I didn’t start this blog as a place to review books. I thought my book content would be all lists, comparisons, thoughtful pieces on the way YA fiction has evolved, well considered arguments on why Mansfield Park is the best Jane Austen novel. And to start off it was mostly like that. I actually resisted writing reviews because, to quote myself, I wanted to be different to ‘every other book blogger doing a review of the books they read.’
But my originality dried up. Or, to put a nicer spin on it, I discovered reviews were quite fun to write. Sometimes because I love the book and need to shout about it every which way I can and others because the book is so horrendously bad that I need a place to let off steam.
The second kind is easier (I was Told There’d be Cake is definitely in this category and it’s probably my favourite review I’ve ever written), but still not easy. In fact there is pretty much nothing about reviewing that seems to come naturally. And it can take months from me closing the back cover of the book to actually having a review ready to publish.
The process I go through when reviewing a book is, now I think about it, eerily similar to way I wrote essays while at University. Back all those years ago when I was a young, carefree Economics student I loved the build-up – the background reading and research and note taking – but would put off actually turning those notes into an essay until the very last moment. I’d go over and over my notes, colour coding them, organising them into categories, but I’d have to wait for a stroke of inspiration to make all that gibberish into one coherent essay. Usually a stroke of inspiration that came at the worst possible time (midnight, just as I’m about to go to bed, 6.30pm, just as Hollyoaks is starting). And then I could rattle out the whole 2000 words in a matter of hours, with barely any reference to the notes I’d written.
And now with reviewing I go about the whole thing in much the same way. I start off with the best intentions, making notes from the moment I open up the book, either on my phone notes or Word on my laptop, whichever’s closer. I jot down my thoughts on the characters, plot and writing style, photographing favourite quotes or paragraphs that I might want to come back to when I’m reviewing. And all these notes languish unread until months later when I come across them while looking for my shopping list or where the hell I wrote down the wifi password.
The review itself will get written probably at least a fortnight after I finish the book in a burst of inspiration when I suddenly think of the perfect way to start it or how to make a particular point and in a half an hour frenzy of typing, ta da, review done. Still at the most inconvenient times of course – the inspiration for this post for example came just as I was about to leave to catch a train. Most of it was written on my phone while walking, causing several near death experiences with kamikaze cyclists.
Just because the review’s done doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. First there’s the small matter of finding a photo arrangement I like for the header image and good enough light to shoot it in. Which adds at least another week to the whole saga. And then there’s the hurdle of actually proofreading the damn thing, which fills me with a special kind of dread. What if I read back through it and discover it’s complete crap? So bad that I can’t bring myself to publish it? I usually need a strong cup of tea and a deep breath before I can face the prospect.
The purpose of writing this post is that I think I’m doing it wrong. It shouldn’t be this hard. Because after all the time I spend on them and the effort I put in I’m barely every satisfied with the result. Of all the reviews I’ve written there are barely two I can bring myself to read back through now. So, a cry for help – fellow book bloggers, how do you do it?