Do I stand by my old reviews? Looking back on SEVEN YEARS of book blogging!    

Hello all! This is a post that’s been a long time coming- not least because today is my 7th BLOGGIVERSARY!!!! Can you believe I’ve been doing this for SEVEN YEARS ALREADY?!?! I certainly can’t!! And of course, that’s got me being all retrospective about my old reviews. Because written a HELLUVA LOT of them in that time!

Now, naturally, when I look back on my old posts, I have to admit I don’t enjoy it. Perhaps it goes without saying, they don’t ever seem as polished as my newer reviews. So, broadly speaking, I won’t be addressing that side of things (just know I’m *internally cringing* the whole time). I’m gonna be looking at the content and whether or not I still agree with what I said about the books. Wish me luck- I’m gonna need it!

(NB: The pictures will all link to the original reviews, so feel free to check them out for reference).

As I Lay Dying– I don’t care how many times a random stranger tells me that I “didn’t get” how genius this book is, I still think it’s shit and I stand by my review. It’s plotless, stuffed with uninteresting characters and pretentiously written. I do not think this book was “ruined for me” by bad teaching or whatever nonsense someone wants to throw at me- I just think it’s bad.

The Fault in Our Stars– I was almost too kind in my review… and I didn’t say anything positive about it 😉 Maybe I’d be more forgiving if this book didn’t exploit Anne Frank for clout… but it does, so I’m never gonna forget how pretentious this book is. Also, I once saw Green state in a video that he only believes in positive reviews, so I’m never taking this down 😉

Bronze Horseman– yeah this book still sucks. I definitely could have been more concise in my review- but I stand by the gist of it.

Throne of Glass– okay, now we’re getting into some juicy stuff, because we’re talking about books I liked at the time, yet no longer care for. Reading back these positive reviews feels a bit cringey. While I still stand by some parts- like the fact it was cool to have a protagonist who wasn’t a stereotypically “nice” girl- it’s hard not to think about where said character ended up (being a really bland “chosen one” stand in). I essentially stand by what I said, because it’s how I felt at the time, and I don’t think it’s fair for my current perspective to taint that.

Eye of the World– ahhh now this one is curious, because in an unbelievable turn of events, I ended up rereading this book recently. Annnnd I still had the same trouble with the writing and desperately thinking that the story needed editing. BUT there was clearly enough intrigue in the story for me to want to give the Wheel of Time series a second try. So, I guess I’ve softened with this one, recognising that I can see why other people like it.

Lonely Hearts Hotel– oh dear- this is one of those books I wish I’d never read. I don’t want to have written a negative review about it, because I feel like I was miss-marketed the story. That said, there’s enough objectionable content in the book that I have to stand by everything I said about it.

Woman in the Window– ehh, really hard one to talk about! I try to judge a book separate from the author as much as humanly possible… however I’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard about what was going on behind the scenes! Aside from that, while I still think the writing was stellar, watching the movie and reading/seeing other reviews has made me rethink how well I rated this book. Despite the fact that I like the motifs, the story is just not that great. This is probably the closest I’ve come to fully wanting to retract an old review!

Maidens– still, there are plenty of times when I see negative reviews and don’t change my mind! Although this is a more recent read, I’ve included this because I’ve seen *a lot* of criticisms of this book and I just don’t agree. I find it a very richly written thriller with a dark edge, elevated by its mythological references.

Beartown– when I was planning to do this post, I was thinking about this review as one I regretted. After feedback, I felt like I was perhaps too harsh on the book and the way it handled sensitive topics. And then I read Night Swim. Unfortunately, I had much the same critiques, being frustrated with its take on the legal system and its desire to overturn judicial principles like “innocent until proven guilty”. So while I wish I’d handled the topic with more sensitivity… I still haven’t changed my mind about the actual book.

The Queen’s Thief Series– it’s not all bad news though! While I had mixed feelings about this series, looking back on my review, I found it to be pretty nuanced. It’s safe to say, I had a *strong* reaction to this series- and I think the review I wrote covers that! (in spite of my rather misleading title for the review 😉 )

Sadie– if anything, I wish I could have hyped this book more! Looking back on my super positive reviews like this, I TOTALLY stand by everything I said. My only issue is that I can’t do stories like this justice! They deserve more hype!!

And that’s all for now! There are so many more reviews I could’ve talked about, but hopefully I covered a good range! What do you think? Do you think my assessment of these reviews was fair? And do you ever change your mind about old reviews? Let me know in the comments! I’m dying to hear your thoughts on this!

Being a “Bad Art Friend” – An Unpleasant New Writing Trend or a Tale as Old as Time?

Recently, I went to a writing group, where a fellow writer told me how she got her inspiration. She was writing the story of a friend of a friend losing her virginity at 28. “When my friend told me the story, I just found it so funny, I had to write it into a novel,” she told me. And I cringed. The idea of such a personal story being relayed to the world is a lot of people’s worst nightmare. And the fact that the person poaching the plot was a complete stranger (thereby obviously not having permission to tell it) didn’t make me feel better about it.  

But it did get me thinking… how bad is it to pinch parts of someone else’s life story? Is it ever okay?

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the “Bad Art Friend”- a complicated tale of a personal story being plagiarised (and consequent law suits). A lot of people cannot decide who exactly the “Bad Art Friend” was in that situation (since this certainly seems to be a case of writers behaving badly). Nonetheless- whichever side I am on- there’s something deeply uncomfortable about taking someone else’s story in order to mock them. I cannot help but be reminded of Music and Lyrics, where Drew Barrimore’s character has been traumatised by such an event. Naturally, as the audience it is impossible not to empathise- for who would want to be the laughing stock of the world?

Which makes this seem like a cut and dry case- except it’s clearly not. Because isn’t this just something writers and artists do? Drawing from real life is quite possibly the oldest tradition in writing. We all have poets and singers we admire who openly write about real life people. And while artists like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran may have been criticised in recent years for this practice… it’s not like it’s a new phenomenon. People scour Shakespeare’s sonnets for evidence of the real people they were about. Thomas Hardy knowingly took details from real life cases he read about in newspapers to add realism to his stories. And what of historical fiction, cannibalising the lives of real figures in history and reproducing them for our entertainment. Indeed, even I am engaging in this practice by sharing my anecdote at the start of this piece!

Sadly, I don’t think there is an easy answer here. If you argue that you should obscure the references, keeping identities secret like Carly Simons did with “You’re So Vain”, you underestimate the innumerable fan sites dedicated to decoding songwriter’s every word. And if you suggest only writing nice things your victims subjects, then you ignore the likes of Christopher Robin, the star of Winnie the Pooh, who famously complained about being foisted into the spotlight against his will. And retribution for those whose stories are stolen seems out of the question- lawsuits don’t help you win allies and plotting murder like in the (hopefully entirely fictional) Plot seems a bit extreme 😉

It seems to me that there is no way around absorbing parts of our lives into our stories and art. There is no obvious dividing line where truth becomes fiction after all. But perhaps we can still endeavour to treat people with basic dignity and respect. Perhaps there are some stories that we ought to leave well enough alone. Perhaps the only conclusive advice I can offer is this: don’t be a dick. Which is sound advice in general 😉

For more on this discussion (and somewhat different takes) check out these videos:

All of this leaves me in quite the conundrum- so I’d like to hear what you think! Is it ever okay to fictionalise someone else’s story? Can you entirely avoid drawing from real life? Let me know in the comments!

New is Not Always Better- Hollywood’s Butchery of Good Stories

Obviously, there are a lot of amazing adaptations out there. Some faithfully manage to take the source material and transpose it into a new medium; some even manage to improve upon the source material. BUT there is a reason why whenever I hear a beloved book is being adapted to Film/TV, I have to gulp back my fears. Because for every good adaptation there seems to be another atrocious one (for the sake of my credibility, I have to add that I have no actual clue what the ratio is for good/bad adaptations 😉). Of course there are so many aspects that go into an adaptation that I cannot possibly cover them all- so here are just a few recurring issues that really, really bug me:

anne with an e#1 The first (and possibly biggest) issue is that the writers have no real interest in adapting the original story. Now, I’m not just talking about fanficy nonsense (*coughs* “Rings of Power” *cough cough*)- I’m talking about versions of the story that entirely fail to capture the spirit of the original. For me, the most common mistake is taking light and frothy stories and turning them dark and gritty and intense. Yes, programmes like Anne with an E may get praise for being a bold take… I found it lacked the charm of Anne of Green Gables and thoroughly put me off. While it may not seem like such a big problem to greyscale your colour palette and throw in a few grim visuals, what you actually end up is a jarring adaptation that muddies the waters, loses touch with the original themes and has me yelling at the screen “tell your own damn story!”

little women 2019#2 And while we’re on the topic of poaching, I’m also not a fan of Hollywood’s obsession with “modernisation”. History is often messy and uncomfortable and something we can’t relate to- and yet rewriting the past seems like an awful solution. Culprits like the 2019 Little Women seem to care that turning most of your heroines into modern women seem entirely out of step with the time period, thereby making it detached from the original. They only seem to care about their own performative activism.

guernsey literary#3 Which leads me onto my next criticism of Hollywood’s latest spate of adaptations: political overtones. Because Hollywood writers seem to think that breaking the fourth wall to have your characters give a “right on” speech is good writing. Besides being preachy and ridiculous, it’s not a substitute for decent characterisation. When the main character in Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society gave a “feminist” speech, it did not make up for stripping this strong heroine of her moral compass and personality (incidentally, this was an example of a middle-aged bloke interpreting a character created by women… and it shows). This is a heroine that went from being spunky, decisive and independent to a demure creature who finds it impossible to choose between two potential husbands, only getting her “you go girl!” moment because she points out female writers exist. *Slow clap* for that.

big little lies tv#4 What makes it worse is the imposition of a faulty morality on the story. Because if I had a penny for every story with *bonus cheating/marriage-falling-apart/general relationship dysfunction* thrown in, I’d be a wealthy monkey. The fact that Hollywood seems so opposed to portraying healthy relationships onscreen is alarming. Even if one couple in a story are vaguely functioning, the adaptation has to throw in some bigamy to “spice things up”. Like the only healthy relationship in Big Little Lies now having an affair at the heart of it. Hollywood’s interpretation: marriage sucks. Message received.

always and forever movie#5 Oddly, the flipside is also true. As much as Hollywood cannot give a married couple a break, they also LOVE to turn the “glitzy” dial up to eleven. Is the book about getting into college like Always and Forever, Lara Jean? Well, better make it an Ivy League. Does the book have a plus-sized protagonist like Ready Player One? Then they have to be skinnier than average. Is your character talented in any way? Time to shoehorn in a CHOSEN ONE TROPE (still cannot believe they applied this logic to Peter Pan of all things). It gives me emotional whiplash how quickly Hollywood can turn from cynical to HYPERACTIVELY UNREALISTICALLY OPTIMISTIC!

valentine city of bones#6 Annnd I’ve managed to get to the end of this post without mentioning the decisions that were just plain weird. Sometimes, writers are just ill-equipped to deal with the source material (and that’s why we end up with Game of Thrones season 8). And sometimes, they don’t even appear to like what they were working on and decide to do something that truly bizarre (the leather-clad-lunatic Valentine from City of Bones springs to mind). Sometimes, I get the impression they didn’t want to adapt the original story at all (okay, I swear I’m going to have to do a whole post on Rings of Power at some point).

Really, when I think about this list, I’m even happier that so many good adaptations exist- because it’s remarkably easy to eff it up! Or maybe I just shouldn’t be so fussy!

What do you think? Do you feel the same way as me? Do you have any gripes of your own with Hollywood adaptations? Don’t leave me hanging!

The Restorative Power of Reading

In the past bizarre (and frequently terrible) year, reading has kept a lot of us going. Whether it’s through escapism or giving me much needed life advice, books have proven their power to keep us going. I know for myself books have been a great escape.

For me, opening a new book or even starting a fresh chapter has been like pressing the reset button. It doesn’t matter which head I’ve stepped into for the time being- it’s a relief to see the world through a different lens. Because books don’t just lower stress levels- they frequently act as a handy Guide Out of Hell. They may not be able to slay a dragon (try throwing one at its head and see how far it gets you) but they can offer some good tips 😉

Books are educational in a million different ways, teaching us everything from empathy to philosophy to practical skills… and beyond! It’s the one leveller we have left when it comes to education, because it’s still an affordable hobby (make use of your libraries people!!) A simple pen to paper can restore balance to a human mind. It can give our thoughts a moment of harmony.   

Reading is a refreshing pastime. It doesn’t simply take you away- it gives you plenty of souvenirs. Trinkets you carry around for years, maybe without even knowing it, until at last you look in your pocketses and there’s the one ring… Okay maybe not that last bit! Yet reading does remind me every time that when you discover a new story, there’s no knowing where you might end up.

And yes, this is an indulgent post to write about 😉 I’m sure it will not take much to have bookworms agreeing that reading is a wonderful hobby- but every so often we just need to celebrate reading for all that it is.

Do you agree? Has reading helped you in the last year? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Was Game of Thrones Always Going to Disappoint Me?

It’s the tenth anniversary of Game of Thrones… and I wouldn’t have noticed if not for this video on its ruined legacy. And it got me thinking a couple of things- 1) how did time fly so fast and 2) was GOT ruined or was it always designed to go up in wildfire? Obviously, I won’t be using this post to address the former, just the latter 😉

Before GRRM superfans tar and feather me- I’m not trying to take away the series’ merit. Don’t get me wrong: I love the world building, the characters and fascinating themes. However, speaking to my own personal taste, reflecting on some of the concepts does make me wonder if I was always going to wind up unhappy with the ending.

Game of Thrones was always a divisive series. Barely an episode could go by without some kind of critique or scandal. And this is not an accident or merely the showrunner’s doing. Going off of Martin’s own interviews, much of the series is designed to be a counterbalance to traditional fantasy. The traditional fantasy that I, and many other mainstream audiences, love. Lord of the Rings, for instance, is famously hopeful, inspiring and the prime example of good triumphing over evil. Though it has tragic elements, it certainly does not hinge on them. When we set out from the Shire we are assured of a safe(ish) resolution.     

Whereas GRRM promised us bittersweet. And if it is to be a counterbalance to the likes of LOTR then by golly that must be some BITTERsweet ending. Most of the plot points have tragedy written all over them; there is barely a glimmer of optimism in all the books. The best we could hope for is our favourites not dying and maybe, just maybe getting their revenge! In the words of Ramsay Bolton…

That’s not to say all tragedies are disappointing. In the usual ebb and flow of a tragedy, there is often a highpoint that alleviates the characters’ (and the readers’) suffering. Think Tess and Angels’ blissful summer in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Of course, we know this lovely moment cannot last, yet we can delude ourselves into thinking it will, and this gives us our catharsis. Game of Thrones never really does that. Romantic moments are often told from another perspective or tarnished by the realities of the situation (eg Daenerys may fall in love with Khal Drogo, but she’s also raped by him first).

There’s a reason every moment of “happiness” is framed this way. And that’s because it’s working from a principle of being *realistic in the postmodernist sense*. It’s fundamentally endorsing the idea that meaning is found where you place its value. In the world of Game of Thrones, there are no heroes and villains, there is no good vs evil, there is no right and wrong. There is no objective truth- merely the matter of where you place your sympathy. GRRM takes the morally relativistic view that all his characters will inevitably fall to the dark side… And frankly none of their struggles matter because of that. No happy ending is/was ever possible in this series- for anyone. Which is not so much tragic as it is depressing.

As much as I can appreciate this for its uniqueness, it’s not exactly satisfying. That’s not the point of this story. Rather, it’s designed to push boundaries, subvert our expectations and make us question the genre. While we like to blame D&D for the subversive elements, subversion is pretty much woven into the fabric of the narrative. And that has its upsides… and its downsides. Because sometimes there can be narrative consequences when you try to challenge an existing idea.

Inevitably you may question the story that’s making you question everything. I for one don’t think every concept in GOT makes sense. The critique of Aragorn becoming king, for example, is flawed. Because, I happen to think that if he’s capable enough to get an army of dead people on his side, then he’s perfectly capable of hiring some plumbers to set up a sewage system (and I have no idea why GRRM thinks otherwise). It is entirely possible for a leader to be strategic on the battlefield and with the treasury (and there are historic examples of this). This may seem like nit-picking, yet this is such a foundational element to the story, that it leaves me questioning will I ever be satisfied with the outcome of this series? These issues nag away at me and could indicate that this series was never for me in the first place.

Of course, this whole post is somewhat premature. No matter what I think I know, I have to add the caveat that I don’t know the actual ending (none of us do). There are some incredible theories mapping out sensational conclusions and GRRM’s finale could end up putting even those to shame. So, this post could be meaningless when the final book comes out. Personally, I very much look forward to being proved wrong 😉

So, what do you think? Are you optimistic about GRRM’s ending? Do you have doubts like me? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Does Book Twitter Actually Reflect the Reading Community?

Every year in free speech week, I try to exercise my freedom and talk about aspects of this (apparently contentious) topic. Yet this year I want to do something different. Not because we have reached the zenith of free speech- far from it. Despite the job losses, tragedies and general morose of 2020, the Twitterati have nothing better to do and have been busy cancelling, well, anything and everything. Which is why I wanted to talk about this tweet:

Maybe (most likely) it’s just my confirmation bias talking, but I think it’s such an excellent point. Disclaimer for book twitter: there are some nice little bubbles where you can play around with likeminded people (/primates)… Buuuut it’s not all fun and games. Twitter is kinda known for how toxic it can get. While it’s not the only place cancel culture thrives, it’s certainly one of the hotspots. I can’t tell you how often I go on twitter, see people congregating round an issue and think “oh no, who’s getting cancelled today?” Even if it’s a case of valid criticism, the platform doesn’t exactly lend itself to nuanced conversation and this leads to things getting heated pretty fast. And too often publishers get a whiff of the smoke and are scared off- but this needn’t be the case.

You see, (and forgive me if this is obvious) twitter is not reflective of the public at large. This is hardly a revelation. Looking at just some of the research (focusing on the States, given that 70% of users are from there… which you should bear in mind if you’re from outside the US like me), most twitter users in the US are more likely to have a college degree and have a higher income than the national average. Just 20% of US can be classed as active users (ie go on the platform once a month)- and of that number 80% of tweets come from the most active 10%. Meaning we’re only hearing from about 2% of the population. It probably isn’t any wonder then that (and many people will hate me for saying this) twitter often strikes me as an elitist club. As much as people claim that twitter is designed to give a voice to the voiceless, that it’s a great way for the powerless to have some power for themselves, that the gangs running rampant on there are noble “working class” vigilantes… I can’t see any evidence it’s representative of this. Observationally, I’d say the vast majority of big users are marketing/PR people, the so-called faces for faceless corporations, journos, professional activists and politicians. Ordinary people (ie consumers) aren’t represented on there for the most part… making me question, why is it taken so seriously?  

Time and again, it’s proven to not be a good source for elections for instance (which makes sense, given that even if a politician gets 100,000 likes, this isn’t a huge number considering… especially considering this can come from a global audience). Likewise, buzz on twitter doesn’t mean much- as excitable as twitter can seem about a reboot, this may not translate to actual fans buying tickets.

Similar logic can be applied to book twitter. A lot of readers don’t hang out on twitter. As the above tweet shows, it’s not necessarily going to reflect how well a book performs (especially since big names are so often targeted). It’s always been pretty debatable whether this particular platform even sell books. Anecdotally, I can also say that a lot of readers see the fires burning and run away. And even if they do stick around, a lot of people don’t want to get into the middle of a confrontation (giving the false impression that the debates are one-sided).

Which is why I wish publishers would take twitter with a pinch of salt. Instead of going off how angry someone can get in 140 characters or how many clapping emojis a person can use in one go, maybe just maybe, they can hold their nerve and wait for the general reading public to vote with their wallets. Maybe it’s time we ignored the drama flaming on twitter.

Ooh err, hope I don’t get burned at the stake for this one! 😉 But given I do actually like free speech- I’m open to hearing your thoughts! What do you think about book twitter? Do you think it’s representative of the reading public? Let me know in the comments!

How has my reading taste changed over the years?

Reading taste is a funny thing. In some ways, it feels static, like I’m stuck in a childish timewarp, loving what I’ve always loved and refusing to grow up. Other times, I’m feel like I’ve skidded into a space I don’t really understand, talking about genres I never thought I’d read. Because while I find there are some constants to my reading repertoire (classics/fantasy/classic fantasy) my taste has changed *a lot * in the years since I started blogging.

To start with, a big change (that may or may not be as noticeable) is how much I have fallen for romance and contemporaries. While I always enjoyed romance in my fiction, I didn’t tend to go for many rom com style books- whether they were adult or YA! Now, a shift began shortly before I started blogging, where I found I got a lot of stress relief from very fluffy YA books. Yet I wasn’t quite clear on where to find more of these books I was enjoying. *ENTER BLOGGING* and I started to get recommendations- I discovered New Adult and Regular Adult. A massive influence for me were people like Deanna @ A Novel Glimpse– who as far as I’m concerned is the Romance Queen! I’ve found too many heart-warming, charming and feel good stories to count! It’s been the start of a beautiful new adventure…

… Though that’s certainly not where it ended- because somehow I fell headlong into thriller territory (I bet you didn’t see that twist coming! I certainly didn’t!) I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but my first foray into adult thrillers was the Da Vinci Code when I would’ve been around 13. To cut to the chase: it did not go well. I thought thrillers would never be for me. And then I discovered blog’s like Meggy’s. With her exquisite reviews, introducing me to the dangerously seductive world of killers and stalkers and messed up people, my interest was piqued. Intrigued, I took the plunge and picked one up. Then another. Then I began to seek them out far and wide. I guess once you’ve got a taste for the dark side, there’s no going back 😉 (plus it compliments all the super sweet reads I go for 😉) I’ve even (and this surprises me no end) enjoyed a few mysteries here and there!

But the biggest shift in my reading taste is that… I like non fiction now?! Back in the day, when I started blogging, I was so disinterested in non-fiction that I had to set myself a handful to read in a year. Now I’m currently at 20 in 2020- and it doesn’t look like I’m slowing down! Odder still, even though I vowed I didn’t like memoirs… a great deal of those are in fact memoirs. In this case, I don’t know what changed- maybe it was the passage of time, maybe it was some good recommendations or maybe it was just practicing a new reading habit that shifted my perspective.

And I guess that’s a good note to leave on- because while I still love the same books I always did, I can also say that experimenting has made my reading experience all the more rewarding. And I don’t think all of that came down to chance. Sure, I happened to stumble on some amazing blogs and recommendations- yet it took a pinch of courage to step outside of my reading comfort zone. It didn’t take me long to discover that the reading world was full of even more wonders than I knew. So, I’d encourage everyone else to do the same- you never know where it might lead you.

How about you? Has your reading taste changed over time or thanks to blogging? What do you think brought about this change? Let me know in the comments!

How On Trend Am I? Looking at Whether My Taste Follows the Crowd When it Comes to YA

thoughts orangutan

I’ve talked before about whether my taste follows the crowd and it’s something I often wonder about. Last month, when Goodreads celebrated YA, I noticed how closely my taste follows the crowd… well, for the most part.

Looking at 40 most popular recent Young Adult Novels and 100 most popular YA books of all time, I was surprised to find I’d read most of the books. Even more significant is how much I liked the books- my average ratings were 3.9 and 3.47 respectively. I gave 15% of books 5* in the recent YA books and 10% 5* in the most popular of all time. There were some outliers that I didn’t love (like Caraval and Lord of Shadows) or won’t read (Turtles All the Way Down), but for the most part I was at least satisfied with the vast majority of the books on the popular recent releases list. Clearly, I’m enjoying these a lot more- suggesting I’m on the right track to keep reading them. Turns out, I know my own taste! (go figure 😉)

To me, it makes sense that I’ve read so many of these as well, since these are the books with the most visibility and I’m not immune to marketing 😉 Plus, these are also books that are more readily available on a budget and if you use libraries a lot. So, in this case, I don’t feel all that bad about my taste following the crowd- especially given it’s leading to high levels of satisfaction! As much as I’d enjoy being a bookish hipster, I guess I’m quite mainstream when it comes to YA.

One thing I have to note from this experiment is that there were books on the most popular YA of all time that (at least to my mind) weren’t YA at all (Red Rising and Anne of Green Gables being the most obvious). But that’s a discussion to have (again) another day. I don’t think it massively skewed my results- though have to do my due diligence and mention it 😉

Alrighty then! Do you notice your taste follows the crowd in particular genres and categories? Are you bothered by it if your taste is quite mainstream like mine? Let me know in the comments!

Reining in the Criticism – Reasons I Don’t Review Every Book

thoughts orangutan

Today I’m doing a different post to the one I’d planned, because I had written (and was preparing to schedule) a review… which I’ve now pulled back. And there was a reason for that. It was a review I did research for and worked hard on- yet looking into the author also told me he was coming from a good place. Right now, I’m seeing how easy it is to tear things down and attack others online. That’s just not what I’m about. Sometimes, we’ve got to look at ourselves and wonder is it worth it? I don’t want to speak for everyone and I’m certainly not telling anyone else how/what/when to review, I just want to talk about why I might not review something:

shameIf the author might get unfair backlash- in the last month, watching the internet explode, I feel a bit more cautious about putting criticism out there. I’ve talked about this before and hope to do so again (when I get the headspace), but the last thing I want is to be involved in is cancel culture. Now, even if I trust my readers not to turn into some angry mob online, I still sometimes think it’s better to hold back. This is not to say I’m veering away from all negativity- only that I want to be a little careful at the moment. A lot of the time, I can review a book integrating my criticism- however if all I’ve written is a barrage of criticism on one issue, then I may not want to put that out there.

who meIf I’m just not the right person to talk about the issue– because (surprising as this may be to some of you) I’m not an expert on everything- I know, shocker, right?! 😉 And I just don’t want to make things worse by trying to make things better. My intentions may be good, but much like the last point, it could easily backfire. Again, if I can integrate my opinion into the entire review, great. If not, it may be better to leave it to someone more suited to the topic.

I'm offendedIf my criticism is too strongly tied to personal experience– on the flipside, sometimes a topic may be too close to the bone and I don’t feel comfortable bringing it up. Sometimes I could give insight on an issue- I just don’t want to “out” myself in the process. I may also struggle to express myself in this situation, so chances are, I may just abandon the review, cos it ain’t worth it! Don’t get me wrong, I respect people who do, but it’s not my style. (Jeez- I don’t even feel all that comfortable tangentially talking about it lol!)

If the author’s an unknown– this is quite a straightforward (and far less controversial) point: I just don’t like to review obscure indie books super negatively. Though I’m sure I could find an exception, I mostly read pretty mainstream books anyway.

If I don’t have enough to say– I mean, that’s what my mini reviews are for, BUT some books are just so forgettable I can’t even come up with a few sentences.

And that’s where I stand! Do you review every book? What are your reasons? Let me know in the comments!

What even is an “important book”?

thoughts orangutan

A while back I was watching a great video by Alexa Donne on how you don’t need to write an important book- which I highly recommend checking out if you need a pep talk. But it made me think: what even is an important book?

At the risk of rehashing a lot of the discussion there, I’d agree that it’s often used in marketing for issues books. And, I’d also go as far as to say, much like the literary fiction label, it’s also a way of slapping a “this is worthy” tag on a book.

My first order of contention with the very idea of an “important book” is how much genre snobbery comes into play here. Because generally speaking, it’s going to be mostly contemporary (and very occasionally historical fiction) that gets this moniker. We might even see a sci fi getting talked about this way… buuut only if it’s dystopia. And my beloved fantasy? Forget about it. Doesn’t matter if it shines a light on the true horror of war or explores deep psychological themes- it’s just never going to be talked about in the same way.

More concerning to me is how this is often framed. As Donne said “what’s important for one person might not be important for another”. And this couldn’t be more true. We all know that books are such a personal experience: a book that touches us and proves important could really fit into any category. Regardless of whether a book covers an important issue, it can become important in someone’s life. On the flipside, a book that covers topical issues can feel irrelevant or be something an individual doesn’t connect with. Claiming a book has “importance” in such a context seems a little meaningless, don’t you think?

However, I also think this goes deeper and touches on a more significant issue. In the vast majority of cases, I see books and stories that are deemed “important” are on the same narrow range of topics. For instance, I have read countless literary books about the struggles of a working or middle class person to fit in with the upper class… which, surprisingly, isn’t super relatable for most working or middle class people, despite how often it’s portrayed in stories 😉 Not that there is a deliberate conspiracy going on- just that, as carefully curated as a list may be, it will always be subject to human decision making and a natural tendency to trend-chase. The problem for me isn’t just that these books are samey or that the topic is “unrelatable” (as I’ve mentioned previously, that doesn’t necessarily matter), it’s that it leaves so much space for *other* important topics that never get discussed. Especially injustices that that may seem hard to package in a palatable way or are too sensitive to be touched. And this is not to say there should be less of a certain kind of story, just that sometimes I think the focus of what is “important” could be broadened a little.

whole world in my hands

And, perhaps most controversially, I’d also say that being “important” or someone’s “magnum opus” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. There’s still that pesky matter of taste to contend with; there’s the possibility it was published to chase a trend. And, worst of all, there’s the potential for it to be tryhard and cringy and moralising… which can all be painful to read! I guess the only positive here is that calling a book “important” doesn’t give you any real hint as to its quality.

So, all in all, I’m not sure how helpful I find the term… even if I’ve used it myself in an offhand way 😉 Obviously, it’d be the pot calling the kettle black if I critiqued every usage- nonetheless I’m finding myself more sceptical by the day about whether any books are more important than others.

What do you think? Do you find the term “important book” useful? If so, why? I want to hear what you think in the comments!