Summarising and spoiling

A friend of a Facebook friend of mine had some very strong opinions on who is capable of reviewing books. Basically bloggers are no good. We are taking jobs away from properly trained journalists, who do it for a living. They know how to, and we don’t. I was a little shocked.

You can summarise the plot of a book and call it a review. Many bloggers use the amazon blurb or the back of the book blurb or the press release blurb. Mostly they then add some thoughts of their own. But I can’t help feeling that it’s cheating a little. Many of us have already read the blurb elsewhere.

Some quite big names who review for newspapers also spend rather a big chunk of their allotted number of words on summarising the novel before they come to the point. If that’s who she had in mind, then it would seem it’s not just useless bloggers who are useless.

So what do I do?

I’ve more or less decided against regular reviews of books here. (No, don’t stop sending them, please!) By that I mean that there is no way this formerly ‘so useless at analysing literature at all that her teacher almost cried’ blogger can do a ‘real’ review. No point in trying. I can’t say ‘the author’s use of *** indicates that ***’ and make it sound right.

Some ‘properly trained professionals’ give away the ending, often with no warning. So do bloggers. I’m sure I’ve done it, very occasionally. Sometimes it’s impossible to talk about something while avoiding certain facts.

I think my intention with what I do is to say what the book meant to me, with some personal reference on some level or other. If it’s not a new book, but one I read years ago, it makes sense to mention why I’m going on about it now. And I do mention what other family members have said about a book, despite seeing somewhere that this is so not interesting. OK, saying ‘my child loved this book’ doesn’t prove anything. But if you know that Daughter very reluctantly reads certain books, then the fact that she tore a book out of my hands is relevant. I think.

There must be a reason I’m going on about this now… Oh yes, I’ve just embarked on what feels like a marathon list of books to mention. Reading lots of books, and then giving them some kind of mention here, is almost counter productive to writing a fascinating blog about books.

When I regularly provide you with photos and/or lists of what I’ve just received in the post; please take me out and shoot me. That day is closer than I’d hoped, having just had a ‘reading priority’ talk with me and my aunt’s pink armchair (where the recent arrivals were resting), and catching myself thinking that I could do some of those combined posts and get rid of a few books that way.

22 responses to “Summarising and spoiling

  1. I’d like her to point me towards one UK training course for journalists that features book reviewing…

  2. Well, you should know. Journalists who do it well presumably would have been good at it even had they been tree surgeons.

    I wonder if she was annoyed at the people who just blog saying ‘this was a very bad book’ and no more. But I was sent one of her books last year, so I would guess her sentiments aren’t shared by the publisher.

  3. Yesterday’s blog is relevant here. With Alex Scarrow himself popping in and thanking me for having read it despite not liking the genre, I’ve got something wrong.

    I don’t not like the genre, unless he meant it to be pure horror, which I don’t think he did, and it isn’t.

    But (SPOILER WARNING) I can’t say how frightened I was when the you-know-whats tried to eat you-know-who. Or mention too much about Alex’s take on the Kennedy assassination. I feel it gives too much away.

    So, I like his book very much. I’ve just got to an age where certain things actually scare me. The young witch would have been more unfeeling. On the other hand, I feel that mentioning being scared, should tell people whether the book is for them, or not.

  4. I don’t know if what you do is ‘proper’ or not, but yours is one of only two blogs I read every day – so please keep doing what you do!

  5. I’ve never forgiven an eminent newpaper reviewer who is herself a novelist for giving away the main point about Ruth Rendell’s ‘No night is too long.’
    Haven’t trusted her much since…
    What I try to do when I review books is communicate my enthusiasm and get people to want to read the book. I never bother with books I don’t like because I generally stop reading them at about page 50. I’m not a professional journalist, so I can do that! And so can bloggers. You go on saying what you think about the books you read, Bookwitch and we’ll all be quite happy.

  6. Take no notice of anyone who suggests that his or her opinion is somehow worth more than yours (or anyone else’s). Your blog is excellent. There are many reasons why I read it regularly. I like the warm, friendly tone, the mixture of playfulness and serious intent, the dark Nordic humour, the outstanding quality of the writing, the oblique personal references, the love of books you clearly feel and want to share. But most of all I like your reviews. You give just the right amount of information without blowing away all the surprises that the author has laboured for months to create, or worse still giving away the ending. Above all, you’re fair. You give your opinions honestly and without frills. So keep going and prosper. You’re every bit as professional as anyone else.

  7. Oj, oj, oj – as us Nordic clowns say.

    It’ll be business as usual here, some time next week when the blushing has receded a little bit.

    It was the butler that did it.

  8. I think reviewers should review books they have personal interests and enthusiams for, which is apparant in your reviews. I do review books but only with those criteria and then I really enjoy it.

  9. There has been a big debate about this in France, which is quite a one-sided debate actually: literary critics hate bloggers and say that it takes “skill” to do book reviewing , despite he bloggers insisting that they are not trying to do the critics’ job. But publishers are not stupid and they have sussed out the potential power of blogging, particularly with increasing sales of books from back catalogues. Maybe the critics just feel threatened?
    All I know is that I enjoy writing my blog and will carry on, regardless of what others think. They don’t have to read it after all!

  10. Library Mice – do you think French literary critics might consider a strike in protest against bloggers? It seems like the sort of thing they might do…

  11. It’s daft to suggest that only literary critics should review books. Most readers aren’t literary critics, are they? Well, then.

    The world is richer with both kinds of reviews. Like the difference between relaxing in your armchair at home and dressing up for dinner. The easy, personal ‘I read it, I liked/didn’t like it and this is why’ sort – and the erudite, fancy sort for special occasions!

  12. I presume they know how to and that they all do it in the same, professional way – could that be why I never bother to read professional reviews but very often buy books based on one or two recommendations by bloggers whose reviews I trust?

    Well, methinks the grapes are sour.

  13. I’m with Tim (won’t make you blush again by repeating all those nice things). There are ten zillion blogs out there, and out of those, a very few just feel like friends. The whole point of blogging is that you have a voice — people may like it or not like it, but your only responsibility is to say precisely what you want to say. Anyone objecting to the “validity” of same, can simply go elsewhere and leave our witch alone.

  14. May I compliment everyone on their excellent taste?

    I wasn’t really upset by the unknown anti-blogger, just bemused about the perceived excellence of journalists. Where would we be without them?

  15. Ian, don’t criticise our official national sport! :0)

  16. Library Mice; I can’t! I’m currently on strike 😉

  17. Well said, everyone.

  18. There are good and bad journalists, and good and bad bloggers. Just like with books: if it’s a bad one, I give up very quickly and don’t bother reading it! I read your blog every day and have yet to find anything else that hits the spot.

  19. I’m with Tim, too…I don’t comment on this blog of yours very often (in fact, I’m not sure I ever have) but I do read it and it’s excellent. Sour grapes is my assessment of your Facebook “friend”.

  20. Thank you, Cheryl. It’s good to see you over here too.

  21. It does indeed sound like sour grapes. It seems to me that lots of people call themselves journalists with little or no qualification for the job.

    Just keep on blogging!

  22. Pingback: Who’s the best? « Bookwitch

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