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Review Ramble

28 Feb
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Forgoes getting a haircut to read a good book, yet again.

Writing a book review is an epic business and one that is seldom easy. I read a lot of reviews over on the many blogs out there and am always curious as to how people assimilate books…for me it is a case of continual background thinking, usually its subconscious but in an effort to show you the internal mechanisms of how I do a review the way I do, I shall venture down these back alleys like a less well-travelled Indiana Jones.

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It’s worth pointing out that everyone’s approach is different of course and all opinions are subjective so please don’t think that I am trying to claim this is the right way, it is simply a way, my way of going about thing all matters literary in a critical manner, which has been honed these last few years as anyone reading the really old posts will agree.

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First I whittle down the book I want as written about in my Choosing Your Next Book, An Eccentric Way, then there is my method reading theory which I swear by found here Method or Madness?.  once that is in place I can start. First things first though, to truly be committed to the book I have to write the title on a blank page in my trusty journal companion, now I can truly begin to immerse myself in my new literary treat.

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I usually let words and phrases occur naturally to me throughout my reading, I don’t think to hard unless a certain point of the book demands it. My mind just quietly assimilates what I am reading and I carry on ploughing through.  There is usually a part of the book where most of my notes come from, which is split between the beginning and end in most cases, this is the ‘written Tourette’s’ zone in which ideas and phrases come unbidden and I can’t write fast enough, although I do try to keep it legible for later.

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Book done, a new one is started, that’s when I can do the review…in some cases it is straight after I finish the book, if it was a brilliant read, inspiration flows and it will be written up straight away. Mostly though I let it marinate into my brain for a while. Then I pick out a person or two with which to mentally discuss the book, I imagine we (yes you guys feature regularly in my head(in a good way (well a not to sinister way at any rate, ha!))) are having a drink and I am telling you all about the book. The work in question determines who I pick, I also try to match the types of book with the blogger most suited as well as the imagined drink.

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It’s this mind exercise that helps me most of all, I flesh out my ideas and bring up new ones that have been lurking unnoticed as I pace up and down talking to myself, this is why I mostly do my reviews by myself.  I end up trying to be critical or at least not totally in favour of one view or extreme which sometimes can be a challenge, especially with certain books you all know I despise. Our drinks drunk, I am ready for my first draft.

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This phase will take about 45 minutes consisting of typing up my notes with a comma in between each point followed by a copy and pasting session pulling together themes into paragraphs.  This is followed by the first coherent script…which is of course dire to my eyes and I have to rewrite it again at least twice. Some of the reviews and other posts you read take in excess of three hours, the longest was five hours for a single post.

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I find it physically demanding to write a review, it does take it out of me and usually I am dissatisfied with the ‘finished’ product but if I wanted perfection I would never post. A few I am proud of and happy posting but a lot feel like slightly missed opportunities. Not that I want to sound negative, sometimes I know I can do better and sometimes I know there is something missing but am at a loss to know what.  It adds up to a grumpy Ste J but it does encourage me to write more weller and hopefully up the quality of the blog.

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Either way my simple and probably slightly odd way of writing a review is maybe of interest and the idea that some of you have been helping me with my reviews unbeknownst to you, is probably a surprise but allows the reviews to be intimate on another level…so if it’s a type of book you like and you are a regular, you could just have knocked back your fair share of ambrosia with me.  I keep a tally of how many pints you owe me.

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29 Comments

Posted by on 28/02/2014 in Blogging, My Writings

 

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29 responses to “Review Ramble

  1. Al

    28/02/2014 at 18:55

    A great insight into how you look at books 🙂 Thanks for that.

    I tend to just write what I thought of the book. I write from a personal perspective and what I thought of the book, although there have been the occasional ones where I have suggested people go out and buy it, the latest most notably being Seyi David’s Cydonia.

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    • Ste J

      28/02/2014 at 19:04

      It is a fine line between personal and critical, you have that down sir. Every so often there are those books though that inspire us so much we must tell the world…whichever way a book moves me I feel compelled to obsess over it and poke it with a metaphorical stick which is ironic as I kick off at anyone who creases a corner or bends a page in the real world.

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      • Al

        28/02/2014 at 19:10

        I am reading one at the moment that I wish I was finished and I keep coming up with excuses not to read as I am finding it very hard going. I am sure many many people will find it funny as it is written in the style of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, whereas I found the latter slightly amusing, the former was a tedium of humourless antics and comments. Although I have brought the second book by the same author and I apparently may make an appearance in it somewhere, I don’t think I could read it.

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        • Ste J

          28/02/2014 at 19:37

          Pratchett doesn’t deliver like he used too, in fact there haven’t been many books of his books in the decade that have impressed me. Adams got his pacing better after book one and I did find him mad cap. If the book isn’t that good just let it go and move on, life is way to short for bad literature!

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          • Al

            28/02/2014 at 21:12

            I only have about 1 hour 52 left in the book according to the timer in the corner, and I hate to leave books unfinished. I should finish it over the weekend, and then I can get back to A Clash of Kings

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  2. Letizia

    28/02/2014 at 22:11

    Fascinating! Does the drink vary depending on what book you are discussing or with whom you are virtually discussing the book with?

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    • Ste J

      01/03/2014 at 10:15

      It sure does, my favourite drink came when discussing Keep the Aspidistra Flying, for that I chose a ridiculously extravagant cocktail with an umbrella and a big leaf in it…purely because it was so jarring to the book and amused me.

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  3. Alastair Savage

    01/03/2014 at 09:18

    I have been thinking about this a lot recently and I am starting to think that bloggers are a better guide to good books than the papers. The papers just review the new books and they’re often just out in hardback, and so incredibly expensive. Most of us won’t be able to read those hardbacks for a year or more, so what’s the point of reviewing them?
    I like the fact that bloggers pick up undiscovered gems from the past and also have amazingly eclectic reading tastes. Almost all of the best books that I have read recently first popped up in someone’s blog. It’s also fun that you get blogs from people in the US and from around the world and they can tell you about loads of books that would never have come on our horizon otherwise.

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    • Ste J

      01/03/2014 at 10:23

      Private Eye regularly points out how these reviewers in the papers are also authors and give books from their own publishing houses high marks and also when they return favours to another author who praised their book. We bloggers have no agenda and that’s why we are better reviewers. Even Amazon and Goodreads has a majority of one line reviews but when we post it’s substantial and some of the books are esoteric as you say. The amount of books being reviewed is mahoosive, I don’t think I will have the time to read them all, which saddens me.

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      • Alastair Savage

        01/03/2014 at 18:04

        I always love that Private Eye round up of the year, particularly when they show that celebs give great reviews to authors represented by the same agent.
        On the other hand, you sometimes get newspaper reviews where the reviewer clearly has no real interest in the book or the genre at all, so they just slag it off. You never see that in a blog.

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        • Ste J

          02/03/2014 at 14:33

          Maybe one day I will sell out for lots of money and become one of those people…but perhaps not. Integrity is a dirty word in a lot of media circles it seems.

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  4. Claire 'Word by Word'

    01/03/2014 at 10:55

    I agree that bloggers are a rich source of interesting books with no other agenda to push than what they love to read, it’s so true that often the reviews in publications just happen to coincide with that reviewer/author having a new book out.

    I almost never used to review new books because of the cost of hardbacks, but being appreciated as a reviewer brings its fortunate perks, even if it is an electronic galley. 🙂 But the gems really are the dusty tomes that dedicated bloggers continue to share from their own collections.

    Love your process and the conversations, I absolutely believe that is what my reviews are, the conversations I don’t get to have face to face and probably better that I don’t as the interested parties that do indulge my reviews are an incredible geographic spread. I mean imagine getting just the people who comment on your blog in a room, what does that list of destinations that they come from look like? More diverse than our own travels for sure! Wow, imagine having them all over for dinner! 🙂 Even the food would be interesting if everyone bought something from home. Ok, I’m getting distracted. Have a great weekend! Bonne Continuation!

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    • Ste J

      01/03/2014 at 11:32

      Electronic galley, that made me snort in a most unattractive way, luckily I am hidden away from the sun at home so haven’t embarrassed myself. Hardbacks are a luxury buy, especially when established author’s books come out with a half price sticker on them and less well known authors are full price…it seems more risk than reward.

      Perhaps one day, maybe for blog post 500 I will find a bunch of bloggers who live near each other, book a table in a restaurant and invite them all to join me for an evening of food and ruminations…what a great idea, even if I do say so myself. The spread really does go through all the continents so much so that I am obsessing over that one person who must have the internet in the Svalbard peninsula…I will score a point on the Wp map there one day. Of course I could be sinister and just turn up on people’s doorsteps, perhaps that will be blog post 400!

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      • Claire 'Word by Word'

        01/03/2014 at 11:57

        Around the blog world trip in a year, I mean just looking at my stats today, I’d be visiting India, Luxembourg and Palestine along with the’ to be expected’ English speaking countries.

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  5. evermoreevil

    01/03/2014 at 11:38

    Your reviews are pure quality, Ste J! I enjoyed reading this breakdown of how you approach the review as much as I enjoy the actual reviews. Once again, you have found a unique slant to blog about. Excellent stuff indeed!

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    • Ste J

      01/03/2014 at 11:54

      There are many books we need a drink over sir…it’s good to get the technical side of things down as well as the writing…it’s like in a maths exam…show your working out even though you use a calculator because you are a bit lazy.

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  6. RoSy

    01/03/2014 at 20:39

    Ohhhh – I like this!
    The inner workings of SteJ’s brain & his book reviews.
    It’s like a SteJ map of sorts. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      02/03/2014 at 14:30

      There may be hidden treasure somewhere in my mind as well, so get your prospecting hat on and follow the clues.

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  7. nancyrae4

    03/03/2014 at 01:53

    Very interesting!! In many ways, your technique for review sounds strangely similar to my strategy for fiction writing. Contemplative, methodical, patient, occasionally off the map. My favorite part, however, is your choice of a particular regular for a sounding board in an imaginary pub with an imaginary drink!
    Your reviews are wonderful, your sense of humor and irony priceless. Keep up the good work.

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    • Ste J

      03/03/2014 at 16:18

      To drink is to know…or that is what I tell myself when in the real pub…it is surprisingly effective to use soundboards even if the people aren’t there…if I think of something myself it is usually alright but talking about it with someone else in mind encourages me to up the ante and really go for it. Glad you like my style…I shall keep imbibing my imaginary drinks and then imaginary staggering home and sleeping as well (I’m a method imaginer).

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  8. LuAnn

    05/03/2014 at 21:33

    This was fascinating Ste J. I felt like a wee little person watching you wander around your flat, talking out loud to yourself, or should I say your blogger friends. I felt you just peeled away a few more layers of Ste J, allowing us to take a peek inside. And oh, BTW, I think you need a haircut. 😉

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    • Ste J

      06/03/2014 at 18:33

      I hope that I have left myself part of my enigmatic air? I still haven’t had a haircut but when I do I promise to talk out loud as if you were there and really freak out the nice person with the overly sharp scissors, after all what can go wrong?

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      • LuAnn

        06/03/2014 at 21:17

        I just got a haircut yesterday (a scary part of not staying too long anywhere so you are comfortable with the stylist) and a whole bunch can go wrong! Suffice to say, I am long beyond shedding any tears over bad haircuts. As for your next haircut, would you bring a tape recorder with you and share with me the results of this conversation? 🙂

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        • Ste J

          07/03/2014 at 19:08

          Perhaps that will be my next vlog…

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  9. readinpleasure

    25/04/2014 at 18:18

    Ste J, you know I was thinking of putting up post on reviews and then bingo!

    I’ve been quite fascinated by the manner of reviews I have been reading since I started blogging; specifically with no spoilers. Having never done any review before blogging became my addiction, I was compelled to review books I read in a lengthy manner, with lots of spoilers. But I would hesitate to accuse myself.

    I studied literature and play analyses and interpretation in Uni and so even in my reviews, I would want to explain, analyze, expatiate, argue, postulate and do all the lovely literary critiquing. Of course this makes me give away a lot of info and what is called spoilers. And why not spoilers? It would certainly spoil the fun for other readers who might not have read the book being received.

    But, and a big but, recent traffic to my blog indicates that readers are not only bloggers but students from the uni and senior high schools (secondary schools) in Ghana and elsewhere who are seeking information on certain texts they are using in the schools in their lit classes. I have reviewed some of these texts or books on my blog (Faceless by Amma Darko, and Maru by Bessie Head and Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta) with lot s and lots of spoilers!!! 🙂

    And so would these students have found my reviews useful if I had stuck to the no spoiler policy? Some actually commented to say how useful they found the reviews! 🙂

    I do agree with you that reivews can be stressful and quite subjective. Right now I’ve quite a number of books to be reviewed and no will to carry them through! 🙂

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    • Ste J

      27/04/2014 at 19:26

      Great minds think alike my friend…it is an eternal conundrum, to mention key plot points or not, I think it boils down to what your readers want…students want that insight and depth that you give and it will probably get hem thinking in different ways, as you say reviews are subjective.

      I do struggle sometimes which is why I disappear off the blog for a week sometimes, each review can seem like an upward struggle just to try and encapsulate it in a review that doesn’t scare people in its length, although i notice some of my posts are getting longer recently…

      I have come to the conclusion that you can’t please everybody so write in the way you are most confident in…of course you could always leave out a few spoilers but invite students to email you although that depends entirely on your time…since I put up my contact page I have had around 30 authors ask me to review their books already…it is a hard life hehe.

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      • readinpleasure

        28/04/2014 at 13:36

        Thanks Ste J. I think I will no spoilers for chick lit and romance genres and all other books received on request, and then do lengthy with some spoilers for African Writers Series or books tailored for the classroom! 🙂

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        • Ste J

          28/04/2014 at 14:04

          That’s the key, know your readers. I am sure you will make everybody happy with your arrangement. I am glad you won’t be spoiling the chick lit, you know I’m a big fan haha.

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