“So many books, so little time” is the credo emblazoned on one of my sweatshirts. Isn’t that the truth? Among my favorite tee-shirts is “Lead me not into temptation … especially bookstores.” I confess: I’m addicted to reading. Worse, I’m addicted to blabbing about what I read. I want to do you the favor of knowing what I think. You see, dear reader, I’m looking out for your best interests.
Well, not really. Usually I do not warn you when a book is not worth your time. With rare exceptions, I do not write negative reviews. Why not? Wouldn’t a balance of negative and positive reviews give my work more credibility? Perhaps it would. I don’t care. I don’t have enough space to tell you what not to read or why you won’t like something. Besides, if a book is inferior, it will sink under its own weighty badness – it doesn’t need my help. Silence can be a good thing.
Many writers, especially novices, do not understand my refusal to write reviews of their efforts. My “Florida Writers” column brings me a lot of email from authors (and publicists) whose attempts at gaining my respectful attention are so poorly scribed that I can only imagine how poor the actual book is. Still, if I see any hope of being able to praise it, I’ll ask for a copy (or a pdf or an e-version). Too often, I end up not reviewing the book, hoping to cast my refusal so that it doesn’t do unnecessary harm.
“But I’m a Florida Writer – why not?” It is not true, I insist, that all publicity is good publicity. Why find yourself insulted by my honest appraisal? Easy Writer cannot imagine that his book could garner negative reviews. I pretend to agree that the problem is simple: there’s something wrong with me.
“But you’re the only person doing regular book reviewing around here. If you don’t help me get the word out, no one else will either.” Sure, I feel guilty. However, book reviewing is not public relations work; at least it shouldn’t be. (You want a planted, paid-for review? I’ll tell you how to buy one.)
In case you’re dying to know the exception to my rule about not writing negative reviews, here it is: I will write a negative review when a well-established, talented author slips from the standard that he or she has set and that readers expect. Here’s a case in point. Though I love Randy Wayne White’s work, a couple of Doc Fords ago I thought he had let us down and said so. Fortunately, I was soon able (and happy) to praise his first Hannah Smith novel and the most recent Doc Ford.
“Confess, Phil, confess that sometimes you do not review a book that you know is pretty good. What’s the deal here? Lazyness?” Sometimes I’m lazy, but more often I just don’t think that the book and I are compatible. I can’t get excited about its virtues. I need to move on to another book that engages me more fully or that I feel will be of value to my readers “out there.” I don’t have time to agonize about the one that gets away. Again, my publication space and reading-writing time is limited. Careful selection is what gets me through. It’s like dating.
“Why do you review so many self-published books? Aren’t they bound to be just awful?” Hey, you snobs out there, with all the mediocre books put out by the trade houses, the burgeoning body of self-published titles offers a truly viable alternative for the serious reviewer looking for quality publications. I don’t let the publishing industry make up my mind for me, and I’m prejudiced against prejudices. While there are many periodicals that refuse to publish reviews of self-published titles, Florida Weekly has allowed me the privilege of deciding by the case and not the category. . . .
For more “confessions,” as they appear in the full article found in the July 10, 2013 isssue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 11 issues of the Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here Florida Weekly – Jason’s Confessions 1 and here Florida Weekly – Jason’s Confessions 2