Reading to Review

There was a time, not too long ago, when I didn't actually write book reviews. I just read books I liked (lots of them) and then told anyone who would listen why they were or were not wonderful. I worked in a bookstore; I had a captive audience.

In the 2+ years since these little verbal reviewlettes became this full-fledged blog, I've come to love blogging. And reviewing. I've found other outlets for my writing - from reviews on Bookgasm to my recent article over at Bibliobuffet - and I am thrilled to have not only places to share my writing, but a whole host of things to write about.

It's that writing about that's starting to rub me the wrong way, though. I no longer read my daily newsletters solely for my own enjoyment. Instead, I read them with a mind to what might make an interesting post. And even worse, I read books that way too. Reviews quite literally form in my head as I read. Sure, it makes the reviewing easier, especially when I actually take the time to write those little review blurbs down for future reference - but part of me is starting to wonder what it is I'm missing by reading as a reviewer instead of as a pure reader.

Maybe it's not fair to say that's worse. Maybe I can be fair and say the verdict is still out on this. After all, I now read books sort of like I did back in college; I read with a critical eye and an analytic brain. But at what cost? Am I too judgmental, pushing for something to critique in every book I read? Am I missing the book for the page? Am I missing the success of one book by struggling to place the book and its author in context; or vice versa, am I missing the context by defining the book as a standalone item?

I feel like I'm treading into the waters of book-reading philosophy here, and I'm no philosopher. I love this blog. I love having my own corner of the interwebs in which to place my bookish thoughts. I love reacting to others' corners of the interwebs, or to others' reactions of my own thoughts. I love reading books. I love thinking about books. I love reviewing books. I even love reading and reviewing books I don't love.

But they say the grass is always greener on the other side, and right now, the non-analytic reading experience is looking mighty appealing. Too bad I can't seem to turn my reviewer brain off every now and again.


  1. I understand your feelings quite well. I have similar feelings myself. I love to read, but I'm finding that 99% of my reading is for the purpose of writing about it, rather than just to enjoy it.

  2. I've found myself doing the same thing or picking books based on what I think will be interesting to write about. That doesn't mean I'm picking books that don't appeal to me, but I know my choices are tainted by something other than just "I want to read this one". I guess the only way to turn off the reviewer brain would be to not write reviews of a few books so you know while reading that you don't need to come up with something to say. Not sure how well it would work, or how many books it would take though.

  3. I think that has probably been my biggest reason for not jumping into the blogging world. To read with a sense of "duty" would, I think, rob me of much of the joy. Maybe I'll change my mind at some point, but I want to go on reading for reading's sake...

    When I read in Pat Conroy's memoir on reading that for his entire adult life he has tried to read 200 pages a day *just for his own edification* even while writing or touring or anything else, I was impressed and think it validates the argument that reading is enough of an excuse for itself.

  4. I find myself in the same boat with reviews. When I first started my blog, my reviews were long-winded and analytical. Now they are just short summaries, quick paragraph of my reaction to the book and then its off to the next read. Part of it is just evolving as a reader/writer, part of it having an audience that listens and responds.

  5. I've had the same internal debate you have about thinking too critically (possible?) and also thinking too hard about what I'm going to write about when I'm finished. But the thought that's allowed me to sleep at night is similar to yours - not only do I love blogging about what I read, I also feel like I actually derive more enjoyment out of books and understand them better than I ever did before I started blogging. In pre-blog days, if I wasn't diggin' a book, I'd rush through it, throw it on the shelf, and never think about it again. At least now, if I'm not digging a book, I'll try to figure out exactly why and/or try to find something redeeming about it so as not to totally trash it.

    In college, I thought for sure I wanted to be a sportswriter, but then I wrote for my college paper, and discovered that writing about the thing I love kind of ruined it. That's the case here at all. Maybe because blogging is just for fun, and I don't take it seriously, and (to open this damn can of worms again) don't by any stretch feel obligated to review every book I read. So there's still plenty of opportunity to read outside the blog.

    Are you still awake? Sorry for hogging your comments section. :) Great topic for a post though - I'm glad to see I'm not the only one thinking about this.

  6. That's pretty interesting because, for me, I find "reviewing in my head" allows me to read more in depth. It reminds me of my college years, loosely.

  7. I've taken to dividing my reading into two types - the books I take on specifically as "review" books, which I read with a pencil and paper to hand to jot down those things I want to put into my review; and then the books that are for "Simply Reading," which I read for the sake of enjoyment and then write about from a purely subjective, emotional viewpoint.

    This seems to help me keep a better balance - I got tired of always trying to read as a "reviewer" too.

  8. I'm having a similar feeling; I sometimes wish I didn't have my blog because then I would read more and, as you suggested, without making notes of what to write in your review. I've been putting off reviews lately, and that upsets me a bit because I do love having my blog. But sometimes I just want to read, you know? I don't want to read thinking I'm going to have to write a review after. I guess it's also that it takes me forever to write a review...

    That said, I'm off to do at least two right now...and I don't feel like it, really. I'd rather just read!

  9. Maybe once I get started I'll feel like it. I usually wait till I'm in the mood, to be fair.

  10. Ham - It's easy to slip into that, isn't it?

    Red - I find that even for books I don't mean to review, I still find my brain ticking away in reviewer mode.

    Anon - Definitely! Just because I read to review doesn't necessarily mean I feel that that is the only reason to review. It's just changed the way my brain thinks about the books I'm reading. Though there are certain books I read JUST because I'm reviewing them, usually I read first and foremost because I want to, because it's good for me, because it's an adventure, escape, etc. and second because I can write about what I read.

    Nari - I've never been good at keeping my thoughts short, although I do love to read short reviews myself.

    Greg - I agree completely. As much as I sometimes long for my days of reading without thinking critically, on the whole, I really appreciate the added insight I get from actually stopping to say something (especially something reasonably intelligent) about what I've just read. And as for writing about what you love ruining it (or at least changing it to some extent), I think you're spot on. Have you read Object of Beauty by Steve Martin? I'm listening to it now and he touches on the same thing... I sense an expanded post coming up on this :-)

    Christina - Yes, more in depth, but sometimes I just miss reading for the sake of it, you know?

    Ravenous - The problem I run into is that even my "Simply Reading" books spark that internal reviewing portion of my brain. I envy your balance, though like I said in response to Greg's comment, I do appreciate the added insight that writing about my reading has given me for each book I've read since I started blogging.

    Steph - Sometimes I have to force myself to just sit down and start typing. It usually starts out awful, and I revise a dozen times that way (instead of my writing when I'm into it, which I can usually fire out and give one check before posting, with only minor edits). But like you, once I get started I usually get into it.


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