I read and review quite a lot of books, and thought it might be helpful to the many fellow-author friends I’ve made along the way if I posted these reviews in a section of my website.
There are those who advocate brutal honesty when reviewing other author’s books, reasoning: “If I reserve 5 stars for my favourite author of all time, then I can only give my second favourite author 4 stars. Even if a modern author happens to tick all my boxes, they do not yet carry the weight of several centuries of critical acclaim, and I don’t want to seem less of a stalwart upholder of literary excellence than I am. So to be on the safe side, I will give it 3.5 stars and luxuriate in the dilemma: ‘Will I finally round it up or down?’” Such power each reviewer holds in his or her literary critical hands!
Bear in mind too that no one has had to pass an exam in knowing what they’re talking about before they launch another of their ‘reviews’ on to the net. Reading some of them made me realise that many reviews reliably tell you a great deal about the qualifications (or woeful inadequacies) of the reviewer and very little you can rely on about the book they are purporting to review. I have a good Honours degree in English Literature, and I taught creative writing for most of my professional life.
I too started with the thought: “If I would give Shakespeare and Milton 5 stars, I can only give Tolkien 4 (his style is relatively easy to imitate). So what would I give the rather-dated-in-tone-and-attitude CS Lewis? How about the industrious Hilary Mantel?” But then I thought: “On that scale, what chance does any unknown, modern, self-published writer have without the weight of widespread public acclaim to persuade the average reader that their writing matches the quality of literary giants past or present?”
The hundreds of thousands of writers currently pouring their hearts and souls into books self-published on Amazon every year would have little chance of progressing beyond 3*. And to be honest, very many of those books do not deserve such progression, however many family and friends post enthusiastic 5* reviews of their efforts. On whose views nowadays can you rely? Popularity and literary merit can be two very different things.
I decided I did not want to be hard on my fellow-writers. If in my opinion a book is too clumsily or lumpily or monotonously written I do not trash the writer; I simply don’t publish a review. If I think a book has a strong plot and good characters but is currently hampered by stylistic defects I could help the writer remedy, I email that writer privately and pass on my opinion. In half a dozen cases that has led to me working with them on a rewrite that made the book much better and left its author strengthened by the experience. How much better is that than publishing a damning review, thereby destroying what little confidence the authors may have had in publishing work they spent thousands of hours creating to the best of their ability at the time of writing it? The path to knowledge is unfolding truth. All writers are on a path that they hope may lead to the achievement of excellence. The going isn’t always easy.
So the reviews in this section err on the side of generosity. If I think a book is well-written and in need of a review that might help attract more readers to it, then I have written such a review. Rest assured that there are no bad books in this section. All have qualities that warrant your time and attention, and I hope you may rely on my judgement as a critic, even though I enter the proviso here and now that had I chosen to apply stricter criteria, not all of the books I have reviewed would have had that full quota of stars.
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