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Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Dangers of Reviewing Books for Authors Known to You.

As a writer and blogger, I’m often asked to review books by other writers I know or am acquainted with. I almost always decline (unless I happen to be confident about  the quality of their writing already). Why? Firstly, I’m always, but always, honest when I review a book. I’m not in the business of hyping up something just because I happen to know the author. One quality an author needs is integrity, so I would much rather refuse than invite the possibility of offending someone.
I do, however, read quite a lot. And I usually review those books I read. Recently, I was sent a book through the post as a gift. I read it. It infuriated me. Why? Because the story was so damned good but the way it was written broke almost every rule in the book (sic). There was a great deal of telling instead of showing. There was continual provision of detail about meals, greetings and banal conversations that added nothing to the story and interrupted the pace. And, yes, before you ask, it was self-published (Not that that is any indication of quality – see my earlier review of ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ for my feelings on this ‘great’ work of literature, published via the traditional route). So, why did I read it? Because I was compelled to. The story was so captivating, the characters so sympathetically drawn. I cared about them, wanted to know what happened. But I had to wade through great swamps of unnecessary detail to pick out the story.
The author of the piece is a nice guy; a genuine lover of humanity. I’d already advertised that fact that I was reading the book on a public website I belong to, so I found myself in the awkward position of having to say something about it there. I said more or less what I’ve said above, but in slightly more gentle terms. And, to be fair, he was not at all put out by my review when I sent it to him. I’m not convinced I would have had the same generous response from most authors.
So, this is my plea and my warning. If you’re a writer, and you want your book read and reviewed by a friend who is also a writer, be prepared to have them tell the truth. This may be a risk or it may not: it depends on the quality of the book and the attitude and tastes of the reader. But, please, understand that you lay yourself open to honesty here. Of course, some writers engage in mutual sycophantic reviewing, praising each other’s work regardless of merit and often without bothering to read the piece. I’m not such a writer or reader. So, if you’re tempted to send me a book and expect me to read it, please be prepared for me to tell the truth about my feelings about it.
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