I started writing book reviews for New Mystery Reader in 2005, and will forever be grateful to Stephanie Padilla for the opportunity and encouragement she provided. At least half of the authors I read now became known to me through books I was asked to review, including many of my favorites. (John Connolly, Timothy Hallinan, and Declan Hughes jump to mind; there are several others.)
I've been on hiatus for a few months, and I think it's going to continue. The fact is, a lot of books that get published have many of the same strengths and weaknesses, and it got harder all the time to say the same things in different, and (hopefully) entertaining ways. I also found I was more quickly losing interest in books I didn't care for, which made going through to the end more of a chore than it should be.
Those things pushed me to take a break; what's keeping me from going back are the writers. I've been lucky enough to become friendly with fairly broad range of writers, from reading each others' blogs and trading comments on web sites such as Crimespace. Some I became friendly with after I reviewed their books and followed up with an interview. This was all well and good and fun, until a thought came to me one day:
What do I do when I get one of their books for review and I don't think much of it?
It's bound to happen. No offense to any of my writer friends, but I've read books by Elmore Leonard and said, "meh." The easy answer is, you tell the truth in an honest and straightforward manner, and they'll understand. They're writers. They know how it works. I've read uncomplimentary comments about my writing and not felt differently about the commenter. It's not a criticism of them as a person, it's the writing we have a difference about.
Still, I'm not going to do it, for the best reason I can think of: I don't want to.
It's not like I'm Jonathan Yardley or Michiko Kakutani. I'm not making a living at it, and people aren't subscribing to feeds with breathless anticipation of my next literary pronouncement. I owe readers an honest evaluation, and I'd be reluctant to give it to them if it meant I had to disparage a friend's work. So I won't. I'll read for the entertainment, and to learn a little, and I'll do my monthly "Good Reads" posts with single paragraph comments of books I liked. If I don't like a book, no one needs to know I read it.
The less seriously I take this whole writing business, the more I like it.