Sunday, September 9, 2012

Can writing 'spoil' the reading experience?

I showed this shiny here blog of mine to a librarian friend of mine the other day. Between the usual polite(!) platitudes of how good it looked, and what an interesting variety of posts you have on here, she took me to task on some of my book reviews.

Now, I haven't done any reviews for a while. Not because I haven't been reading, but because I've been reading adult fiction rather than YA lately. I've made it my policy to only review YA stuff on here, given that I'm an author/school librarian.

Me in action (yes, I know I've used this before, but it is the only photo I have of me 'in action'!)
Anyway, this friend of mine said that some of my criticisms of books I've reviewed were somewhat unfair. One book we'd both read recently was Dark Storm by Sarah Singleton. She pointed out that, in my review, a lot of my criticisms stemmed from me reacting to Singleton overdoing the purple prose when us writers have been taught to tighten things up and kill our darlings.
She has a point. Every time I read a book, I can't help but have my writer's hat on. Another poor, non-writing friend of mine found himself being subjected to me ranting about how Stephen King needs a good editor. I might think that, but do most of his readers? 
Yes good writers should know what makes a good book, so you could argue that our criticisms are valid. But are our perspectives going to be skewed with writerly bias that most readers don't have?
As a school librarian I despair at how much badly written stuff is lapped up by teenagers because it jumps on the latest bandwagon (currently dystopia, previously dark romance, etc etc), whilst well written stuff falls unnoticed by the wayside.
But my clientele are intelligent, curious and delightful young ladies, and as readers they know what they want. And in many cases, they have a balanced enough reading diet: they are force fed the classics in the classroom after all.
The RJ Ellroy sock puppet scandal is a timely reminder that online book reviews can often have a nasty ulterior motive. Whilst all I'm doing is calling things as I see them (and I will carry on doing YA book reviews in due course), I do wonder if all of us writers who are reviewers should try to rein our focus on the craft-of-writing side of things and try to see things from a pure reader perspective, who is looking for a great, immersing, well-told and memorable story above all else.
Which isn't easy when we're slogging away on our manuscripts in unglamorous isolation, endlessly self-editing and painstakingly revising away.


  1. I'd like to suggest that since you ARE a writer, it's perfectly legitimate to review books as a writer. There are other writer-readers out there, and even some of the girls in your library may be interested in writing stories. Therefore, it's nice for them to have a resource where they can find another writer's view of books.

    After all, there are SCADS of reader-reviewer blogs out there, written by people who simply love books but don't write them, so you are filling in a niche which they don't and can't. I personally would rather read another writer's review of a book, since then I can have a better idea of the quality of the prose before I plunge into it.

    Anyway, there are my two cents. I quite enjoy your book reviews, so I hope you don't change the format.

  2. Fear not, I do intend to keep reviewing in the same way that I do. But I think that writers perhaps put too much emphasis on things like writerly craft, literary technique and 'the rules' when reviewing other fiction.

    They say 'write what you like to read'. I'd suggest one shouldn't always read as one likes to write.