Ever since I tried a recommended book and was disturbed by a heartless description of cruelty only a few pages in—a scene that continues to distress me any time I think of it—I have searched for quality book reviewers.
It’s not enough to see what’s popular or a big seller. Where are the reviewers who will tell me what I want to know? It takes so much time to wade through the descriptions only to be left with my questions unanswered. The reviews that are the easiest to find are often the least helpful.
The world of book publishing has become swamped, glutted, and mass populated with new books by unknown authors gushing out words, pages, blogs, epub documents and podcasts. The traditional publishing companies that are braving the churning waves send out their books with mass advertising campaigns like riders on jet skis. Many are successful, some not so much. They invest mostly in proven authors who will turn a profit and help them survive the challenges of today’s world of books.
But do I want to read them?
Here’s what I wish I knew about a book before cracking it open.
Language is the great gift of writers, where artistry and skill can exalt or diminish the ideas and images the author imparts.
- Quality of writing. Does the author write well according to classic standards of good writing? This involves a decent command of the English language, grammar, sentence structure, communicating effectively, and using words accurately. If they deviate from the standard, I expect a valid reason for it.
- Profanity. Words, situations, and imagery can all be profane and I want to know what and why the book includes it, whether it’s reasonable in context or something I would find offensive. This is subjective and personal, but any indication along these lines would be helpful.
- Age group. Categorizing a book as children’s or young adult isn’t just about vocabulary level. What is the targeted age group? Do the book’s subject matter, language, and descriptions, fall into the guidelines for it?
Story—crafted to nourish, or mishandled and cheapened—is what we’re longing for, are inspired by, perhaps dreaming about.
- Plot. Whether simple, complex, or somewhere in between, does the plot hold together? Has the author built a tale worth telling?
- Quality of storytelling. When it comes to storytelling, there are as many ways to weave a tale as there are people to weave them. But the best storytellers share some common characteristics: purpose, rhythm, pace, style—it’s hard to define what makes it good. But if someone I trust says, “Yes, this book tells the story well,” it’s a good recommendation.
- Originality. A story doesn’t have to be overly original in concept to be excellent but I’d love to know if that’s something the author should be noticed for. Original ideas, or an unusual approach to common ones, world building, artistry; they add to the appeal of a book.
Values are the underlying framework authors build their work on.
- Author position. Every writer takes a position toward their readers. Do they come across as informative or friendly, superior or manipulative? Are they talking down to us or relating to equals? Am I drawn in or repelled by their manner? Maybe this is nebulous and subjective but I want to know what impression they made.
- Moral quality. Many books don’t have specific moral values they want to promote, but they’re always written in some kind of moral context. Will this book challenge my views or offend me? What is the overall impression the writer gives toward things like: equality, compassion, friendship, love, rivalry, justice, and so on. Again, this is subjective, but it’s good for reviewers to talk about these things.
- Sexual content. This is a simple request. I just want to know what I’m getting into. Movies are rated to give you an idea of sexual content. Why can’t books have the same caveat?
I’d like to build a list of reviewers that can fill in some of these gaps for me.