Monday, December 22, 2014

They Call Me Mr. Sunshine

Every month I bore you with post a list of the best books I read the previous month, with brief, usually one-paragraph, reviews. At the beginning of every year, not satisfied that the first promulgation of my personal literary prejudices was sufficiently irritating, I publish the best books I read that year. Not the best books launched in that year; the best books I read. My wheels grind exceeding slow at times, and I am rarely a slave to fashion or cultural pacing. I read what I want, when I want.

What I don’t do is tell you what books I didn’t like. Some question this. (Actually, no one has had the nerve to ask me directly, but I’ve seen it done.) “Don’t readers have a right to know about the books you don’t like, so they know what to avoid?”

No, they don’t. Not from me specifically, anyway.

There are plenty of assholes willing to post a one-star review of books they haven’t finished because they didn’t like the foul language or the cat getting run over or the graphic violence. I never have a one-star review to post, because books that appear to be moving into One Star Land don’t get finished, and I don’t feel it’s fair to review—or even rate—a book I didn’t finish. Call me fussy, but there is always the chance the book could redeem itself. That chance might not be sufficient for me to continue, but my lack of patience should not be construed as an absolute and accurate arbiter of taste. I only rate books I finish.

I also only review and rate books I can comfortably give at least four stars. Part of the reason is, I finish between 60 and 70 books in an average year, and I don’t have time to do justice to all of them. I’d rather do fewer reviews than do them half-assed. There are so many deserving books that don’t get the marketing support to let them peek above the dreck for even a few minutes that I want to spend my reviewing time providing whatever miniscule assistance I can where it’s most warranted. In addition, every minute I’d spend ripping a book is a minute I could have spent reading or reviewing something I could be enthusiastic about, and life’s too short to read books you don’t like.

(As has been noted, I am willing to rip movies I don’t like. Why the double standard? Because even a relatively small movie has more marketing support and money behind it than most novels released in a year combined. I have no problem with pointing out those naked emperors because my voice is a mouse squeaking in a hurricane compared to the volume of bloviated bullshit any studio can pump up about this year’s Batman/Spiderman/Avengers reboot. So movies are on their own.)

As a writer, I can’t afford to read solely for entertainment anymore. (A post on that is coming.) That doesn’t mean every book I read shouldn’t entertain me at some level. (“Engage” can be substituted for “entertain.” The entertainment level of Max Hastings’s brilliant history of World War II, Inferno, could never be described as entertaining, but it was fascinating from cover to cover.) Now that I read as both a reader and a writer, the book has to interest both. If I choose to do a review, I owe the prospective reader my honest opinion about whether this book meets the $25 test. As a writer, I owe my peers an honest appraisal. I owe it to myself to spend as little time on shitty books as possible.

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