I can’t recall why I put up my hand last year to write reviews for Reading Time, the online source of news and book reviews for the Children’s Book Council of Australia. But I’m glad I did.
I often find that the level of praise heaped on a work is disproportionate to its literary or commercial value. This applies to books, theatre – everything. ‘Critiques’ seem to be timid, limited by a fear of offending. Of course, reader satisfaction involves both subjective and objective elements and there is no one book that will appeal to everyone. But I was determined to write a different kind of review – not the usual rehash of the plot with a predictable ‘I liked it’ at the end. (Try to find a review where someone was bold enough to say they didn’t like a work – not easy.) I wanted to relate the world created in the book to my own world, to examine broader issues in context, to pinpoint what was unique about the author’s approach, or the illustrator’s vision. I wanted to call out – respectfully – what didn’t work for me, and why.
When I submitted my first CBCA review I wasn’t sure what to think – was there too much of ‘me’ in it? Would the author or illustrator be put off, wishing I had used more superlatives? Would readers vehemently disagree with my views? But I quickly realised I didn’t need to worry about this. I was simply sharing my honest feedback. My opinion. The problem is we can all be intellectually lazy at times. Want to see a movie or a play? Just read the review and base your decision on that. Want to read a book? See what someone else thinks and then decide. Far too often we substitute others’ opinions for our own or worse, rely on one position rather than seek out the full spectrum, weighing disparate views and then deciding for ourselves.
I’m pleased (relieved?) by the number of Reading Time readers who have told me how much they value my reviews – for not just summarising the plot, for taking a stand when something left me underwhelmed, for placing the issues in a personal context. I’ve written thirteen reviews so far, and am looking forward to the next batch of books.