“Words! Words! Words! I am so sick of words! I get words all day through…Never do I ever want to hear another word. There isn’t one word I haven’t heard…Say one more word and I’ll scream.”
Audrey Hepburn in MY FAIR LADY
Well, not really, but I can understand what Eliza felt and what Alan Jay Lerner had her sing in MY FAIR LADY. Writers spend long hours, days and years putting forth words. In their heads, on paper, in print, and in the ether. Then, it is the readers and the critics who pour over those strenuously wrought words to offer review, critique, criticism, praise, doubt, confusion, benevolence or, possibly, total rejection.
How often do you write reviews of the books you read? Is it your job? Your hobby? A courtesy to a writer friend? Or only when you can offer a four or five star rating? Are you of the breed that loves to hack away with stingy one or two star reviews? Holds to stringent rules, measurements or other ways to quantify a book’s worth?
Personally, I’d love to do away with the stars. Too subjective for my taste and with too many variables and meanings. If your words can’t convey your thoughts about the pacing, plotting, characterization, themes, research or lyricism of the writer, how can the stars say it?
So, I decided to take a look at the reviews I’ve written on Amazon to analyze my own process and see what I could make of it. In the last six years I have ponied up forty reviews. I gave 37 five stars and to three, I gave four stars. What does it mean, if anything?
I recently had an email discussion with an eminent western writer who reserves her “5’s” for books of significant value that are likely to stand the test of time. I used to do that, too, and only wrote reviews of such books. More recently, I’ve switched gears and have given many “5’s” for work that might not reach those earlier standards but were very good books. With most of these I tried to describe their impact on me to get across my sense of their value. I have not given lower numbers in instances where friendship got in the way of my ability to do so; I still don’t feel good about those books (think fraudulent) for it misleads anyone who might look to the review in making their decision to buy and/or read them. On three occasions I gave “4’s” where I felt very clear about their ranking.
Increasingly, I read nearly exclusively what I write: historical fiction, mostly about the American West. In the past, I read much more in crime and thriller series, general historical (including romances,) bestsellers, and non-fiction. My interest would be peaked by San Francisco Chronicle or NY Times reviews (now the same thing,) the “new books” shelved at the library or booksellers recommendations. Now, I look to the resources and writers of organizations I belong to: Women Writing the West, the Historical Novel Society, Squaw Valley Community of Writers and Redwood Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club.
I took a look at the stats from those 40 reviews to see where they came from: 17 were by WWW writers, 7 by RW authors, 5 from HNS, 10 from other sources and 0 specifically from Squaw. I think I read about 60 books a year so this sampling of 40 books in 6 years is miniscule compared to what I actually read.
Vincent van Gogh “WOMAN READING”
The result of all this self-analysis: I need to write more reviews and improve my star designation by being more honest when I find myself between a rock and a hardplace.
Have you anguished over reviewing a friend’s book?
How did you handle it?
Were you “too busy?” Say you didn’t feel comfortable, couldn’t rank it high?
Do something else?
P.S. HUACHUCA WOMAN has received 10 “5’s” and 1 “4.” Thank you!