My mini-series on book blogging continues. This post grows out of previous discussions on "I"-centered reviewing (part 1, part 2). The third post on the problem with pleasure is here.
This post starts with a confession: I haven't written a review for this blog since January. It's not because I haven't been reading (I have) nor is it because I don't want to (I do). It's because I can't seem to formulate what I want the reviews to do here: I only know what I don't want. I don't want impressionistic "I loved it/hated" reviews; there are plenty places people can get that. I also don't want to try to emulate mainstream reviewing templates, again those exist well enough out there.
What does that leave exactly? I'm not exactly sure.
I have realized though, that what I need to decide first is whom I am reviewing for. This seems like a relatively simple question, but damn and blast, it is not. There are a great many possible audiences and deciding which of these audiences are of interest seems the crucial first step in resuscitating my reviewing. I should note that I am not talking about "taste" here but more about what the reader wants from the review, not what they want from the book being reviewed.
Here are the possible audiences I've come up with:
1. Readers who are looking for a recommendation
I think most book blog reviews write for this audience. This reader basically wants to be persuaded to read a book. The reviewing strategies for this reader can still be varied, but the central goal of the role will be judgment. Frankly, this doesn't interest me as a primary task.
2. Readers who have already read the book
Writing for readers who have read the book opens up a whole range of discussion possibilities. You can mostly eliminate the tedious task of summary and judgment. You can delve deeply into the content and form. You can ask questions and start a discussion (reviews of books most readers haven't read don't tend to generate many comments).
3. Readers who like to read reviews
These folks might fall into the other categories as well, but I do think there is a subset of people who enjoy book talk. They like hearing interesting ideas and particular readings. Their interest might not be so much in the book under discussion but the discussion itself.
Some reviewers write with the author in mind and consider the review space as a kind of instruction. What does the writer do well and what do they need to work on?
5. Review Copies
Book bloggers love review copies and writing positive reviews is a good way to get on that train.
6. Writing to History
This is more the purview of academics, but some reviews function to place a work in social-historical-artistic context.
Writing a review of a book can catalyze thinking that doesn't necessarily happen in the process of just reading the book. It can serve as memory, just capturing thoughts, and it can serve as a kind of crucible, in which your thoughts about the books are crystallized. It can also be a space of discovery, of engagement with the book that leads you to places you wouldn't have reached otherwise.
The more I think about it, the more I think Groups 2 and 7 interest me the most. I'm not exactly sure what that means at this point, but I think it means something for my future reviewing.
Have I missed an audience segment here? Do you think about who you review for? Do you think about how who you review for informs the kind of books you read and the kind of reviewing you do?