Sunday Salon – On Reading Lots of Books and Writing Reviews of Them

The Sunday

One of the biggest problems I have in writing reviews, after having written so many, is how to make my reviews sound different. All those words that review advice columns say never to use? After a while, I have used them all, over and over, because one simply runs out of new words. And sometimes, clichés really do describe my reading experience. But I get sick of using the words “interesting” “intriguing” “poignant” “compelling” “a must-read” “good characterization” “lyrical” “poetic” “page-turner” “it had me on the edge of my seat” etc.

(Yes, I have a thesaurus, but even it doesn’t have enough words for the number of reviews I have written!)


I also tend to include overmuch information on what the book is about. Why? Because ultimately, these reviews are for me, aand I have a shrinking memory about the size now of maybe an almond. I read many, many books, as these pictures of some of our bookshelves will show. As an example of this memory shortage, I will note that I schedule reviews in advance, and put my reviews on my blog reader so I can see when they come up. I can’t say how many times I see the review and say to myself, “Oh, I think I remember that book – who wrote the review?” Of course, it is I. (Or even worse, “Oh, what’s that book – never heard of it!) [Note: many people would have written “Of course, it is me” instead of “it is I.” I just can’t do it, in spite of the lamentable fact that “most people are cool with improper grammar.”]


Supposedly, there are “three golden rules” of book reviews:

1. The review must tell what the book is about.
2. The review must tell what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about.
3. The review must tell what the reviewer thinks about what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about.


In addition, I think it’s important to know something about the genre, so you can rate that book against its peers. For instance, I have read many post-apocalyptic books. Thus I can not only say the future [and these days, the present as well] is very scary , but I can compare each book vis-a-vis others in the category. For history and biography, I believe it is especially important to know about the subject, so one can ascertain if the author is providing a “fair and balanced” picture. Thus, theoretically, the more you read, the better your reviews.


Furthermore, I think one needs to make writing “interesting” (sorry about over-using that word). I can be bored even by my own reviews. I feel increasingly monotonous. This is why the choice of words is so “important” (another over-used word). How we love it when we read writing with sentences that sing. How sad that many reviewers (including me) only rarely can do that themselves.

What about being critical? As fun as it is to be “snarky,” it’s hard not to be nasty rather than just amusing. Authors think of their books as so personal – a part of who they are – and one just gets reluctant to hurt someone else that way. Besides, “it is a truth universally acknowledged,” as Jane Austen and S. R. Ranganathan (on the “laws” of library science) might say, that for every book there is a reader. If I don’t like a book, there is no reason someone else might love it, and that fact should be acknowledged and respected.


But alas, this desire to be “nice” sometimes means one is not completely honest, which vitiates the whole purpose of the review, at least for me. On the other hand, the more one reads, the more one learns to avoid certain genres and/or authors, and so the probability of ending up with a clunker is considerably lower.

What does all this mean? For me, it means I probably will stop reviewing eventually. It has gotten boring, and I’m out of words. I won’t, however, stop reading, and Jim and I will probably continue to post at least some thoughts about books on LibraryThing, because I love all the statistical information it provides about what we read and what others read. [If you care to follow our reviews there (and actually, we post more there than we do to the blog), our collective username is nbmars.] We both will also continue to post on Legal Legacy, a blog focused on history and legal developments.


Anyone else feel the same way about reviewing books?


About rhapsodyinbooks

We're into reading, politics, and intellectual exchanges.
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29 Responses to Sunday Salon – On Reading Lots of Books and Writing Reviews of Them

  1. Kay says:

    Your bookshelves are gorgeous! Love them. You have your own little library. Ah, reviews. I am weary of writing them as well – official ones. So far, I’m liking the smaller ones I’ve been sharing once a week. And I agree that often, they are for us – the person who read the book. Also to share the experience in a small way with others. And help the author, if we can. So, are you saying that you’re not going to be writing any more reviews soon? Understood. Agree that none of us will stop reading. How could we?

  2. Jeanne says:

    Your bookshelves are really quite splendid!
    Why do you think anything the author says about the book should matter to anyone else?
    I never get tired of reviewing books because I think the reader’s subjective views matter, and those are always changing.
    I hope that after a break you can change the way you review and enjoy it again.

    • I don’t know how much it “matters” about what the author thinks a book is about, but it’s always interesting to me, especially if I have missed entirely what the author was trying to convey!

  3. sarahsbookshelvesblog says:

    What a great discussion of book reviews. And I’ve been thinking about them too and wrote a bit about my issues with them in a post last week. I agree that it’s so hard to make one stand out. Or to not even bore yourself. My main issue(s) are that 1) reviews are the top of posts I least like writing and 2) they get the least pageviews (in general, as a category) on my blog.
    So, now I’m trying to figure out ways to talk about books and recommend books without doing the traditional review…or at least doing less of them.
    When you stop reviewing books, will you try to talk about them in a different way or just walk away entirely?

    • Yes, yes, I’m constantly boring myself! That’s why I end up with so many typos, because I usually can’t even stand to re-read what I wrote, LOL. I don’t know if I will walk away entirely, but maybe just do it less….

  4. Rita K says:

    Jill, I would miss your reviews immensely! Yours is the only book review blog I read faithfully. I must admit that I don’t comment often because my blog reader doesn’t make it easy. I have to switch over to Safari to comment. But if and when you and Jim stop doing the reviews I will be crushed. I guess I need to check out LibraryThing. Lately, my quilting is interfering with my reading, but I like to see what you are reading, as then I know what I should read once I have time.

  5. Andrea says:

    Great post! I agree; it gets hard to find something different to say each time!

  6. I loved the tour of your shelves… just beautiful! As for reviews, I’m feeling the same way lately and am glad to know I’m not the only one bored with my own reviews! (Though I’m never bored with yours) I’m experimenting with mini Litsy-style reviews in my weekly update posts. Will save stand-alone book posts for readalongs or times when I truly have more to say. We’ll see how that goes.

  7. Jim says:

    It’s a shame that blogging can become such a chore. Some books are really worth reviewing but are difficult to summarize. Others, like those by Robert B. Parker or Lee Child, are very easy to review because they resemble each other. I don’t enjoy writing a review just to add one more book to the list.

  8. Michelle says:

    Gorgeous, gorgeous shelves! Thanks for sharing!

    I still like writing reviews, I guess. I do write them for me, mainly, but I also find it helps solidify my feelings about a book. It is way too easy for me to finish a book and never think about what I am taking away from it or how I actually feel about it. In other words, writing reviews makes me a much more critical reader. For now, that is enough.

  9. I’ve been blogging/reviewing for 6 years. Every time I face a review, I get a little anxious. But I always try to use my own “voice.” And I like to sprinkle in personal and cultural connections. For those readers who just want “the facts, ma’am,” my style could be annoying. But what the heck. I think it’s the only way I can continue to write reviews.

  10. Book.blogging.momma says:

    Like everyone above, I also love your shelves! I’m guilty of not reading others reviews. Some of them are just too long and I get bored, yawn. I post reviews for mostly books received from others and sometimes I find myself not wanting to even do that. I have enjoyed meeting new people through being a book blogger but it can get a bit boring. Great write up,btw.

  11. jay says:

    Love the bookshelves.

  12. Anita says:

    This is a current topic with many book bloggers/reviewers/avid readers. I also write them for myself, to express my thoughts, to recall the emotions. I’m trying some different formats, because my go to seems so boring, the opposite of interesting.
    I completely loved your bookshelf photos…I wish I had that space…glorious!

  13. Wait, how are those your bookshelves? Those are like the most beautiful bookshelves I have ever seen. Those bookshelves should be in a catalog for attractive shelving solutions, good Lord.

    Also, I know it doesn’t help to hear this, but I never get tired of you doing reviews. They don’t seem repetitive to me, and I always really value your recommendations. I have tons of books in my TBR spreadsheet that you put there. ❤

  14. Rachel says:

    I am so jealous of your bookshelves! You should do a post on how your home library is organized.

    I’m just getting over a blogging slump – I have books I read over the summer that I haven’t reviewed yet. I know just what you mean about using the same words over and over – sometimes even in the same post! Your reviews often have words that are new to me in them though!

    I think stagnation is running through the book blog-o-sphere as a whole. The book bloggers I follow are posting less and less. I’m sure there are fresh, new book blogs out there full of vim and vigor that I just haven’t discovered. But sometimes, even just keeping up with the blogs I follow now seems like a chore!

  15. Kailana says:

    I love your bookshelves!

  16. BermudaOnion says:

    I’m with you – that’s why I’m trying my Friday post thing – I’m not “reviewing” but telling about what I’ve read.

    I want all of your bookshelves!

  17. Beth F says:

    Ummmm are you leaving us?????

  18. amckiereads says:

    O. M. G. Your library is gorgeous and I am in love with each and every one of those pictures!!!

    I am probably not the best person to be commenting here, given my overly long absence from reviewing… but I have to say that I definitely understand where you are coming from. That being said… if you don’t keep reviewing, with your knowledge of the genres and etc, then we will definitely miss the great wealth of knowledge and history that each of your reviews brings! I definitely feel more invigorated after my time away, but I certainly won’t be reviewing much – perhaps reviewing less or only those books that most speak to you would be a good middle ground to keep it feeling fresher for you?

    Either way, as long as you are happy that is what matters most 🙂

  19. litandlife says:

    I keep tinkering with my reviews and some time ago stopped caring about the rules. Partly because they are, as yours are, primarily for me. I decided if I’m not getting paid, other than the free book, of course, I don’t need to be spending hours on a review. I often revert to “what I liked” and “what I didn’t like” as a way to just put it out there. Because it can get really boring and sometimes I just really can’t put into words why I liked a book. Even when I don’t like a book, it’s easy to say I didn’t like the book because the writing was terrible but then trying to explain why I found it terrible can be tough. But still, it does keep me in books; I read well more than most non-blogging people I know and probably spend less on books than many of them.

  20. stacybuckeye says:

    I want to come live with your books! Seriously gorgeous!
    Since you are confessing I will too. I have so little time to read blogs these days and there are some of you (ahem) that tend to write in-depth reviews or posts and I tend to skip checking in on a timely basis because I know I’ll need some real time, not just a few minutes here or there. So, like today, you see me reading post from 19 days ago, lol.
    The thing is that I would never just mark your posts as read (as I do lots when I get so far behind) because I LOVE your reviews and the extra information and the book choices. I learn and can always count on great recommendations. So, change it up if you must, but please don’t stop.
    My blog needs some TLC, but I’m working on it. If I could just stay of FB I’d have so much more time…

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