Our Reading Lives

The Joy of Not Reviewing a Book

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

I’ve been book blogging for more than a decade, and then somehow along the way it became my full time job? While also being a side hustle? It took over my life, is my point. Which is great, because I love nothing more than books and the internet. I have a never-ending list of bookish things I want to write about, even all this time later. I’ve written hundreds of Book Riot posts and hundreds of book reviews, and I’ve got the process down pat. I know how to keep notes as I read, looking out for patterns and noting my shifting opinions. I can organize those notes into coherent paragraphs (for the most part). It’s routine, at this point.

But despite writing book reviews being extremely familiar to me, I still don’t particularly…like the process. I’ve been a reader since before I have memories, and I always loved English class and silent reading time. The thing that tripped me up, though, was book reports. I could absolutely adore a book, but still not feel like I could “prove” I had read it. The things teachers seemed to want me to recite, I never paid attention to. I couldn’t remember specific plot points or characters’ names. I just remembered the feeling I got from the book.

Obviously, I’ve improved somewhat in this capacity. I’ve gotten better in being able to notice how I’m registering the writing style, whether the pacing seems to work for me, and what big ideas the text is introducing. But therein lies the problem: for me, reviewing a book begins before I’ve even read the first page. When I know I’m writing a review, the entire reading process becomes about that finished product.

I constantly reassess my star rating as I read, every disappointment or surprise ratcheting that number up or down. I interrogate the book as I go: Is it what I was expecting? Does it match the marketing, the genre expectations? Am I having fun reading it? Am I learning something?

Most things become less enjoyable the more you ask yourself, “Am I having fun right now??” And while plenty of texts benefit from being closely scrutinized, others are more suited to full immersion: letting yourself get lost in the story without thinking about the mechanics or assessing whether each chapter lived up to its potential.

I review (almost) every queer women book I read for my book blog, and sometimes I find myself picking up a non-Lesbrary book just to take a break from the book reviewer reading mindset. When I do, it feels like such a joy to give myself permission to read like I watch TV: letting the narrative flow over me without consciously assessing everything. I’m still going to form an opinion, and there will likely be things that jump out at me as aspects I like or dislike — probably enough for a quick paragraph-long Goodreads review — but I don’t need to construct an entire review.

I’ve also been giving myself permission not to review bi and lesbian books I feel lukewarm about, most of the time. When it’s a book that just wasn’t for me, where I’m not the target audience and it doesn’t really matter what my opinion is, I often will now just mark it as read on Goodreads. No star rating, no review. What a relief that is. What bliss to keep my opinion private and not have to justify it. How nice to not feel guilty about skewing the author’s rating when it was my own mistake in picking up a book that isn’t my cup of tea.

I still think reviewing most of the books I read is a net positive in my reading life. Most of the time, thinking deeply about the books I read is worth it, whether it’s to recommend them on the All the Books podcast or review them on my blog. I’m going to keep that habit up, but I’m also going to relish my exceptions, too. Those are the moments I can read like I did as a kid, when I read by flashlight under the covers, devouring books I couldn’t tell you anything about the next day. It reminds me of the pure, escapist joy of really losing yourself in a book, which is something I never want to lose.