Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins


In one of my columns about three years ago I touched on the subject of writing book reviews. Iíve been thinking about the differences in reviewers' approaches and viewpoints and thought it might be time to revisit the topic.

Iíve been reviewing books for several years now, starting out by voicing my opinions at Amazon and then on to a more structured environment at and an occasional newspaper. Iíve had the opportunity to swap thoughts with other reviewers on the way reviews should be handled. And Iíve been involved in panel discussions on the subject at writerís conferences. Like it or not, itís a subjective business and, like all other reviewers Iíve got my quirks.

I feel itís important for the reviewer to understand that heís not an editor or an acquisitions manager. Weíre not here to look for reasons to reject a book but rather for reasons to recommend it. When I encounter something in a book that bothers me, the first question I ask myself is: Is this a matter of personal taste or is it a real flaw in the book? Is it a subject that doesnít interest me or is it a bad story? Is it simply a stretch or something ridiculously unbelievable?

But there are definite characteristics that I judge a book by. Strong story, solid characters, and most importantly flow. I can almost always recommend a book that is easy to follow but the novel with fifty different characters and set in twenty different cities in twelve different countries over a seventy-five year time span quickly loses me and I wonít mind saying so. Confusing plots are a bookís biggest enemy. And thereís a distinct difference between challenging and confusing. Sometimes a good story can counterbalance mediocre writing but nothing can cover up bad writing. And even good writers are capable of hitting a clinker here and there. I love to be kind but I have to be honest. Sometimes I canít praise a book but that doesnít give me license to be rude or insulting.

Itís also extremely important to remember who youíre reviewing a book for. In a past life, I worked in an industrial environment as a supervisor of skilled trades. All of my employees wore coveralls and most of them carried a book in their back pocket to read between job assignments. They might be midway through a chapter when a call came in that sent them scurrying to the next breakdown. It was important that they be able to slam the book shut and then, maybe an hour or so later be able to open it and continue reading without missing anything, thatís where flow becomes important. There are many similar situations among readers world wide. These people make up the reading public. My guess would be that a good percentage of them are somewhat less sophisticated than the writing community but they represent the bread and butter.

Iím a writer as well as a reader who consumes close to fifty books a year. Iím exposed to a wide range of writing styles and a wide range of talent. One of the wonderful things about being a reviewer is seeing so many debut novels and finding that absolute gem written by some young kid fresh out of college. Iíd love to be the one who discovers the next Herman Wouk.

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