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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Newton Talks: What makes a good book blogger?

Mark Charan Newton recently had an curious post about what makes a good book blogger. Being a book blogger myself (sorta), I thought it would be interesting to give my two cents on his proposed guidelines.

1) There are bloggers who use the right tools, and those who are tools (i.e. reasonable vs. unreasonable expectations)

I completely agree with Newton here. Don’t get uppity about a book if you read something outside your comfort zone and don’t get what you usually like. As he says “don’t approach an entertaining romp expecting philosophical ramblings if it isn’t meant to be one. I wouldn’t say ‘I don’t like beer on account that it’s not whiskey,’ would I?”

That’s absolutely true. I rarely read outside of the SF/F genres, so this isn’t usually a problem for me. Occasionally a book surprises me by being about something I never expected. Usually that’s a good thing, though, and I mention it as such in my reviews (such as my recent review of Kage Baker's The Empress of Mars).

2) Slow and steady. (i.e. slow books/fast books are not bad books)

I disagree with this point only because it’s too simple. Sometimes a slow book is a bad book (and vice versa for fast books). Sometimes pace has everything to do with it (not always, but sometimes). However, as a reviewer, I bring up pace because I write reviews to tell people what “I” liked, not necessarily what they like (I have no idea what you folks would like, because I’m not in your heads). If I don’t like stories that take 200 pages to get to the meat, then I’ll bring that up. Maybe someone else will like stories like that, and, as the old adage goes, all publicity is good publicity (mostly).

3) Prose & style. (i.e. books usually don’t “improve” in style by the end; you just get used to it)

I’ll agree with Newton here only because I can’t recall ever having the experience of feeling like the latter half of a book was better written than the first half. Have any of you had that experience?

4) The synopsis should remain on the back of the book. (i.e. don’t describe the back of the book for your review)

I completely agree. There are people who do this? I usually write short, concise reviews where I say something about my experience with the book from the start, then say what the book is about, and then go a little deeper into my experience with the book after (for a few paragraphs). I’m not a “literary reviewer,” though, and I have yet to write a book report for a review. That's crap you expect to do in third grade.

5) Reviewers who are also writers (of the unpublished variety). (i.e. don’t play the “well, if I had written this, I would have done this” card)

Again, there are people who do this? What kind of asshat writes a review telling everyone how he would have written the book? That’s absurd. I get that many people feel that they can do better, but unless you’ve actually been legitimately published numerous times and received every literary award available, it seems rude, at best, to say “I could have done this better” in a review. I sure as hell have never done this.

6) You can’t love every novel.

Another point I agree with completely. I don’t love everything I read. Some books I hate with a passion. Others are okay. Some are damned good, and a few are brilliant. Any reviewer who loves everything he or she reads either has very low standards or doesn’t really read anything.

That said, there are reviewers out there who only review the books they like. I think those folks should be very open about that, though, so as not to mislead their readers. If you never finish the books you don't like, and, thus, never review them, then you should say as such.

7) Edit thyself.

I agree with this one too. I think more bloggers could edit their work. Now, when I say that, I mean that I’m sick of reading bloggers who can’t use proper punctuation (even on a rudimentary level) or capitalize their “I”s, or what have you. There are too many out there and you’d be surprised how many of them get upset if you point out where they have made mistakes (which is usually everywhere). Hell, I’ve been having a little fun with a fellow recently who can barely string a sentence together, let alone say anything remotely intelligent.

I try to edit myself, but I also am not the kind of person who is going to edit my blog the same way I edit my fiction. It’s not because I don’t like my blog, but because if I did that you’d never hear from me. You all still want to hear from me, right? I’ve had the occasional error (or maybe more than occasional), but I do try to fix them and edit my posts before I post them. I assume it has worked out, right?

You all should check out Newton’s post, though, and read all of the stuff he has to say. He makes a lot of valid points and if any of you are considering being reviewers, even just for fun, his post is definitely worth checking out.

On the other hand, based on what’s been written here, what do you all think?

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  1. I can't remember what a book report is like. I hope I'm not writing them.

  2. Well, apparently they're really easy to do accidentally in the academic review world. But I'm the same: I don't remember how to write them anymore.