Remember my friend Ruth Miller? Ruth wrote a very funny book called The other side of the ledger, and has contributed to this page a few times in the past.
Today, as a special treat, Ruth has been kind enough to offer us another insightful contribution.
The Book Review
From memory, when we did book reviews at school, our hand-written answers and class discussions were based on our comprehension as to what the book was about, as well as the characters, the style and its merit. In addition, the teacher would always offer their interpretation of the author’s intentions, whether or not it was beyond our limited level of understanding…
One book I clearly remember fitting this mould is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies; a novel where I had one of my first insights into the challenges of human nature constantly bubbling away beneath the surface. Challenges, when humans - in this case school boys – were placed in unfamiliar surroundings, and in their attempt to govern themselves, displayed some of the least attractive traits of human nature.
Returning to study in my late 20s, I suddenly found myself re-reading and re-reviewing Lord of the Flies. But my understanding of the characters was different this time round, because I was older and wiser after having learnt about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, not to mention my having plenty of experience dealing with players like Ralph and Piggy. But in hindsight, I don’t think my reviewing technique would have been all that different. Thankfully only my teachers were privy to my opinion, which probably reflected how my life was still very much about me - rather than the author - and my own thoughts - rather than theirs. However, since I have become aware of the extraordinary effort that goes into writing, and appreciate an author’s vulnerability once their work is published, I am now far more aware of my own reviewing technique, especially if it’s out there for the world to see online.
Okay, I admit I only came across the online book review phenomena after publishing my own book, and being in the firing line as it were, but putting that aside, I’ve noticed how online reviews differ. I mean, some prefer to take a dictatorial, or persuasive, approach as to why a reader should or shouldn't read the book. Some offer a constructive précis, and yet others make me wonder if we have read the same book. Nevertheless, I believe it is this individuality that is at the heart of the whole reviewing process, much like the lively discussions and debates seen on Jennifer Byrne’s Book Club (one of my favourite shows) where the panel’s views are just that – their interpretation and opinion. It’s left up to the viewers to draw their own conclusions and decide whether to read the book or not.