Why I Write Book Reviews

Writing book reviews grew out of my desire to create a blog.  I wanted a web presence to accompany the publication of my books.  In the beginning I wasn’t sure exactly what I would write about, though I had a general idea when I subtitled the blog “thoughts on writing, travel, and literature”.  Literature and reading is such an integral part of me that I could hardly ignore it.  I decided to post a review of every book I read.  It was partly a reaction to reading “The Books in My Life” by Henry Miller.  I don’t think that volume is one of his better works, but that’s not the point.  Reading was such a profoundly important part of his life that he decided to devote a series of books to it.  He never got past volume one; other things caught his attention and he moved on.  I wonder, though, what he would have done had he had the option of starting a blog.  He had said once he would be content with one true reader.  He might have avidly taken to blogging as a free means of expression.  Be that as it may, my own blog evolved from being merely an accompaniment to the publication of my books to a means of expression in its own right.  It reflects me and what I am going through.  It is not always current, as sometimes I have the posts prepared a few weeks ahead of time, but it is a general indicator of my psychic temperature.  And because I cannot imagine a life without books, book reviews are an essential part of radiating who and what I am.

Since I am always reading books, I am always on the lookout for good reading material.  I find my books in many ways.  I follow up on recommendations of people whose opinions I trust; I peruse awards lists; I write down titles when I come across references in odd places.  I do not go by popularity; I am not interested in bestseller lists.  I have my own ideas of what turns me on, and I don’t give a damn whether it interests anyone else or not.  But another good source of ideas for books are books about books.  Once when I was a young teen I came across a book called “One Hundred Great American Novels”, which was a compilation of synopses of books which, in the author’s opinion, constituted the germinal works of American literature.  It was a fascinating read, and from it I gleaned ideas for reading matter for many months to follow.  Among the books I heard about for the first time were “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, and “Jurgen” by James Branch Cabell, both of which became some of my favorites.  So though my primary purpose in writing book reviews is self expression, I hope that through these reviews you find your path to new worlds of reading adventure.

Reading, after all, is a voyage of discovery.  And though a true reader wants the freedom to discover new worlds without restriction, a map with a few landmarks is a useful tool to help save time.  All I can do is point out paths I have followed and what those paths meant to me.  They may not mean the same to you.  Some books I found crucial to my growth you may find boring.  Some books I found tedious you may find wonderful.  That’s as it should be.  We grow in different ways and in different directions.

As with my other books, in my book reviews I write what I would like to read.  I appreciate a good book review, but I do not at all like tedious reviews written for academic audiences, reviews written in highfalutin prose for a select few.  They bore me, those pompous exercises in pseudo-literary pretention.  In contrast, my reviews are as much about me as they are about the books.  I often let you know how I came across the book, and any background that makes the book particularly relevant to me.  That’s part of the experience, as far as I am concerned.  There is no absolutely objective criteria by which to judge books.  The experience does not takes place in isolation.  There is a relationship involved between writer and reader.

The book reviews, in fact, are the most popular articles in my blog.  They get more hits than all the other articles put together.  Of course, many of those who access the reviews probably do so because they need something to paraphrase for a school composition project.  That’s all right with me.  Although I wish those lazy bums would read the books instead.  I don’t mind them drawing from my ideas, but I do object to using them as a substitute for the wonderful activity of reading itself.  Nothing I can do about that, so I might as well not waste time lamenting over the possibility.

Really, though, I write these reviews to inspire you to read, not to keep you from having to do so.  If you don’t read it’s your loss.  You are closing your mind to an integral facet of existence, an entire dimension of experience.  Who would be content to close their eyes, plug their nose, jamb their fingers in their ears?  Open up, folks.  Allow yourselves to encounter the minds of those who have devoted themselves to communicating with you.  Not all reading material is worthwhile.  There’s a lot of crap out there.  But reviews are one way to fine-tune your discernment, to ensure that your reading experience is time well spent.

Having said that, I have to reiterate that these reviews really are more about me than they are about the books.  I come to the books from my perspective.  Every book I assimilate becomes a part of the totality that is me, John Walters, the writer, reader, traveler, seeker of truth.  By the time I have absorbed the book and the words come back out in the form of a review, they are hopelessly colored by everything that I have been and am.  This is what you must understand and allow as you read the reviews.  If you read the books themselves they will not affect you the same way they affected me.  We may agree on certain points, but the relationship you have with the author is not the same as mine.  This is a good thing.  We are each microcosms in the great vastness of the overall universe, and writing and reading is one way we have of closing the gap.

I’m a professional writer; I make my living by my words.  I’m happy to share these essays with you, but at the same time, financial support makes the words possible.  If you’d like to become a patron of the arts and support my work, buy a few of my available books or available stories.  Thanks!

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