Author: Guest blogger
I clearly recall, at the age of four, holding up a fat novel in front of me like I was engrossed in reading it, though I was still essentially illiterate. When I did learn to read I took to it with a passion, and thought there was no better way to spend the holidays: three detective novels in one day when I was about eight or nine, or a Jane Austen a few years later.
Adult life being what it is, it’s now a very rare day that’s entirely devoted to enjoying them. Fortunately I do read plenty of books during the course of the year as a reviewer – for The Book Show and various print media – but have so much other reading to do as a freelance journalist (newspapers, journals, magazines, online) that I probably only get to a book of my own choosing once every six months.
I stare at books bought long ago, still unread on the shelf, and feel rather sad. Not too sad though, as I know I’m tremendously fortunate to read such a diversity of excellent books as part of my job. If someone had told me as a child that I’d be a book reviewer, I would have been quite awestruck!
So what do I look for in a book I’m reviewing? First, am I enjoying it? Whatever my conclusion, why did I reach it? If I’m not enjoying the book, I’m particularly critical of my response, trying to analyse where the author has legitimately failed or, indeed, whether I the reader has. Perhaps I’m prejudiced about the subject or style?
While reviewing is very much about one’s personal response to something, it’s absolutely essential to bear in mind the intended audience. I remember having to review a massive Bryce Courtenay novel, and while I thought it was rather tedious and formulaic, I did take into account that it was created for a general audience looking for lazy summer reads.
If I had time for lazy summer reads, though, my ultimate treat would be re-visiting a Jane Austen novel, especially my favourite book of all time, Pride and Prejudice. How predictable, but is it not the perfect novel? The books I love best have a mastery of language, witty observations about society’s hypocrisy, an astute understanding of human nature, and – my great weakness – historical settings.
But whether a book is set in the past or present, is witty or deadly serious, fact or fiction, those that I find most rewarding have a unique and powerful voice; they surprise and engage; they make me think. What better way to spend your working day than reading, thinking, writing and speaking about books like that?