Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Why I Haven't Been Writing Book Reviews... and a Book Review

A few months back I was doing really good. I was posting a book review at least once a week or so, right? You were all reading them, right? Loving them? Thinking I was genius? Heh....

Anyway, then I stopped. I went through a critics crisis of sorts, all because I watched The Angriest Man in Brooklyn.

Have you seen the reviews for that movie? Horrible. Horrible reviews. Almost no one liked it. So many splatted tomatoes. My mother-in-law said it was one of the worst things she ever watched. One review I read likened it to a visit to the gynecologist, but less interesting.

I absolutely loved this movie. It made me cry. At one point while watching it I sat down on the floor of my kitchen, hands covered in soapy dishwater, because I was overwhelmed by the emotion I was feeling and the way I was relating to the story.

This catapulted what I'm now thinking of as my "critics crisis." What if the author of this movie script had been told it was horrible while they were writing it? What if they never wrote it? All these other millions of people who hated it might be happy, but I wouldn't have experienced that moment of absolute passion I felt for the story. I would have missed out on that experience.

Now, keep note that a few years back I took an entire course on writing book reviews. This was a really good course, and I learned a lot, but I didn't truly connect my mind to it at the time. I think it all had to sit in my mind and wait for the inactivity of the post-college brain for it to brew into a real understanding of what book reviews do/are and, when they're badly written, the damage they can cause.

I know that above all else I want to inspire others to create art. I think I've talked on this subject before, right?

How many times do you hear artist's say, "I don't read the reviews" or "You can't let yourself read reviews. I just watched this video recently of Melissa McCarthy discussing how she handled a critic who had some horribly sexist views of her work, views that not only could have affected how she creates her art, but how she views herself.

I also watched the documentary Life Itself about Roger Ebert, and did some reading in a book my wife brought home from a class on artistic philosophy.

All of this finally converged into one conversation between my wife and I about the difference between workshopping a piece of work and writing a review. Thanks to her brilliant guidance I came to the conclusion that what I want with my reviews is not to tell you what to read, or why you should read a book, but to tell you what I got from it and to offer a workshop of sorts.

As a writer I would hope that book reviews I received, when negative, could also be constructive. I just spent four years of my life paying a lot of money toward a degree focused on constructive workshops. I learned how to balance the good and the bad, and how to apply that to my own writing, even when I don't agree with the person who is writing the workshop notes. I should be pretty damn good at this by now.

So I need to apply this to my book reviews in order to feel positive about what I'm writing. I don't want to be the person who says one book is bad and another is good. I want to be the person who says if you want to write, write. And write some more!

All of that is probably unimportant to you if you have already been reading my reviews, because I have a tendency to only review books I love anyway, however I'm hoping to use it to broaden the scope of what books I review, and to take my reviews themselves to a new level.

The first book I'm going to review on this new principle is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

What I liked/connected to: I truly enjoyed the plot and characters in this book. I thought that as a whole it was fresh and bright. The idea, a traveling theater/symphony bringing art to the survivors of a society-crashing flu, is a delight. I love traveling bard stories of history, so bringing them into a dystopian future is just ideal for me.

What I would workshop: There were a few places that, were I to be in workshop with this author, I would have suggested she alter the way she brought in the more literary moments. By that I mean, there are paragraphs of this book that have some brilliant and insightful commentary on culture and society today, however the language within them tends to feel out of place with the rest of the writing.

Final thoughts:

I also feel like the ending was a bit abrupt. Perhaps she knew all along that was how she would end the book, but the way it was written felt a bit more like she grew tired of writing the story and cut it off. OR it is one in an eventual series, and if there is a sequel to this I will be first in line for it! Because I really did enjoy it, relate to it, and plan to pass it along to a very good friend I think will also enjoy it.

What I'm reading now:

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