A Book Reviewer’s Manifesto

I cannot post another crappy book review about another crappy Christian book! I simply. Can. Not.  I hit the wall last night as I read the first six chapters of a book I’d agreed to look at. It’s about decisions. I thought it would be a faith-based take on this fantastic book by Chip and Dan Heath.  It’s not. It’s the sad neglected stepchild of this fantastic book by Chip and Dan Heath. Here at the covers:

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Inside it gets worse. Chip and Dan Heath did extensive research on the different decision making styles and how they’ve played out in case studies around the world. This other author had some chats with his wife and a few of his twenty-something friends and decided to share his thoughts with the rest of us. AGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH.

I hate giving negative reviews. When I started recommending books on the blog, I just didn’t mention the books I didn’t like. There were one or two cases where I longed to post a snarky take down of some book that bugged me, but I resisted the urge in favor of my overriding policy that when I don’t have something nice to say about someone else’s book, I say nothing at all.  (And yes, this is largely because I realize that many gracious readers have extended this same courtesy to me.)

Then came this blog program run by one certain publisher.  They offered advance reader copies of forthcoming books in imagesexchange for reviews on blogs & bookseller sites. I’d enjoyed a few of their books in the past even though much of their list was not up my alley, so I signed up. It was all great, until I realized the corner I’d painted myself into: If I accepted one of their books, I HAD to post a review. Even if it was scathing. Even if the book made me want to scream. Even if I was tempted to call the author and say, “Were you offered editorial assistance on this project? If so, WHY DIDN’T YOU TAKE IT?”  I tried to work around this problem by being more selective about the books I’d ask to review, only to discover if I didn’t do a certain number of reviews per quarter, they deactivated my account. But because I was afraid of missing out on a really great book, I kept requesting mediocre ones. The result has been a slew of short blurby blog posts about books I hated.

I am sorry. I failed you. Please forgive me.  Fear of missing out is a stupid reason to engage in bad behavior.

There is something inside me that gets SO excited at the prospect of reading a book before it’s available to the rest of the world. It’s like Christmas to me.  One of my favorite games as a child was “Library,” where my sister and I would set up books all over our room, complete with little check-out cards in the back. We’d spend hours setting this up, and then invite our mom in to browse and make some selections.  Circulation was low, but we were enthusiastic! I think this reviewing thing has tapped into that part of me. I love reading books, talking about them, recommending them to friends. I am that person publishers are looking for who want to connect books to new readers.  But I can’t be that person if my blog is clogged with half-hearted passive-agressive reviews of books that could have been great if they’d had another year or so to develop and be edited.

Here’s my new pledge to you:

I’m signing out of this “mandatory review” blogger program.

I’ll continue to review books I get from other venues (there are some good ones out there that trust bloggers to use their discretion and direct their energies to promoting books they really love), as well as my town library and the bookstore.  If I wouldn’t hand you a copy in person, I won’t bother you with a review online.

On a LIGHTER NOTE, I’ve been looking over the books I got at last year’s NEIBA conference. Some of my favorite books that led to some great reviews and recommendations.  This year’s event is next month, and each year I try to evaluate which books I didn’t read to try and avoid picking up similar ones this year.  As I looked at these three untouched titles, I see a theme:

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Can you say, Year of No Motivation???  it makes me laugh, just looking at them. In this case, I want to call the authors and say, “It’s not you…it’s me…”  I’ve promised myself that this year, no more motivational titles until I’ve read these three and am focused, moving and sleeping, and winning from within :)