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Is that a review in your hand or are you just here to kill me?

getting through the New York Times Book Review

getting through the New York Times Book Review

Do you read book reviews? Sometimes I read a review that makes me want to read the book–like this review of Her Fearful Symmetry–and also fills me with despair. Or maybe it is jealousy. Hard to tell the difference.

I tell my son that he should worry about his own work and not everyone else’s, that everyone is different with different talents and skills, that if you compare, you will always find someone who can do things better than you, that this doesn’t need to hold you back, that someone may well be comparing themselves to him and find themselves wanting too, and on and on with what may or may not be advice and which he may or may not listen to.

I try to follow my own advice to convince my son that it works… but sometimes this is all show.

Do book reviews inspire you or hold you back? Maybe you don’t care about them at all? What do you do to stop them from getting the better of you?

What review have you read lately that made you go buy a book (or perhaps it made you gnash your teeth)?

9 thoughts on “Is that a review in your hand or are you just here to kill me?

  1. I wish I could comment (and, even though this is a comment, it’s not much of one) but I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book review. I find out about books I want to read in two ways: From people whose taste I trust, and from the book itself. If the blurb on the back is interesting enough it will get me to open the book and read a few pages. If that’s interesting enough, I’ll pick it up and take it.

    But I compare all the time — constantly — and I get sick and jealous and silly about things. So maybe it’s for the best I don’t read book reviews.

    • I love to read book reviews. I read tons of them even for books I’d never read. There is this crazy part of me that just likes to know about all the books out there. Who is writing, who is reviewing, what kinds of things do different reviewers look for…all kinds of stuff. Most of the time I can keep the reviews separate from feeling about my own work. But some days I am weak.

      And reading a good review usually does not make me want to buy a book. Reading a bad review won’t stop me from reading a book either. I just like knowing about more and more books. Sometimes a review helps me pick a book for a friend, but that’s about it.

  2. I’ve stopped reading book reviews not out of book envy but because it leads to too much book buying and I already have too many books I haven’t read. I feel like buying a ridiculously large percentage of books I read about. I tend to not compare them to myself because I weed out the reviews pretty quickly after the first couple of sentences and skip the ones where either that might be an issue or that might be a crappy book.

    • Like I said in the comment above to Darc, I’ll read any review. I’ve no discernment or discrimination. Probably should, but there you go. And rarely does a review get me to buy a book. Once in a while–like in the book I’ve linked to above. If the story appeals to me (or doesn’t), I don’t care what the review says.

  3. The title of this post must be one of the best I’ve ever read on any blog. I keep going back just to re-read and savor it. 🙂

    I don’t read many reviews anymore, unless someone points them out. But I do subscribe to the NYT’s “Books” e-newsletter, which comes out on Friday with links to the reviews in the upcoming Sunday’s issue; when I read that weekly email, which I usually don’t, there’s usually at least one review which catches my eye.

    Oh, and sometimes I’ll catch a review in the New Yorker. (If I hadn’t first read of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in a very appreciative review there, I probably wouldn’t have read the book itself.)

    Most of the time, reviews mean something to me not as a writer but as a reader: they convince me I need to read something (as the Fearful Symmetry review just did, thanks for the link) or to skip it. They don’t tell me much (if anything) about what to shoot for or what to expect in my own writing (writing as such, or writing as career).

    But I think I have to try hard, if subconsciously, NOT to read them as a writer. If I ever let that door open, I’m pretty sure I’d experience them as you and Darc apparently do!

    • Ha. I almost decided against that title too.

      I think my comments above say all the more I can say. I do try to keep the envy/insecurity at bay–and many times I can. Today was a weak day.

  4. I don’t recall the last time I read an official book review. I listen to my friends sometimes, but I recognize it’s hard for them to know my tastes. I check out the book itself if it seems interesting. And then at the library I’ll sometimes play “book roulette” on the “new fiction” shelf (which isn’t new fiction, btw, just new to the shelf). Sometimes I get lucky and find a great book to savor, other times, not so much.

  5. I read the New Yorker and the NY TImes reviews. Sometimes, when I’m at at a particularly low ebb in terms of creative energy, I skip the NY Times reveiws for the week. I wince at the harsh comments and vow to ignore such when I’m published. I often find books I want to read, but, like Squirrel, I don’t usually buy. I do sometimes order them from the library however: like the new book coming out by Margaret Drabble. Can’t wait.
    It took me several years to get over book review envy (like about 20)- the same process I went through to get over the envy I built up during my years as a English Lit/Creative Writing major. Everything you say to your son is true- all you can do is keep saying it to yourself. And maybe take a break from the reviews sometimes.

  6. I don’t read reviews until after I’ve read a book, then I silently argue/agree with the reviewer. Yet I rarely discuss books with real people. That sounds weirder than I thought it was.

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