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!
That makes sense to me.
I can zip through a random book in just a few days, but there’s something about an assigned book that makes me drag it out and makes it seem like a chore instead of a pleasure.
Well put! Same here!
This is Miriam Lock from Israel – I wrote a review of your book for the Jerusalem Post when it came out, and if you remember, we met and had dinner together in Jerusalem. I noticed your comment about stopping to write book reviews and clicked on the link to find this essay. Since I still write book reviews occasionally for the Post (and will be happy to review your next book) I was interested in your thoughts. I am working full-time as a translator/English writer for a non-profit organization and for me, writing book reviews is “davka” one way to keep my hand in my own writing, which in this case is about someone else’s writing. Yes, I plan to write my own book when I have the time and energy (yes I know, writer’s excuses) but in the meantime I feel that writing book reviews is a good exercise for my writing muscle and I have been exposed to all sorts of books, some amazing, and some rather stupid or poorly edited. Only once did I give a book back because it was so bad I couldn’t keep reading. If it is edited badly, I usually mention it, but only after doing my best to bring out the positive in the book.
Would love to see you again on your next trip!
Thanks so much for getting back in touch, Miriam! And also for sharing your thoughts on writing book reviews; I pretty much did it for the same reason you do it but it’s simply run its course for me, and my own writing needs to take priority. I’ll get in touch next time I come to Israel!