3 Things I’ve Learned as a Book Critic

Lajos Tihanyi’s The Critic.

About a month ago I began writing book reviews under a pseudonym for another website.

It’s been an amazing experience so far. I love combing through the review database and finding short stories and books to read. It’s exhilarating to discover new authors and even a new genre – I’m just now realizing how much I love a well-written mystery. In the past it’s always been a section of the library or bookstore that I’d overlooked.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from my first month of reviewing:

Be kind. It’s so easy to be snarky. (Or at least it is for me ;)). I’ve learned that there are many ways to effectively review a short story or novel that stirs up mixed emotions – you loved X but had reservations about Y, you don’t understand why Z happened.

Tone matters. What might come across as a light-hearted jab or playful phrase in real life can be interpreted in a much harsher light when you only have the written word. I try to sandwich even strong criticisms between praise for this reason.

Be honest. Of course sugar-coating your opinions doesn’t work either. Some stories are  more interesting or well-written that others.  There are polite ways to get this across but it isn’t helpful to pretend to enjoy something that you actually disliked.

And not liking something doesn’t mean that it’s a bad book! I refuse to read sentimental stories. I have a friend who hates science fiction and another friend who cannot stomach sexually explicit romance novels. Asking any of us to give an honest critique of these genres would be foolish. We’d have so little to recommend about them.

Be compassionate. Someday someone will (hopefully) review the short stories and book I’ve been working on. As excited as I am to share some of these things with the outside world later on in 2012 I’m also nervous. Will others like my work? Will they understand my sense of humour?

I hope that the people who review my stories remember that they were written by another human being and that I put weeks, months, or years of effort into what they’re reading. In the meantime I try to catch glimpses of the authors behind the stuff I review.

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