Why didn’t I review your book?
In a comment to a recent facebook post I made to highlight one of my new reviews, I received the following comment from Bryan Thomas Schmidt, author and anthologist:
“ How come you never review my stuff… I don’t care if you hate it, but please review it.”
This blog post arose out of my thoughts in response to Bryan’s question. The tl;dr answer is: “It’s complicated.” but for those willing to read on, please do so.
“Time is the fire in which we burn” -Soran (Malcolm McDowell) , Star Trek Generations
On a recent SF Signal podcast, I talked with Patrick Hester, Sarah Chorn, Fred Kiesche and Rachel Cordasco about audiobooks. In the course of that conversation, we got to comparing books read total for the year to date, physical and otherwise. Sarah, of course, being a demigoddess of reading, has read the most, somewhere in the 160’s. Fred is similarly high, thanks to listening to a lot of audio fiction. Rachel is looking to read 80 books this year or so. Me, I’m around a hundred at present. I figure to hit ~110 by the end of the year. That’s a lot compared to the average reader, but its really a drop in the bucket compared to the books that come out in a given year.
Even with 110 books in a year, I can’t read everything, and I can’t even read everything I *want* to read when I read it. When a dozen books of interest come out in a month, I’m already behind the eight ball, and falling further behind all the time. I value long driving trips (as I mentioned on the aforementioned podcast) because it lets me eat up audiobooks in a way my day to day situation (short commute, work that doesn’t encourage deep listening) does not. Plus, in addition to reviewing and reading in my free time, I have other interests–photography, roleplaying games, computer games, adventures of all sorts.
“What is the answer to 99 out of 100 questions?… Money” – Vanilla Sky
I can’t buy every book I want to own. Its economically impossible in my situation to do so, and I have other interests to pay for, as well as the basics of life. I buy a fair amount of books, but I cannot buy everything I want.
I can hear you now, though. “Don’t you, Mr. Big Reviewer, receive a fuckton of review copies?”
Yes and no. I receive a modest number of review copies. I know reviewers who get 5-10 books in a typical week. Me, I don’t receive a review copy of something every week. A pretty scintillating week can have me receive 3. Some publishers are much tighter with me than others.
“Mr. Big Reviewer, you in particular work for SF Signal. I know they receive a ton of books. So why didn’t you get the book that way?”
SF Signal (hello John. Have a bagel!) is very good to me. John is not independently wealthy, though, so going begging for review copies he has to spend time and money sending to me is somnething I’ve become increasingly loath to do. I have plenty of books to read and it feels like special pleading to ask John for a copy of something unless I really, really, gotta have it. There are some authors I do that for because I will read anything they write. (Hello Kate Elliott! Hi there, Martha Wells! My good friend, (Elizabeth) Bear, you know you’re on *this* list too). But I don’t generally ask John for packages of books much anymore.
So it is entirely possible that I don’t even have a copy of your book, or won’t for quite some time. I am not going to Klausner you and review a book I haven’t read.
“and the kidnapping of a Duke’s son is of interest”–The Count of Monte Cristo
While wide, I have a defined interest in my reading in genre fiction and every other subgenre of fiction and nonfiction for that matter. I’m willing to try new things, but there are things in genre that frankly don’t interest me. Ghosts, for example, are something I have near to zero interest in. I didn’t and don’t even use them much in Dungeons and Dragons games. There are a number of fine writers who I am sympatico with who have written novels with ghosts in them (hi Jaime Lee Moyer!) Sorry, its not to my taste, and I have no interest in reading said books. There are historical eras that really don’t grab my interest, either, if you’re talking history or historical fantasy. Its entirely possible your book falls into the areas of genre fiction I really don’t have much interest in reading.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
“Good. Bad. I’m the one with the Gun” -Ash, Army of Darkness
In writing reviews, I am engaging in writing. It might not be the kind of writing that earns me a Hugo Award nomination (although I am certainly eligible). Its not the kind of writing that pays a single one of my bills, not even for the mocha frappucino at Starbucks yesterday. I do this for the love of doing it, because I like and love doing it.
I don’t review everything I read–because I don’t like everything I read. I have a pretty high hit rate, but I’ve had stretches of books that just did not work for me. You rarely see reviews of these books from me. Reading and reviewing a book I don’t want to read, or reviewing a book I had a tepid or negative reaction can have mixed results at best.
The Willful Child, by Steven Erikson, is a book that I was eager to read, since I love his epic fantasy. My experience,however, was epically negative. It wasn’t just a meh response, it was a near-throw-against-the-wall book. I managed a review of it by treating it humorously (sort of in the vein of Justin Landon, who has (used to) review books negatively with giant dollops of humor.
Less successful is the case of Patricia Burroughs’ This Crumbling Pageant. My reading and review of TCP is a case of what happens when I read a book on request, don’t care for it tremendously, and write a review against my better judgement. In normal circumstances, I would have not reviewed it at all. Pooks begged me to, and I struggled to write a review of a book that fell on the lower end of the “meh” scale for me. It was no fun, I derived no pleasure from it, and I still feel bad about the entire affair. Pooks’ book is not the only one where I’ve felt bad about not liking the book of someone I feel I get along with, either.
It’s the mushy middle, though, that really is the mud of the Agincourt field that traps me, however. Its easy to write a review of something I love. I can manage to do a review of a really negative reading experience if I look at it the right way. But a meh book? Reviewing those are really hard. I have no enthusiasm to just grind out words and not a tremendous incentive to do so. I do want to support authors like Deliah S Dawson, who ask for reviews of everything they write, but if a book doesn’t resonate with me, its a slog and a word mine to come up with an acceptable review.
And that’s why I didn’t review your book.
Update: Rob Bedford talks to Justin Landon about these issues on the newest Rocket Talk Podcast