Thursday, March 21, 2013

When do you stop reading a book review?

I spend a lot of time reading book reviews on various book blogs, but I find that I don't stop to read an awful lot of them. In fact, I think I've read two in their entirety in the last week. I guess what they say in good-old journalism school is right:

The lead-in is everything.

If the first few sentences of a book review don't absolutely grab me, there are plenty more blogs out there with possibly better reviews. Obviously the book itself - what I've heard about it, whether the subject interests me, even what the cover looks like (ashamedly) - influences me, and sometimes that's enough to push me forward through some of a review.

Here's an example of a review I stopped to read b/c it was simply interesting to me. (This one comes from Julie at My Book Retreat.)
Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family took a pledge several years ago to spend an entire year only eating food that they grow themselves or that is grown in their local area. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life is a sort of memoir of that year in which Kingsolver, her husband and her oldest daughter share stories about their year as well as their thoughts about the food industry in general.
Okay, so that's interesting. The writing is good. I like My Book Retreat and visit it regularly. I recommend you read this particular review. But I made it all the way through the review most simply because the book is unique. Way to go, Kingsolver. Way to be timely.

Yesterday, I came across a lead-in that forced me to keep reading. I wasn't even interested in the genre, but the opening graphs were just so catchy. (This one's from The Sassy Librarian.)
The other day one of my colleagues, a psychologist and an avid reader of YA literature, walked up to me in the library and said, "If I read one more book blurb about a girl discovering her abilities who finds herself 'strangely drawn' to the local bad boy, I'm going to scream."
I hear you, Kathy.
 That's just great. Must keep reading...
It's become an obnoxious device in paranormal romance that a young woman with "new" powers or abilities ends up transforming her personality, often with the assistance of the recently arrived bad boy who knows more than she does (yes, the sexual implication is obvious even when it goes unexplored). Even when the guy is hot and compelling, it would be an easy step to falling into the trope that a woman needs a man to draw out her best, most powerful self, and many authors have tumbled into that ditch with abandon. Yuck!
The good news? Kresley Cole's awesome new book, Poison Princessisn't like that.
Okay, then. Tell me more...

I was drawn in by the quote, the writer's voice, and then of course the contrast.

(I'm not going to give an example of a bad lead-in because we've all read plenty of them, and I appreciate ALL book bloggers, regardless of their writing prowess. These are people who love books and have a great community going on. No need to trash any of it.)

There are so many different kinds of lead-ins. The sad part is, I taught them to students for at least three years, and I can't remember the names of all of them. But I do know when I read a good one. I suppose that's all that matters at this point in my career. Or is it?

No, not really. Because every day I have to write queries. MY lead-ins have to be solid too. I guess I need to get to studying those old journalism notes.

When do you stop reading? Why do you keep reading? Do you have a favorite reviewer or review?


Julie said...

Thank you so much for the mention here! I do try spend a lot of time on my review intros, trying to make them interesting and compelling.

I also read a lot of reviews, and it's amazing how different they are. I have to say the biggest thing that makes me stop reading is grammatical errors and poor writing. I realize book reviewers aren't necessarily writers themselves, but when they don't take the time to review and edit their own writing, I have a hard time taking their opinions about other people's writing seriously.

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Misha Gericke said...

I have to admit that I tend to skip over reviews, since I don't use them when picking what I'll read next.

C.B. James said...

I have to say a good lead is very important. I always try to come up with one, but I don't always give it my full effort.

My general plan is to have something to say and to say it. That can sometimes override the desire to come up with a good lead.