A little more than eight years ago, I started blogging about the books I was reading. Over the course of those eight years, I’ve written a post on almost every single book I’ve read. (The only exceptions that I can think of are books I read for a class, books I quit reading, and books I reread.) Writing these reviews has become part of the reading experience for me, and my reading no longer feels complete if I haven’t written a review.
You see, I read a lot of books, and without a blog, most of them would go into a black hole, leaving nothing but a faint memory and a vague feeling of pleasure or annoyance. Character names and major plot points often fall out of my brain.
Reviews are a great memory aid, and I use them that way often, going back to read old reviews to refresh my mind. However, the process of writing reviews often keeps me from even needing to consult them later. Writing seals in the knowledge, making every book just a little less forgettable. It’s not foolproof, but it helps.
Writing reviews also slows me down and forces me to reflect on my reading. I’m greedy for books, wolfing down one right after the other, not always taking the time to appreciate each one. Pausing to write a review helps me to digest my books better.
In my years of review writing, I’ve found a lot of truth in the quote often attributed to Flannery O’Connor, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I write reviews to figure out what I think and why I think it. Sometimes writing a review makes me notice really cool things about a book, and sometimes it draws out niggling flaws I hadn’t noticed. Either way, I feel I understand a book better when I write a review.
One of the challenges of reviewing everything I read is that I don’t have a lot to say about some books—at least I think I don’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to write a review, thinking a book was just not interesting, and then discovered that there was a lot in there to think about. That doesn’t happen every time, but it happens often enough for me to find it worth the effort.
Writing reviews does take time, so I try to keep it simple, not spending heaps of time polishing and perfecting. Instead, I just throw my thoughts together and release them to the world. (Sometimes not even proofread, alas.) I write most of my reviews within a day of finishing a book, before starting another book if possible. I don’t consider them great works of literary criticism or the last word on any book. My blog is a book journal at heart, written for me.
So why then do I bother posting reviews on a blog if they’re just for me? In a way, keeping them in a private journal would be easier. I wouldn’t have to worry about spoilers, and I wouldn’t have to take care not to offend friends who loved a book I loathed. I could be as blunt or as detailed as I like.
The truth is, I know I’d be lazier in my thinking if there were no audience reading my thoughts. I wouldn’t necessarily bother to look beyond my own gut reactions to understand what others might appreciate or dislike about a book—and imagining other possible reactions is often part of my writing process. But, more important, writing publicly about books means getting to have a conversation. I love being able not only to share my thoughts but also to read what others think.
There may come a day when I decide reviews take too much time or don’t give me much joy. But, for now, review writing is a key part of my reading life, and I’d hate to give it up.