Writing Book Reviews
“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” Mark Twain
I love books. I read like it's my job.
I like the old-fashioned paper and ink kind of books in part because I spend most of my day staring at a computer screen. I enjoy a change in texture and jumping off a screen is good for my psyche.
That said, my "book love" does not mean I like all books, but generally I can find redemption in the pages of most things I read.
I cast a wide net of what I consume, and, as you might expect, this means compartmentalizing my evaluations accordingly.
For instance, I think Patrick Lencioni is an insightful and articulate business writer. I've learned valuable lessons from all of his books. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Getting Naked, Death by Meeting are my favorites. Lencioni usually structures his writing in a story format. The books highlight clear principles and the structure generally works.
That said, I grit my teeth through the dialog he writes between his characters. The back and forth is usually pretty cheesy.
So, when I recommend his books, I do so with just a touch of hesitation. I hedge and remind people, "you're not getting witty character repartee, but BUSINESS insights, so adjust your expectations accordingly."
Yikes. I hate being critical in print, but there you have it: an opinion.
This year I'll have lots of opinions since my reading goal is to average a book a week. While I've had this goal previously, I've never written about the adventure (and it DOES feel like an adventure). This time I thought I'd bring you along for the trip and write about what I'm reading.
There are a few biases I bring to every book I consume, so I offer these as disclaimers to help you decide if my tastes will align with yours. For instance writers get bonus points for...
I enjoy words and how they appear on a page. I am a sucker for great fonts, clear typeface, tricks which make reading easier OR more engaging. I like language which trips across my tongue. Mostly, I like it when I think, "I wish I had written that!" This means Michael Chabon, Anne Lamott, EB White and Markus Zakus get high marks just for showing up.
I appreciate anyone, even with non-lyrical language, who make me say, "hmmmm." Billy reports I make this sound when I'm reading Cook's Illustrated or Tim Keller. Both the magazine and writer routinely help me see things I hadn't previously thought through. Tim Keller gets style points as well, but many other writers in this category are simply putting language around new insights. The business or philosophy books I enjoy fall into this category.
If you make me laugh, I'm going to like your book. If this isn't a universal truth, it should be.
Of course, if an author's style is weak, the thinking flawed, or the humor not good, you could lose points. This mental scoring of mine is somewhat arbitrary and arguably capricious, but that's what makes reading fun for me.
Two quick examples; The first is a very popular writer who over uses the word "sardonic" in her novels. In one novel she used it five times. You can't use a big boy word like "sardonic" which most people would have to look up more than once (or twice) in a novel; it's showing off. I have read four of her books, and she does this in every novel. It drives me to distraction.
I won't tell you her name, because if you haven't noticed it, I don't want to ruin your love of this writer. (Though how could you not notice??)
I have a similar reaction when authors overplay their politics. I love, love, LOVE the novel A Prayer For Owen Meany. The storyline and characterizations are absolutely brilliant and the writing is superb. However, John Irving's hatred of Ronald Reagan was over-played and self-indulgent. Even when he makes good points, it's so jarring to the storyline that the narrative takes a hit and now, so many years away from the Reagan era, the novel feels needlessly dated.
So yes, I have biases and filters and sardonic opinions. I'll offer up prefaces during my reviews and let you sort out what you will, but hopefully you'll get a few ideas of things to read.
Tomorrow I'll tell you about my first read of 2015, Amy Poehler's Yes Please.