Friday, June 27, 2014

My reviews: A look at the process

It was pointed out to me that I rated The Great Santini by Pat Conroy 2 looks while another member of my reading group rated it at 5. I certainly noticed the disparity in reviews, but now I realized that others see it, too.

That has me thinking: Why do I review books the way I do. Am I being fair? Am I looking at objective or subjective criteria? Do I rate on writing/subject matter/story telling? Here is what I have come up with.

It depends on my mood.
I am human, of course, and when I read a book, there are a lot of external factors intertwining with my thought processes and reception of the characters, story and events in the book. I have to acknowledge this first and foremost. I am not a reading robot.

I like good writing.
At first I was concerned that I was putting too much emphasis on whether or not I liked the story and not enough emphasis on the writing. The man with whom I had a review chasm, as stated above, commented that The Great Santini was southern writing at its best. I heartily disagree with this. Great Southern writers to me are Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Conner and Zora Neale Hurston. More contemporary authors to elevate to this status (in my opinion) would include Alice Walker, Jesmyn Ward, and Fannie Flagg.

While Conroy writes in an easy-to-read manner, I found his style to be a bit overbearing, redundant and predictable, using Santini as my source for this. I got bogged down a number of times in his descriptions (a basketball game lasts 10 pages, for example).

I don't care if the story is negative or positive.
It would be a travesty to review a book based solely on whether or not it left me feeling happy. Books should challenge your view (like every day by David Levithan), make a statement about something (like any of Carl Hiaasen's books dealing deftly with the environment), bring a new perspective (like The Scavenger's Daughters by Kay Bratt), or offer good, old fashioned escape (James Patterson, anyone?).

Finally, do I think of the book after it's finished?
I have been known to go back and increase the looks I give a book because it haunts me well after I have read it. Examples of this would be Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, and Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. These books impact me, and that is the sign of a good book.

All-in-all, I remain comfortable in my reasons for rating books. One to Five Looks is not a great system because there are A LOT the threes. It's not terrible, but it's not great. Some threes are better than others, but I think that is going to be the case with any limited system.

Yep, Santini is still a two.

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