It has never occurred to me before, in any way that I could explain, at any rate, that how we feel when we are reading a book, is different from the way we may feel about the same book, when we are reviewing it. I may be totally engrossed in a narrative, and yet, when I review a book, I might comment on the social context, the narrative flow, whether the characters are plausible and so on.
I asked my husband if this was legitimate. Would it be acceptable, for example, to be totally taken up with a story, and yet, on review, discount that feeling and focus on more general issues? He said that was entirely to be expected; and indeed, I suppose that is what it means to review a book. We read, then we stand back and take another look.
I have read several of the ‘Jack Reacher’ books, – I tend to blitz on one author at a time – and while I was reading them, I have found myself totally caught in them. That I began to see them as rather two dimensional and, as the series progresses, increasingly violent and morally debatable, are issue that at first did not really get a look in. I was more intrigued with Child’s use of language and short sentences….It was only after having read a solid handful and noticing the increasing violence and the oddly dubious moral distinctions, that I finally decided to stop reading them. Distaste came slowly, when I saw patterns emerging. Pick up a Reacher book, and I have to admire the hook on almost every page…..In a review, I would mention that they are compulsively readable, but would want to focus more on my reasons for refusing to read any more of them.
It works both ways, of course. I have read lots of chic lit, and know by now which authors are most likely to tick my boxes, but have to be careful not to make too many assumptions. Reflecting on how much I would have missed if I had simply hiccupped at the occasional grammar flub in my latest read before putting it away unread – ‘actually, this is really amusing and she has the flavour just right’ – reminds me that sometimes, persistence pays off.
Should we focus on how we feel when we are reading and enjoy getting carried away by the action? Or are we right to offer a more reflective opinion? Compulsion is what sells books, but are reviewers right to focus on other issues?