In the quiet internet backwater that this blog is, today is a very special day. Little things mean a great deal out here in the sticks, you see, and the fact that hardly anyone in the wider world will ever hear about them matters not one whit. It’s the simple fact that something is happening, and that this blog, which I once seriously considered abandoning, is perhaps beginning to find its feet.
Today, I have added a ‘Reviews’ page to the blog.
I know, I know – in terms of world events (even the virtual world of cyberspace), this is a bit like your neighbours announcing that they’ve built an extension to their house. Still, bear with me while I bore you with the details, and then invite you in to take a look around. It’s really not that important, I know, but it means quite a lot to me.
I should say at the outset that I don’t have any particular faith in my powers as a reviewer. My only real qualifications are that I’ve been an avid reader for most of my life, and that I’m a writer. As a reader, I think I can give a reasonably intelligent overview of books I’ve enjoyed and why I’ve enjoyed them. As a writer, I’m perhaps able to take that ‘Why?’ question a little further, and try to delve beneath the surface of a book. Needless to say, however, my opinions on a given book are purely subjective, and worth no more or less than anyone else’s.
‘This worked’, ‘That didn’t work’, ‘This could have been done better’ – all are reasonable, if subjective, remarks, and once formed the backbone of my reviews. From my current perspective, however, I find this approach rather incomplete. Before, I think I had a mental image of what I thought a novel should ideally be – rather an artificial image, I now believe, cobbled together from my own personal favourites and thereafter used as a template against which I judged other novels. This is both limited and limiting. Now, I prefer to try to engage with the novel as it is written, rather than measure it against my ideas of what a novel should be.
The primary purpose of the Reviews page will be to allow me to keep track of what I’ve read and what I thought of it. (I joined Goodreads years ago for much the same purpose, but I don’t always find the Goodreads format the most convenient.) Having said that, a lot of books lack the exposure they deserve – especially indie books, which will probably account for the majority of my reviews. Another little slice (or crumb) of the internet pie might help them to find an audience. It might. Realistically, I’m afraid that my blog doesn’t pack that kind of punch. Nobody’s likely to soar to the top of the Amazon charts (or any charts) because I’ve reviewed their book.
If exposure is elusive, there is no shortage of negativity on the internet. For this reason, I’ve decided to restrict my reviews to books I’ve enjoyed. If I can’t say something good, I’d rather not say anything. If I review a book, it’s because I enjoyed it and found it interesting, entertaining or inspiring, and because I think that perhaps other people will enjoy it too.
One thing I’m keen to avoid, though, is the dark shadow of cynical indie review rings. I don’t know whether these really exist, but if they do I’m in no hurry to join them. Some of the authors I review I’ll ‘know’, care of the internet, and I’ll consider some of them to be my friends; in the interests of impartiality, I’ll disclose the fact. Others I will have had little or no prior contact with. In either case, I don’t expect a review for a review. If anyone does read and review my book(s), I hope they’ll be honest. I’m less interested in bumping up my average star rating than in becoming the best writer I can be, and constructive criticism is always welcomed.
Speaking of star ratings – I’m not keen on them, personally. I doubt that one’s considered opinion of an entire book can be summed up by a row of asterisks. Besides, in these cynical times 5-star reviews are all too often dismissed as being the work of sock puppets, just as 1-star reviews can be written off as the hit-and-run tactics of those with a personal axe to grind. I’ll (reluctantly) assign star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, but I’d rather steer clear of them here.
Anyway, now that I’ve bored you rigid with the nitty-gritty, it’s time to get down to business. The Reviews page is officially open! And what a way to begin: my first review is of Dan Holloway’s inspired, experimental novel The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes. Read all about it here.