lot of non-fiction in my research pursuits. I have no qualms about publishing reviews of research titles (especially those like the Chirurgia Magna, which are hundreds of years old). I read this stuff because it’s important to my work, I share my thoughts about it with the internet ’cause it’s useful to some of you, too.
But what about fiction? You may have noticed that most of (still few) fiction reviews give very high marks. So am I pandering to my author-friends? Am I just an eternal optimist incapable of criticizing anything? (This author probably doesn’t think so.) Here is the terrible truth: Life is too short to read mediocre books.
Like many of you, I have a to-read shelf that is beset by stragglers all around, trying to get their due. I get books for free at cons, buy first novels of friends, buy subsequent books by authors I like, sometimes respond to requests for readers on other blogs or lists. There is no shortage of reading matter. I’m sure some of it is great, and I hope to get to it eventually, although I admit that statistics are against me in this regard–there are simply too many books being published for me to ever read even just the ones I really want to.
Time is limited enough as it is, especially when I ought to be writing. So when I sit down to read, I treasure the moment. I want a book I can really revel in. Half the time, my editor-brain kicks in right away, and I can’t even get involved because various fiction flaws get in the way of my engagement as a reader. The result is, I start reading many more books than I finish. There is so much I would rather do that slog through a decent but uninspired read. I finish my research books because I need to know what they contain. Goodness knows sometimes I’d rather just download them into my brain and not have to spend the time.
But I refuse to spend the time on a novel I’m getting nothing out of. If I’m on an airplane and the alternative is “People” magazine, then, yeah, I’m reading the so-so book. If I’m at home and I keep thinking of the dozens of other titles on that ever-growing shelf, then I pitch the book and grab something new.
So you’re unlikely to see me review anything I don’t care strongly about. These reviews will often contain critical bits (’cause even if I’m totally invested in the story, editor-brain will still emerge at the end), but the bottom line is, I’m reading to the end because I love something about it–and I’m reviewing it to share that love.