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A minor kvetch

I’ve recently joined goodreads.com If you’re not familiar, it’s like facebook for bookworms. Instead of posting our favorite pics and music, we review and recommend books. It’s been really interesting — both to keep track of what and how much I read and to see what my friends are reading.

There are also online book groups where you can hang out (virtually) with folks who are interested in the same things you are: an author, a genre or sub-genre, a topic, whatever.

Now, sometimes, as you can imagine, things get odd. I had a women get really really pissed at a negative review I did of a book. She got all kinds of bent out of shape because, best as I could figure, I didn’t like the book. It was funny how twisted her knickers got. Which is why I don’t usually do reviews, to be honest. I give stars for ever book I read but am only rarely inspired to really say what I felt about the book.

Which leads me to my (minor) kvetch. Most people who do review books need a quick primer on what a “review” is. They summarize and it drives me bonkers, all out of proportion.

I know that the art of a review is a subtle and complex one. I get that. I even understand that sometimes a little plot summarization is necessary for a competent review and that one of the most difficult parts of a reveiwer’s job is giving a deft summary that doesn’t overwhelm the review itself.

But these folks don’t even try. They don’t even venture a grade-school critique: “I liked it,” or “I didn’t like it.” Something as sophisticated as, “The plot was good but the characters were two-dimensional” is totally beyond them. Nope. It’s mostly, “The book starts out with the main characters meeting. Then they do this, then they do that, then this and that happen again and then it all works out. The end.” Not even a whiff of critical thought.

This doesn’t help me if I haven’t read the book — I don’t like to be spoiled, for one, and for another, it doesn’t give me any information that I can’t get from actually reading the book. What I want to know is should I read the book? Was it gripping? Moving? Compelling? Thoughtful? Laugh-out-loud funny? Did you stay up at night to read it, did it make you call your mother crying, did you change how you live?

And if I’ve read the book, then I know all of this. I want to know what you thought, not what happened.

The Husband, who reads much more non-fiction than I do, points out that sometimes a summarization of the contents of a non-fiction book can be useful: This book contains an analysis of the post-WWII intelligence community and how the various personalities of the time have influenced the “war on terror.” It’s got first-hand accounts, primary source material, and some really thoughtful insights about the way that the cult of personality in the FBI torqued the NSA’s mission statement.

I can see how that would be useful in a nonfiction volume. But I very rarely read nonfiction. Mostly, these days, I read genre-specific throwaway novels.

Like I said, it’s a really minor kvetch. But I feel better for having ranted a little.

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Categories: books
  1. TC
    August 13, 2008 at 1:26 am

    Yeah. Well, I work for an online master’s degree program at a respected university. I’ll trade your non-reviewy book reviews for my 40+ incomprehensible 10 page papers any day.

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