John Clark on why I review books. I have no idea how many books I’ve read, but I’d be safe saying it’s above five thousand since I was able to read unassisted. To put things in perspective, the number I’ve reviewed on Goodreads is currently 1907. I began reviewing online when I was invited to do so by a lady in Canada back in the early 2000s. She was running a review site that catered to new and emerging authors. Those of us who agreed to review for her were sent emails with a list of available titles and whoever responded first got the book. When books remained unclaimed, she would assign them.
The first book I was assigned had been written by a young man in Australia and it was awful. For example, the protagonist crooned love words to the girl he fancied in one sentence, then smashed his fists into the sand while uttering curses in the next with zero transition, or explanation. Giving a constructive review was challenging to say the least. In hindsight, it was a great baptism of fire.
In the course of reviewing for the site, I got to read some gems and make my first friends in the writing community. One of the first was Timothy Hallinan when I reviewed A Nail Through The Heart. Over the next few years, I reviewed two or three more of Tim’s books. Sadly, Amazon.com changed its reviewing policy and no longer accepted reviews from websites like the one I was reviewing for.
When Laurie and Clif Graves began publishing Wolf Moon Journal, I started writing reviews for them. At about the same time, I responded to an online invitation to be considered as a reviewer for School Library Journal. This opportunity was different and a welcome challenge. I was now reviewing educational videos and audio books. I became their go-to reviewer for videos related to substance abuse education and prevention, a field I know well.
The video opportunities have dried up in the past couple years, but I’m still reviewing and enjoying the young adult audio books that come my way. The pandemic knocked the reviewing process awry as it did so many other aspects of life. Stephanie, my contact at School Library Journal, was unable to access her office in NYC for months hindering the ability to get and distribute the books in disc format. However, she and the companies producing audio books adjusted and they are now offered in download format. Since my car has a USB port, I copy them to a flash drive and listen while driving.
Why do I review? There are several reasons. First, let me say I seldom give a book less than four stars. That’s because there are so many I want to read that I don’t bother finishing any that don’t capture my interest. In fact, my ‘Borrow These Books’ list runs over 40 pages. These days, I post reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and Librarything.
I review as a thank you to writers who bust their butts to give readers new worlds to explore. I review to share why a particular book is worth picking up. I review because in doing so, I’m forced to think about what works, what doesn’t, and why. I review to clarify how an author took a familiar plot, or plot element and made it seem new and fresh. I review because the process makes me a better writer. Finally, I review and share selected ones here and on the Maine Library listserv so others, particularly librarians, can decide to add books to their collections so young adults can enjoy them.
After posting a recent review on MELIBS-L, I was contacted by a staff member at a Maine library who also works at a local newspaper. She wanted permission to use the review in a column the paper started recently that covered young adult and juvenile fiction. I gave her my blessing as well as the link to my read books list at Goodreads so she can use any she thinks are worth sharing. Here’s that link if you’re interested.
Do you review? Why, or why not?