I was updating my Facebook Visual Bookshelf two minutes ago and my eyes caught something that I’d never really noticed: the reviews (although I’ve written a few myself, I’d never even bothered to look at others).
I have a habit. I never taste the food I cook. I like to take my first bite or sip together with my family. Most of the time, the recipes turn out well. The rest of the time, my husband sneaks into the kitchen and does the tasting for me, particularly when we’re entertaining. He thinks I’m out of my mind. I tend to agree. Or I just don’t like to eat what I’m cooking when I’m cooking it.
This is the same with books. Unlike video games which I will only buy if the reviews are favourable (makes sense since I used to do that for a living), I don’t like reading book reviews. I like listening to podcasts that INTRODUCE new books but no, I don’t like reading, listening to or watching any reviews with regards to books, and here’s why:
Reading is a highly personal thing to me (unless it’s a textbook and maybe even so). Reading, for instance, the Bible or the Quran is generally accepted as an intimate journey, one that takes you down different paths with each sentence, verse and chapter. Because of who I am, what I’ve been through, things I’ve seen and not seen, the book is what the author is trying to communicate to everyone but no one in particular, and in this instance, its story is to me. And how I receive that story, perceive its message(s), depends largely on place, time and frame of mind.
As such, how can the opinion of someone else, in a different time, place and nuance, reading a book, ever be able to judge for me whether or not a book is ‘good’? Yes, they can pick on points of language, of style but never the tone nor the content (with differing reasons) because when it comes to the likability of a book’s tone, it’s really subjective isn’t it? Angsty may work for rebellious teens but not so much for his or her parent. Gritty Mid Eastern honesty may work for the New York publisher but be a tad too real for the lonely migrant working at a falafel shop and making ends meet.
Secondly, most of these book reviewers have what I call the legacy problem. They are so well-read and so well-trained in their skill. What do they know of what the rest of us want in a book?
But there are just SO many books to read and so little time! How do we suss out efficiently which to spend our hard-earned money on (and boy, do they cost money these days)?
This is where a good library comes in and I’m am blessed to live in a county with one of best library systems in the world. Sometimes, I just walk into the library in my little town, step up to a certain aisle, close my eyes and pull out five titles at random, before checking them out. So far, most have been pretty interesting.
And I have my book club.
So what do you think? When you have a good library (or a good book club), do you still need book reviews?