Sunday, August 07, 2005

Addendum to the Robin Hobb Review

I recently read an entry on Romancing the Blog about how writers can't be readers. Elsewhere, the question came up about whether writers can produce a negative review of a book they've read and not have it considered just sour grapes.

My perspective on this is that I can read as either and only when the writing is truly awful will it interfere with my enjoyment of the story. I'm not planning to post negative reviews on my blog. If a book didn't appeal in any aspect, then why should I share it with you and encourage you to look at it as well? That said, I suppose if I run into a book that is so awful it would be a public service to denounce, I'd like to think I would be willing to take that step. However, I preselect most of what I read, so this is a highly unlikely circumstance.

Regarding Robin Hobb's Shaman's Crossing, the review I presented was from the reader's perspective. From a writer's perspective, I would add that the book started a little slow for me. There were clear points of engagement and then areas that I just read to get to the next point. The story offers up Nevare's childhood as a way to introduce the world and its contradictions between cultures and realities. Because of this, there are some points that skate on the edge of pure exposition about the world.

The only other technical aspect I noticed as jarring was a tendency to restate what had already been conveyed regarding the world. This either stopped entirely after about the first 100 pages or I no longer cared. As a copy editor, I would have highlighted those restatements and suggested reminding the reader rather than restating the exact information. Still, as you can tell from my review, these technical issues hardly prevented me from enjoying the book :).

It's not that I don't see the technique; it's that I accept it as necessary to convey the story. When the technique falls down in the beginning, I'm more likely to notice it regardless of how the story engages me. Otherwise, as long as the story is compelling and I'm neither editing nor critiquing, I read with a reader perspective. As much as I've always been a storyteller, I've also been a storylistener. I see nothing contradictory or multiple personality in holding on to both of these aspects nor do I have any difficulty separating reading for work or education from reading for fun. While I might enjoy something I also analyze, I do not pick apart books as I'm reading them.

So, what's your take on this issue? Can you read as a reader if you write? And should writers avoid writing honest book reviews for fear of being perceived as envious?


Ann said...

When I wasn't reading as often--a book every couple of months when I was lucky--I read as a writer, to the point of being painful to get through anything. Now that I've picked up reading again on a regular basis (about a book a week), I'm finding I'm more able to enjoy things as a reader, and spend less time picking at stuff.

I do think writer reviews CAN be sour grapes, but I think they can also be vaild. The trouble is telling who is jealous, and who really has a point.

Margaret said...

Hi Ann :).

True enough about the griping, but I guess my concern is more that there shouldn't be a blanket statement that writers shouldn't do that. It seems like giving in to trolls and the like to say that we can't speak for fear of being taken for something that we're not.

Oh, and you may have a good point there on the frequency. Maybe your reader mind was asleep :).


Deirdre said...

Interestingly, I have the opposite problem with theater. When I'm only seeing a show every few months or so I'm very forgiving and just enjoy them...but when I'm seeing one a month or more I start getting really nitpicky about all the technical aspects.
Having never been a writer I don't know if that would translate to books, but I'm guessing I'd be the type to fall into that good thing I'm not a writer!

Valerie Comer said...

I find now that I always analyze a first sentence and paragraph for its ability to suck me into the story. Even if I don't think it's particularly fabulous, I'll certainly read more than that, but I've been trying to learn from other writers' opening lines. After that, if the story is reasonably well told, I can read like a reader, though at the back of my mind I may notice the crisis points and turning points. So for the most part I think I read as a reader, but a little better (or more aware) than I used to.