Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Why Book Reviews Are Important To Me (A Mission Statement) by The Alternative

The other day I was asked by a speculative fiction blog writer to participate in a survey concerning this blog and its content. The main idea was to identify the most popular single entry here and write a short paragraph telling why that post was considered the most heavily trafficked. This got me thinking and I realized that I’d never really contemplated why I maintain and write this review blog. Reviewing books just sort of happened one day; was a natural result of reading for enjoyment and wanting to share my experiences. This is especially true of the works that make an impact on me or are remarkably or exceptionally enjoyable, creative, or unique.

So, why do I review the books I read? What’s in it for me?

The answer is both simple and complex but also obvious. I love books! But what exactly does that mean? Simply, I adore the locations that books take me, the feelings they evoke in me, the situations they take me to, the sights, the sounds, and the smells of exotic unimaginable places. Mysteries, aliens, murders, wars, politics, religion… speculative fiction has them all. And this is perhaps the main reason I love the genre so much and why I choose to share my thoughts here. My love of the written word is an addiction, an obsession, and has become a way of life.

I love books so much, in fact, that I have many thousands of them in different formats and styles. I use an electronic reader, my phone, computer files, and of course, the universal standard known as paper to read them. I collect anthologies, signed editions, magazines, novels, chapbooks, novellas, and every imaginable combination thereof. And, I have found merit in each and every one of them. Even those I have panned in review. You see, I truly understand how damn difficult it is to write. Even something as uncomplicated as this paragraph went through a painstaking process. Why? Because I wanted to get it right. I wanted to write it in such a way that you would understand exactly what I wanted to say. The same is true of the novelist. They understand what writing takes out of them and what they take back from it. And they want to get it right.

Complexly, there is a satisfaction I get from reading that cannot be attained through any other form of entertainment. To me a book begins as a skeleton. Bare-boned, it has no real flesh. It is a printed story. Words on paper. Even the great classics and my favorite books start out this way. But what I do with that story in my own imagination, using my own experiences, my own intelligence, my own faults, desires, imperfections, is much more than the sum of all its parts. I fill in the blank spaces, the colors and the characters and the scenes and the smells, with my own perceptions as I understand them and turn them into something better than simple words on paper. The author strings a series of words together to make a cohesive story but I bring life to the words. In my hands a book becomes a living breathing entity that lives in my imagination. Conversely, your experience will be similar but completely different then mine. This is what the literary critic Edmund Wilson meant when he said, “No two persons ever read the same book.”

A movie, by comparison, leaves very little to internal machinations. The images are presented in live action for two hours. You do not have to labor for nor supply any of the filler, any of the detail. They are forced upon you through visuals, by the filmmaker’s grand perception of the movie, and all of us sitting in that theatre see those same images. Colors are dazzling. Special effects are mind-blowing. Characters are visualized, flaws and strengths and all, but all the work has been done for me by the cinematography crew. There’s nothing left for me. In a book the characters, scenes and places evolve, grow, change and become much more than an image on the screen. They become an entire world created in the mind. And once they’ve left the page they become a permanent part of us. We will never be the same person we were; will have changed because of it. Sometimes those changes are poignant and easily identifiable, others times they are incomprehensible, waiting to be explored but we are changed none-the-less.

As many of you already know I try to review a book not by repeating what I’ve read but by trying to give you a better understanding of the essence of the story. Repeating a story in your own words is not a book review. It’s a synopsis and you can get that by simply reading the book flap or the back cover. What I hope to do here is to give you, the reader an idea of what the book meant to me as I was reading it and why I’ve rated it as I have. My insights are recorded to give you a better feel for what I’ve read so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not you might like to read it yourself. Hopefully, I’ve been successful. If I have please let me know: Add a comment here, become a follower, check a reaction, send me an e-mail and let me know your thoughts. Is this as worthwhile to you as it is to me?

Delving deeply into a story and telling you what it means to me is admittedly a difficult task. And I’m certain that I don’t always get it right. But I do hope that what I say, what I feel, about a work gives you a better understanding of the story. Whether you agree with me or not is beside the point. That we contemplate the merits of the work, gain an understanding of the skill used to create it, and feel the depth of the characters and their emotional impact on us, and the feelings we experiences when traveling to that other world is of utmost importance. If I personally can do that better, for even one of you, then I know that my work here is not in vain.

Thank you all for visiting this site and for returning.

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

P.S. The very professional speculative blog I spoke about earlier can be found here:

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