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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Fife

Review Everything - Why I Try to & Some Tips for Reviewing Books in General

I started this year with the intention of reviewing everything I read or listened to as far as books go, whether its something I'm narrating, something I just picked of my own accord, something I got for free from the author/narrator, or something I've read with my family. I'm a little behind on it at this point, but I still have that intention & truthfully, I'm still doing pretty well at it. My goodreads list shows 32 books read this year, and of those, there are only 9 I have yet to review. To be honest, there are a couple more that I haven't put on there yet. But I'm managing about 75% so far. And I'll be catching up.


Why do I want to review everything I read, & why do I wish so many more people would? Does Brandon Sanderson really need my review of the next Mistborn book? How about Agatha Christie? Is she anxiously awaiting my review of Murder on the Orient Express? That may be true of the new author/narrator, but certainly doesn't apply to someone long dead, or far to busy to ever glance at their reviews. Let me explain my reasoning for reviewing all of this stuff & why I think it would be beneficial not only for the author/narrator, be they Stephen King or Josephina Anonymouschovsky, but also beneficial to you the reader / listener, the industry as a whole & more than that.

If you've read, listened to, or watched Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire, you should be familiar with the Pensieve. It this magical-basin-thing Dumbledore (and Harry) use to examine memories from a particular event. When I read the book, I was in a

somewhat tumultuous time of my life. I had been keeping a regular journal. Coming upon this concept, it gave me insight into why I was doing so, along with the positive affect it was having on my life at the time. Multiple authors have said something to the effect of "I don't know what I'm thinking until I see it on paper."

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” – Flannery O’Connor

“I don't know what I think until I write it down.” Joan Didion

For me, the idea of the Pensieve helped me to see that sometimes, my thoughts were spiraling & until I could get them out of my head to where I could look at them more objectively, I'd be stuck in a swirling cloud of confusion. I no longer am keeping that daily journal, (unless you count my blog) but the same principle holds true for why I review everything. I'm not sure entirely what I thought of something until I convey it to someone else. Books are a pile of letters, sorted into words sorted into ideas, sorted into plots, or impressions, or characters and so on. When I can diffuse what I liked or didn't like about how the author did this, it helps me see what I really thought about it. What they excelled at, and what could probably use some work.

So that's point one. By reviewing something, I find out what I actually thought of it.

Secondly - I review everything so I can personally improve as a reader, listener, writer & narrator. And that goes hand in hand with helping the creator of the work to improve as well. Brandon Sanderson may not care if I think his prose is a little heavy, but especially for those of us on the 'getting into our careers as creators' side of things goes - an honest review stating objectively what we did well, or what we did not do well - is much appreciated & we try to improve based on the feedback we receive. But at the same time - Make it objective. Not always possible to do, such as the narrators feminine voices being too squeaky for your taste, but even that has an element of objectivity to it. Saying "the writing was awful" is entirely subjective. What made it awful. That's where the Pensieve idea comes into play. If you hated the way one character was voiced, or written, what specifically repelled you? Being told it sounds like we had rocks in our mouth is a little odd & difficult to quantify. Did we stumble over words? Does the author use the same phrase, or word repeatedly (had one I narrated that I think every 3rd paragraph started with 'however').

Thirdly - I review things because the industry is important to me, and I want others who are in it - be they producers, consumers, or publishers - to have an unbiased idea of what they're getting before they pull the trigger. If a book is garbage, a consumer deserves to know it. Also, if its an unknown treasure waiting to be discovered, the producer - be it author, narrator, publisher etc. - deserve any shout-out they can get. They've put untold hours into its creation. We do live in a time where you can get ANYTHING published. Some of it is bound to be garbage. Some of it is bound to be gold. The mass amount is going to be somewhere in the middle.

Those are my 3 main reasons why I review everything & hopefully something that may help motivate you to leave honest reviews of what you enjoy - or don't enjoy.

A couple of my personal preferences about reviews, that you may or may not follow yourself, but that I try to hold myself to: Don't review the plot. If I want to know the plot, I'll read the book. You can review a book thoroughly without revealing spoilers. What did you like about the plot? Explain it in a way that doesn't give away the man-behind-the-curtain. I also try to have some specifics from the book that I can use in my reviews that highlight what I liked - such as a relationship between x & y, or the personal growth of z. If its a non-fiction book, were the points such that made me think, was it one-sided, and so on. Did I feel like the author cared what I might actually think about the subject, or is it just a scholarly presentation of this is this and that is that?

My final preference - A two sentence review is not a review. It's little more than a rating. "I really liked this book" didn't work for my elementary school teachers & it doesn't really work for me. My other pet peeve is when a review doesn't match the rating it gave. "I really liked this book" being matched up with 3 stars? No, you sort of liked this book.

Having now ranted for 5 minutes on what I think constitutes a worthwhile review of books, audio or otherwise - don't feel like you MUST leave a review if you listen to (and eventually read) my work. If you enjoy it for the sake of just enjoying it, I'm TOTALLY good with that. But if, after listening to a 10 hour audiobook, you were especially tickled with my performance - or detested it for all 10 hours, I'd love it if you'd take 2 minutes (about 3/1000ths of the time you listened) to let me and others know what you thought.

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