When I started this blog a couple years back, I decided I’d write about only those books I wanted to write about. Not necessarily the ones I loved the most; the ones I wanted to discuss in a public fashion, at greater length than Twitter allows.
The longer I keep this no-longer-new blog going, though, the fewer proper reviews I write. Every Sunday I pen quick takes and mini reviews, some of which stretch to more words than other peoples’ proper reviews, but I don’t often sit down and write the sort of responses that really dig into the mechanics of the thing.
I’ve been asking myself why that is.
At least part of it is that the sort of reviews I prefer to write, if I’m gonna write them at all, take an enormous amount of time and mental energy. I side-eye all those people on social media who’re like, “It takes no time at all to leave a review! Do ittttttt!” because it takes me for frickin’ ever. I understand that sites like Amazon look at quantity over quality, but I can rarely bring myself to put a simple, “I liked it! You should read it!” out into the world.
So I write more involved reviews, in three stages. Stage One is a bullet point outline that’s really more like a rough draft. Stage Two is a proper rough draft with actual paragraphs and full sentences. Stage Three is revision, with a possible Stage Four in the mix if I feel like I need to tinker a bit more. It takes time, and it can be draining.
It can also be fun, of course, which is why I still do it. I like sharing my enthusiasm for the books I’ve loved. I like examining why the books I disliked didn’t work for me. I like having a review to link to whenever I want y’all to pay especial attention to a title.
Except these days, I’m far less likely to open Scrivener and start writing about whatever I’ve just finished. While my lengthy process is certainly part of it, I think it’s mostly about the nature of my passion for the books I’ve connected with over the last year.
I engage with things in two basic ways: logically and emotionally. Logical books excite me on an intellectual level. I’m so pumped about how they accomplish their goals that I want to break it all down for y’all so you can be excited about it, too.
Emotional books speak to something deep inside me; something I don’t necessarily want to put into words, which never come easy for me. I have to fight for them, then I have to fight some more to get ‘em in the right order and make sure none of them are misleading and/or offensive (and sometimes I still fail). I don’t want to fight that battle with the books that hit me hard and heavy. I’d rather just feel stuff about them.
If I could open a direct line from my brain to yours, we’d be golden. Since we can’t...
Well. Here we are with our dearth of proper(ish) reviews.
Of course, many of my most beloved books hit me both logically and emotionally. I feel deeply about them, and I’m excited about all the things they do with narrative structure and character development and all that. So I sit down and I outline my thoughts, then put them into proper paragraphs, then edit them. Then I schedule them, giving myself some lead time in case I realize I’ve gotten something Very, Very Wrong and I need to swoop in and edit some more.
Recently, Guy Gavriel Kay’s CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY fell into this category. The book hit me where it counted, and it also gave me plenty to think about in terms of narrative and intertextuality. I opened Scrivener, worked through it all on the screen, and shared it with the world.
For the most part, though, the books I’ve really liked haven’t excited me enough that I want to write about them and the books I’ve loved have weighed more heavily in favour of the Dionysiac than the Apollonian; which is to say, my responses to them are chaotic and highly emotional, rather than well-reasoned.
Sometimes I go ahead and have myself a gush-fest anyways, as I did most recently with THE RAVEN KING by Maggie Stiefvater. More often, I use Murchie Plus Books to say how much I loved the thing, then shut up about it except when I have the opportunity to rec it to someone, usually in ALL CAPS with LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!! or the verbal equivalent thereof.
This decision to keep (sorta) quiet is partly down to the time and energy factor, partly down to my persistent difficulty in getting words to go in the right order, and partly because I don’t always want to analyze anything I love so desperately. I don’t always want to be in a position where I’ve gotta look at this thing I fell for--this thing that became vitally important to me over a few precious days--and say, “Yeah, well, here are its flaws.”
Which you kind of have to do if you’re gonna write a proper review. You have to say, "Let’s talk about how the text fails as well as how it succeeds.”
Sometimes you can do that in an aside of sorts. Sometimes you really can’t.
Several years ago, Daniel Abraham wrote a piece for Clarkesworld about why he doesn’t review. I nodded along, and to this day it’s influenced the way I discuss certain subjects. For example, I made a deliberate choice not to write many serious things about TV because I recognize it’s often an innately dissatisfying medium and I want it to remain more entertaining than frustrating. I don’t want to ignore its flaws, but neither do I want those flaws to eclipse the things I love about it.
I’m getting close to that point with books, too. I’ve done my time on the criticism front. I’ve spent years upon years considering structure and character development and worldbuilding, to the point where this sort of analysis is more or less automatic. I’ve looked at strengths and flaws and all that other stuff you’re supposed to look at when you analyze a text, and I’ve taken the time to write out what I’ve learned. Sometimes I’ve even put the words in the right order.
Now it’s time to scale back. I’m still gonna review stuff, of course, because I’m always gonna be at least a little bit Apollonian, but I won’t review as much. Hell, it’s entirely possible my Best of 2016 list will be packed with things I never said a formal word about.
Because right now, the Dionysiac part of me is ascendant. I don’t want to analyze everything anymore. I want to feel instead.