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Book reviewing – why not? (Seven bad reasons)

Sunday 18 April 2010

I read, but it’s very rare that i review a book on the Travel Hopefully Blog, which is my public face. (In private i talk about what i like – and why – but who is there taking notice?)

One of the things i read is Mslexia, and in the last two issues of Mslexia i’ve been reading about the lack of female reviewers. It’s a banality to observe that more men than women have their voices heard in this field; that an alien who tried to form a view of our world based on published and broadcast output would conclude our population is heavily male-weighted.

But it’s more than that. It also affects the commercial success women writers have. Naturally any reader is more likely to ‘get’ work about experiences, situations, or reactions to those, which s/he identifies with – meaning, shares with the author. So as a massive blanket statement, a book written by a woman will mean something to more of its female than its male readers, because there are things women have in common that men won’t get, just as there is stuff men will get and women won’t. So if the reviewing is mainly by men, the media-dependent opinion of the masses* will latch onto fewer women than men authors.

That’s not bitter, it’s objective.

Anyway, it has made me feel reviewing books would be a good thing to do more of. As a kind of obligation, just because my voice should be out there – like a vote, one little tick (or cross if i’m reviewing a book i hate) adding a feeble shove to this bulky, subtle tradition we’re trying to shift. ‘The Enormous Turnip‘ was one of the stories that made sense when i was very young.

And that decision has made me confront my why-nots. The reasons for my reluctance.

  1. Thinking no one wants to know what i think. (I suspect this effectively shuts up more women than men, but i’m not claiming that as i don’t want the trouble of researching any stats to back it up.)
  2. Thinking i wouldn’t do it well enough, which isn’t quite the same as (1).
  3. Presupposing that to be a book reviewer you need some kind of qualification, such as an English degree, a published novel or seven, the already-won respect of the literary community, knowledge of all the books an author has produced before the one you’re reviewing… This is also the reason i don’t review films and music, but in the case of films and music it’s perfectly true i haven’t seen/heard enough to form a valid judgement.
  4. Thinking the books i could talk about aren’t the ones people would want to hear about. WOT? That has to be the most insubstantial reason i’ve ever heard for not doing anything.
  5. Feeling you need to be widely-read to review books. And i’m definitely not widely-read. I read slowly, though i remember what i’ve read pretty well. I rarely re-read.
  6. Fearing i would review the first of a series and then look silly when i never got round to the sequels. review the second in a series without knowing the first, given that i am happy to read stories in the wrong order.
  7. Knowing i promised Bill Hussey a review of his Through a Glass, Darkly a year ago, and still can’t find the notes i made to write it from.

Reasons (1) to (3) boil down to confidence, which in common with (i believe) most women is lower than most men’s when it comes to the ‘public arena’. That is, putting opinions out there which anyone is then free to attack.

The confidence obstacle is now, just about, especially now that my public face is more or less anonymous, eliminated. Reasons (4) to (7) are different… but can i justify acting on them any longer?

I offer these ‘reasons’ (let none call them excuses) because think they’re probably typical of reasons stopping many people, but especially women, from reviewing books on their blogs. I wonder if i’m right. Anyway, i’m not taking notice of these fairly unreasoning reasons from now on.

Reason (6) is quite a big confession. So congratulate me for confessing it. Instead of calling myself a failure about being disorganised, i’m putting it down to the artistic temperament (which Enid Blyton‘s Mam’zelle used to gesticulate about a lot, as i remember.) Lack of system thus becomes a positive attribute. Though it is still inconvenient.

The good thing about losing my TaGD notes is it gives me an excuse to read the book again, which even though i never re-read and even if i did i wouldn’t normally revisit within a few years. Anyway, from now on expect the odd book review. That’s ‘odd’ as in ‘occasional’ and, yes, ‘strange’ as well. And bear in mind that i don’t feel brave about them, so when you challenge be nice.  😉

* Media-dependent? Yep.

ps My once-or-twice-weekly has become twice-or-thrice-monthly blogging. It’s temporary.

pps Should a postscript come before or after a footnote? Someone decide, please.

ppps I am very relieved to announce i only got 50% right on this test.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Paris metro_polis permalink
    Friday 30 April 2010 8.35 pm

    This really speaks to me! Just getting beyond all the excuses to put your voice into the world – and anonymity does help a bit.
    ps Thanks for stopping by my corner of the world!

    • Saturday 1 May 2010 11.44 am

      Glad to connect :0) and yep, anonymity certainly helps. Good to see you here.

  2. Monday 19 April 2010 7.14 am

    I stumbled into book reviewing. It was never a part of the grand plan for reasons similar to yours. Now I do one a week, every Monday, without fail. I seem to be doing not a bad job because publishers have started sending me books. And so far I’ve had a shelfful of free books. I keep expecting to be found out but no one’s seemed to notice that I’m just some bloke who likes reading and isn’t even especially well-read.

    Go for it. And who cares if the books are old or new. There are so many books out there that no one knows anything about. It embarrasses me when I trip over a new one in the dark and realise that they’ve written maybe a dozen books and this is the first I’ve heard of them.

    • Monday 19 April 2010 11.08 am

      I don’t read fast enough to do one a week! Fantastic that you’re earning free books – i simply couldn’t get through them if they arrived. One or two a year is more likely to be my output.

      One of the things i’ve allowed to daunt me is following Jo Walton on, reviewing (very intelligently and readably) a huge range of fiction from Robert Heinlein to George Eliot. I’ve realised that was like saying i won’t do keep-fit because i’ll never run in the Olympics.

      That they ‘keep expecting to be found out’ is something successful people say a lot. Which encourages us to get away with what we can (an artist on ‘Yes, But Is It Art?’ last night said art for her was about seeing what she could get away with) rather than owning up. 😉

  3. Monday 19 April 2010 12.40 am

    Best of luck with reviewing. 🙂

    • Monday 19 April 2010 11.02 am

      It was you got me into it! – with winning that Bill Hussey in the first place. 🙂

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