I have been toying with this idea for a while. When I started another blog, I considered what I could do to support other indie writers. I settled upon book reviews because those are so hard to come by, it seems. Especially detailed ones such as mine.
But over the past couple of months, I have struggled to find books I want to review. I have finished less than a quarter of the ones I start. And of the ones, I do finish I find many lacking the depth of character development and theme that are for me what makes a book exceptional.
But as I got to thinking, examining the issues more closely, I realized the issue is not the books themselves. The issue is me.
I have an incredibly narrow range for what I consider truly great fiction. And the publishing market today does not foster that type of writing. I had hoped that by looking to indies I would find more of what I like. But I have not. Most of them seem to be following what they believe are popular trends rather than offering groundbreaking alternatives to it.
Complicating matters further, of course, is algorithms. Amazon does a very poor job in terms of its search capability. I even looked at its advanced search. Nothing. All you get is the most popular books in a genre. Not what I am looking for.
I have bought many books written by my Twitter friends and will continue to do so. I have found a couple of things that way. It is certainly a better option than Amazon.
But it is the ones of those that I did not finish or review that has gnawed at the back of my mind. Most of them are perfectly good and well-written. I simply could not connect with the characters.
Often times this was because the pacing was too fast to afford the depth of character development that I prefer. The publishing industry standard of ‘show, don’t tell’ has killed the free indirect discourse and deep third person that I love in writers such as Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf.
For me, the majority of books read more like television shows. That is not what I want in a book. I read not to see or hear what is happening to someone, but to learn and understand what is happening inside of them. And that is becoming harder and harder to find.
One instance, in particular, has troubled me most. She is a Twitter friend, whom I engage with often. Her book has mature characters, one of my favs. She has commented to me several times that I should give it a try. I had bought it before she and I engaged actively. I read the first two chapters and it was one of those books that I set aside.
The thing is I should like it. Its subject matter is a favorite genre. It honestly is well-written. Technically, it is completely on point. Much better than most, if not all, of my own books. She writes it from a first-person point of view which ought to give as great insight, or even more so, into her character.
But for me, it falls flat. I simply cannot identify with this character enough to stick with the book. As technically proficient as the writing is. As good as the premise is. It does not work…FOR ME.
So, I have avoided the issue. I have remarked that I own it already and it is in the to-be-read queue. Then I moved the conversation on to something else.
That is when I began to truly examine the idea of book reviews. All of them, from the simple stars of Amazon to famous literary critics, are nothing more than opinions. No matter how hard you try or what criteria you use, you cannot make them objective.
And I did try. I judged on four literary elements. I admitted that these were my opinions. And as far as that goes, it was a decent attempt at objectivity. But unless I can force myself to finish books that I do not connect to and review them with the same fairness, then I have no business praising the ones I do like.
I wish I could say I was a big enough person to do that. But for me as a reader, it is and always has been about enjoyment. Pleasure. And I cannot force myself to put that aside in the name of fairness. And that says more about me as a person than it does my writer friend or any of the close to two hundred unread books on my Kindle.
Yes, of the over three hundred books on my Kindle, only one-third of them have been read. The truth is I am a picky reader. I have specific things that I need in order to connect with a character and keep reading. Even my trashy, escapist women’s porn need to have traces of those things.
The truth is that readers and books are in some ways like dating. You have to kiss (or fuck) a lot of frogs to find your prince. The thing is those frogs…may well be princes. It is just that you are not the right princess to break his spell.
So, I have finally come to the revelation…
Art/writing cannot be judged!
That’s right. Book reviews are meaningless. Other than as one person’s opinion.
Those books languishing unread on my Kindle may well be exactly what you or someone else would connect to, love, and adore. And if I were to trash them in a review (something I don’t often do – only once when the book glorified murder-suicide of autistic children), then I would be doing those books and you, my readers, a disservice.
But even just by promoting the ones I did connect to is a form of lying by omission. Because the honest truth is that my friend’s book is better written than some of the ones that I have reviewed here.
The bottom is that all creations, be they books, art, photographs, quilts, or cookies, have their audience. Someone who will like/love them. And others who won’t. That is why I am discontinuing the weekly book reviews here. While I have always admitted these were my opinions, it has still been unfair to those other books I did not review. Because…
Opinions are like a$$holes. We all have them. And they all stink.
Even my own…or maybe especially my own.
I hope that you find the books that you love, that you connect with, that speaks to you. Cherish those…and come to realize that those others were not necessarily ugly, slimy frogs, they just weren’t your Prince Charming.