How do you (or I) review a book?
part one – reading as conversation
This essay (in 3 parts) is not really about how to write a book review. Most of us won’t be doing that. Still, knowing how to review a book is more important to being a better reader than many think it is. So let’s talk reading.
You may reply, “Big deal. Does knowing how other people read a book matter? Reading is reading.”
True – How you or I go about reading a book is just as individualistic as our own reading lists. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
Reading is much more than a person holding a text in front of him. Reading is a conversation between writer, reader and other readers, speech givers, other writers and even publisher, their marketing team (ugh!) and on and on. It may not seem like a conversation as you sit undisturbed in your robe by an evening fire, sipping tea, turning the pages of The Philosopher’s Stone.
The book you are reading may be a good read, but it will become even better when you see reading as a conversation – from cover to cover.
You’ve heard of “word of mouth advertising.” Words on the page of a book (or screen) are nothing more than a sophistication of the ancient “word of mouth” tradition. Reading is a conversation or more precisely, I should say, reading is a key instrument in a larger conversation. Reading fuels conversation.
As unique as your method of reading is and as individualistic as your reading list might be reading can’t be a purely isolated experience, right? Ancient elders sitting around an evening village fire, passing on ancestral axioms or repeating cultural narratives was clearly a communal experience.
In that ancient context knowing how to be a better listener would bring you into the enjoyment of the larger conversation. But is reading for moderns this or something else entirely? Is reading also a communal experience?
Would you agree that the basic intention of the modern writer is no different than that of the ancient elder? He has something that he wants to discuss and even more so hopes will be remembered. Knowing how to listen and converse with the elder and others at the village fire puts you in a better position to enjoy the larger conversation. Knowing how to become a better reader puts you in a position to enjoy (and be challenged by) the larger conversation in your world, your culture and your village.
It does matter that we intentionally read a book with a perceptive mind and open heart somewhat like a good book reviewer. This may seem like turning reading into work. Would exercising perception tactics while reading and analyzing emotions while reading take l’amore out of reading?
When we learn the basic skills of being a good reader we increase the level of enjoyment in our reading; increase our opportunities to add to the community experience of others.
What tennis player would turn down a few dozen hours of free instruction in tennis? He/she benefits and so does his/her tennis partner. What cook would turn down several sessions of free recipe tips in better cooking? He/she benefits and so will those who sit as his/her table.
Sure there’s work involved, but I’ve found that pushing “better reading skills” has improved my enjoyment of reading. I am often surprised how the work of improved reading is outdone by the enjoyment of the larger conversation, the larger conversation in my world, my culture and my village.
The first step to better reading, better book reviews, is to see our reading as entry into a larger conversation. Books aren’t just about ideas or creativity. Books bring people together. C. S. Lewis, a great writer and no doubt a great reader said it this way: “We read to know we are not alone.”
More next time: 3 simple ideas for better reading