What to Do When You’re Asked to Review but You Just Can’t

Life is good. Not only do I write, but I also read. And not only do I read [a lot], but I write reviews, especially if the story is a particularly moving one. Since I’m kinda-sorta known for such things, my email inbox is full of requests to read and review. In addition, I’m on some publicist’s mailing list at Simon and Schuster, and I get free books in the mail.

I know. It’s like Christmas every day.

Unlike bona fide book bloggers, I don’t review everything I read. Biggest reason? I can’t read everything; there’s just not enough time in the day or days in a week. My To Read pile is more like a To Read mountain – Mt. Everest sized. It’s not just the requests I’m sent; every once in a while I’d like to read something that I picked out.

I will not write a bad review, even if the book deserves it. No matter how unsavory the material, I know that someone spent a lot of time and energy in writing. You can learn something from even a bad book.

My time is limited because I also have these things to write… that’s what takes up the lion’s share of what little free time I can scrape up. I feel panic and horror if I can’t write on a regular basis. Sometimes I have too many things on the Real Life agenda, sometimes I’m sick, sometimes it just doesn’t work out, but either way, a churning in the pit of my stomach reminds me that I must continue on.

As it happens, every once in a while I come across a book I just can’t get into. One that sticks out in my mind and that I will mention here only because the author isn’t going to suffer any ill effects by my opinion is 50 Shades of Gray. I downloaded the trilogy months ago, and I still can’t get through it. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in a doctor’s office, open the Kindle app on my iPhone and take a peek. I can absorb about a screen’s worth of words before I have to put it away.

Why, you might ask? Especially since the rest of the world seems enthralled with this epic tome of sex, bondage, and perversion?

I guess my tastes in books run counter to the masses, just as my taste in movies, food, and TV shows. Plainly put, I just can’t get into some books. If I’m not hooked in the first couple of chapters, you lose me.

Currently, I have a couple of requests on Kindle and a couple of physical books I purchased that are similarly problematic. With a purchased book, you can give it away or relegate it to the base of your To Read mountain, and hopefully get to it sometime after retirement and shortly before death. You never have to face the author.

But when someone emails you because you’ve reviewed their friend’s book and they want a return favor, or you have a personal tie to an author, it’s different. It’s especially difficult if you know the person, either well or casually. I know my book, Virtually Yours, isn’t perfect, but I’m not touting it as the next great American novel. It’s a fluffy, fun beach read. I’ve received mixed reviews on it, but I figured bad reviews into my calculations when self-publishing — the format is not ‘usual’ and there are a lot of characters. Some do, but many people just don’t get it.

As for my own rules, I try to be kind when reviewing. A clue or two for writers: when a book is fraught with grammatical errors, when the characters are unlovable, or when there are multiple points of view in one scene, it’s difficult for me to process your work, much less enjoy it, much less review it.

In my case, if you don’t see a review, cherish the fact that silence is golden.

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4 Responses

  1. I agree on all counts, Joanne. I, too, am staying away from Shades of Gray, mostly because it just does not interest me. There are way more fascinating things to read, and my pile is a mountain also.

    As to reviewing, it is much harder than it looks. I do some short commentaries on GoodReads, and even those are tough. You must summarize without spoiling, evaluate without offending, and let’s face it, taste is a peculiar thing.

    What really irks me, though, is people who review, but the reviews are badly written. There is one person on Facebook whose reviews are so badly written I cannot read them any more. I know I am a grammar Nazi, but honestly, if you want to be taken seriously as a writer OR a reviewer, your grammar and spelling should be perfect.

    Keep doing what you do, my friend. It’s all good.

  2. I enjoyed this entry. I like that you don’t give negative reviews and are picky about what you review.

  3. If you’ve read one scene of 50 Shades, you’ve read them all. Don’t worry. You’re not missing out.

  4. Don’t worry about it. I do tons of reviews but will not post a bad one. I just let them know that I didn’t like it and prefer not to post a review.

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