While listening to NPR in the car this week, I heard some reviewers talking about including critical, even scathing reviews among their glowing ones to remain believable and trustworthy by steering folks both toward and away from new books.
The debate was lively, and it set me to thinking. It made me realize that our book reviews at Inklings are generally about books we like. We do occasionally review a book we are either ambivalent or downright critical of, but since we are mere mortals, our time must be used concentrating on the ones we feel are worthwhile, not just for us but for our customers. I like to think that I’m getting better at knowing from the get-go whether a book is worthy of my time.
Nancy Pearl, my Seattle librarian-mentor-friend, even has a formula for how much time and effort to invest in a book. She calls it The Rule of Fifty: If you’re 50 years old or younger, give every book about 50 pages before you decide to commit yourself to reading it, or give it up.
If you’re older than 50, which is when time gets shorter, subtract your age from 100; the result is the number of pages you should read before deciding whether or not to quit. If you’re 100 or older, you get to judge the book by its cover, despite the dangers in doing so.
We have a lot of books from which to choose our review material. We are sent review copies in every genre. We gobble them up, but despite the earnest, yet misguided customer question, “Have you read all the books in your store?” we, like you, only have 24 hours at our disposal and some of us may or may not fritter some of that time away with eating, sleeping and “Words with Friends.” So, the answer is no.
Because there are so many books and so little time, we have devised our own, unwritten rules of choosing what we read; you probably have, too. There are blurbs on the back covers from other people you may like and trust. You can leaf through to get an idea of writing style and dialogue. Some of you may wait until a friend has read it until you commit yourself. Some choose a genre, such as mystery or history, and stay safely within the borders of the familiar.
You can see if the protagonist is someone you can relate to and you can search for bad words if you are so inclined. Some of my friends read the last few pages to see if the ending is happy and some don’t get further than the front cover design.
So, now you are wondering what books I don’t like. OK, here are a couple. First, The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I hated that book. There, I’ve said it, and I’ve opened myself up for your appraisal of my character. But let me assure you, I do love animals and the sea. For those of you for whom that book is a favorite, please forgive me. I also thought The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown was a poorly written, overhyped waste of time, and two or three other people in the world agreed completely with me.
Those two titles are several years old. Are you wondering what I’ve read lately that I didn’t care for? Sorry, I can’t recall any. I am definitely over 50. I’m also kind of curious now about which books you’ve hated. Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be gentle.