Pile of books to be read in front of a crowded bookshelf

I just clicked the Send button to submit my last book review. Until now I told myself that this would be my last. I don’t want to have to read a book anymore.

Mind you, as a writer I am unlikely to not have to read a book now and then.

I teach writing, and so I have to read books for my class. Often I have to read the books of writer friends. All of these might be good, enriching even, but they are not necessarily my choice. Maybe, with giving up book reviews, I can at least decrease the number of books I have to read?

I was horribly late with this one. The chore of finishing the book and writing the review had weighed heavier on me than it should have. I do not get paid for these reviews, but my bad conscience reminded me to follow through on my commitment.

Finally, I got it done! I sunk two days of my life into finishing the book any “free” minute I had. I dedicated two hours to writing a review when I could have written my own stuff, most of which has been sorely neglected. This was the last time, I swore to myself! From now on, the only books I have to read would be for my workshop. Other than that,

I want to be free to read what I want to read!

I have grappled with the quandary of having to read a book before. After all, I have been writing book reviews for a good seven years now. And I watched my kids having to plow their way through high school reading assignments.

Mind you, I only took on reviews for books I thought I would be interested in, which usually meant historical Jewish family memoirs.

Alas, many a book turned out different than expected.

And that’s the power of reading, is it not? The book before this last one was a disappointment. When I was admonished that I could only submit a positive review, I really struggled to edit it accordingly.

This last book, Cockney Girl, was a pleasant surprise even though it was at times poorly edited (which I can’t say in the review), and the descriptions piled on a bit too much. However, it gave me the report from the front lines that I always look for in memoir: In this case, the experience of being a child in London and the English countryside during World War II. So this last review was easier to write.

Still, I hate deadlines; I hate having to do stuff. Is this my childish self rebelling? Or has the gig of doing reviews for the Jewish Book Council run its course in my life? I initially started doing them in the hopes of making connections that would eventually help when I published my own book. That didn’t happen.

Instead, I read a good many books I would not have read otherwise.

I also thought my byline on the reviews might be worthwhile, might lead to other gigs. Again, that proved untrue. In addition, I just discovered that my old reviews aren’t on the JBC site anymore, or if they are, they don’t have my byline.

So why do it? As a service to other writers? Maybe, but after seven years and a whole lot of books I think I’ve paid my dues. I have found that the one-on-one connection with another writer, by reviewing on our own blogs or newsletters, is more fruitful and more satisfying.

Why am I now conflicted? Because I realized, once again, that

being “forced” to read a book first of all actually gets me to do it.

How many books are on your to-be-read pile?

Reviewing books has greatly enlarged my horizon over the last seven years.

Just as reading for my workshop does. And I have to finish them as I have to discuss them. Only rarely have I refused to finish a book for class (see On Not Reading a Book) or deemed a book unworthy of a review (which is an option).

It boils down to how we want to spend our time, right? Maybe I should be existential about this?

If I had only six months to live, would I spend some of it writing book reviews?


So, having thought this through, I will keep my promise to myself. No more book reviews.

Never fear, however, my horizon will still be enlarged. I will continue to teach my Advanced Memoir Workshop. Therefore, my students will continue to force me to read all kinds of books I wouldn’t otherwise read.

But hopefully, without having to prioritize a book I have to read for a review, I’ll have more time to reduce my own to-be-read pile!