Saturday on the Couch: Why review books?

Why write book reviews and why read them?

Despite the oft-proclaimed death of the novel and other reading, it seems reading as a leisure pursuit has never been more popular as witnessed by the growth of book clubs and literary festivals. A town of any size has at least one book club, and most regional centres have a readers and writers festival.

A recent readers and writers’ festival I attended had a session on book reviews as a means of raising literary standards. This seemed very earnest to me, and I did not attend the session.

I can see that an analysis of a book is helpful to a writer, and positive recommendations in the editing and pre-publishing stage is an important part of the process.

Too often I find that reviews in some sections of the press are done with the agenda of the reviewer who has a particular viewpoint to express, sometimes not related to the book in hand.

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Publishers and distribution houses spend a lot of money sending out books to review, so, their aim is to sell the book. And that is a very worthy aim. It is good for readers, writers and the cultural life of our society. As a reviewer, I’m more than happy to be a part of this commercial process.

I have been reviewing books for Starts at Sixty since the Book Club began.

I see the role as helping readers find a book they would enjoy, of matching reader and writer.  The book reviewing team has grown over the years, and we have our own tastes, but often read outside our own comfort zone.

I try to inform the reader of the review of what the book is about, how well it tells a story and into what genre it fits and how successfully. That way a reader can form an opinion about the book and if it is for them. If it’s a nonfiction book it seems important to know what is covered in the book and something about the author.

I write book reviews because I enjoy reading and like to talk about books and have made friends through reviewing and reading others reviews. I read reviews to guide my reading and learn about the latest books available.

Truly, as our motto says, there is no enjoyment like reading.