Why I review books

I’ve been blogging about books for a number of years now and at the moment I feel as if the ability to crush complex stories, to evaluate other people’s years of effort in shaping their thoughts into sentences and paragraphs, novels, essays, memoirs, arguments, is failing me, is something I should perhaps not even be undertaking. It feels important to stand back and ask myself why I do this and what it means to me to review a book and share it, even if that sharing reaches a very small number of readers.

At the heart of all of this is my love of reading and my love of stories. I enjoy hearing other people’s thoughts. I like seeing characters’ lives and choices take shape into a story that seems to make some sense out of the repetition, uncertainty and confusion of our lives. I want to know what other people think about those big questions we love so much as teenagers: what does it mean to be alive? To be human? Are we and our planet some big godly intention or a chaotic creation whose meaning exists only in its miraculous, fleeting existence and nothing more? Is there such a thing as morality, good and bad actions, and for whose good or bad should we act? You know the questions. 

Why turn to stories for these questions? Why not science or philosophy or religion? Because all of those also use stories, because it is a way for us to hold disparate events, ideas and people in some kind of broad comparative lens. Philosophy tends to forget the multiple layers of consciousness and unconsciousness that sit in our awareness of our beings as bodies. It forgets that a person thinking about how words shape meaning is also tired from an old, worn out mattress and the pressures of living with someone they no longer love and not having had breakfast yet. Science tries to pretend nothing exists that isn’t logical. We all experience that to not be true. Religion often has its own agenda that refuses to welcome ideas that don’t fit within the remit of its tenets of faith.

But it isn’t just characters, ideas and thoughts that bring me to stories, it is also the way that a well turned phrase can express something you have felt but have yet been able to put into words. It is the way that other people’s language can affirm emotions, beliefs, feelings, ideas whose linguistic form you have not yet found words for yourself. All those rhythms and rhymes, the hidden meanings, the double meanings, the flow and shape of the syntax and the way the paragraphs navigate the page, add into our sensory reading of the words and this brings new ways of experiencing them. New books bring fresh perspectives.

All this is why I read and when you get this kind of joy, you want to share it. If you love a book, you want to tell someone about it. If something interests you, confuses you, you want to talk about it, ask someone’s opinion, add in to that melting pot of communication that carries our thoughts and ideas like a river of culture across counties and countries and over mountains, riding seas and oceans. Lots of people say it, but the intimate meeting of minds that is reading, brings forth the most beautiful magic that it is impossible not to want to share.

That’s why I review books. I’m not always good at it. I don’t always appreciate the entirety of what authors wanted to say or even their effort, but I value what writers and editors and copywriters and publishers do. I value these shaped words and I’m excited about the ways in which they add to the compost heap of my mind and that of others. Who knows what exciting things could grow out of that rich soil?

Oh, and there is one other thing… all this reading and thinking and sharing has a dangerous edge to it. Fresh perspectives, rich mulched ideas, challenge the accepted status quo and there’s something exciting, illicit and seditious about being a part of that process whilst just sitting quietly on your own.

Anyway, I’ll be reviewing Misfits by Michaela Coel next, followed by Burntcoat by Sarah Hall. Maybe I just like remembering what I’ve read and this book blogging journey is a simple aide-memoire. Subscribe, unsubscribe, comment as you see fit.