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Random Thoughts: A Hard Act to Follow

Having recently been thinking about the fact that there are many things that can influence the way a review is written, I realized there was one other sway factor that I didn’t mention – another book. This may, in fact, be one of the most challenging things to overcome when writing a review.

When you’ve read a book that you’ve made a strong connection with, where you felt the writing was poetic, the plot was gripping, the characters were unique and it became just one of those stories for you, moving on to another book and beginning a new journey with different characters sometimes isn’t easy. Sometimes it takes time to be able to move from one story to the next, to let go of the connection you’ve had with that first story before diving into the next one.

Sometimes moving on feels nearly impossible.

But as reviewers we have schedules to keep, other books to read, and we don’t always have the luxury of taking the time to “recover” from one book before we begin another. And we don’t always have the luxury of choosing our next read, one that might better help us transition from the previous book to the current one in a genre that is so completely different that few comparisons can be made.

So, as we approach that next book on the pile, we have to try and mentally regroup and not let those feelings about the previous book sway our views of the current read. Each book is different and should be judged for what it’s offering, not as compared to what another has to offer.

If that were how all reviews were written – using the classics as the benchmark – it would be an insurmountable obstacle to any reviewer’s job.

As difficult as it is, we need to set aside our feelings for what we’ve just read, pick up that next book from the pile, and look at it as if we hadn’t just read something that blew our minds.

This is not to say that no comparisons should ever be made between similar books. As we look at books across a genre it is often helpful to see how each book stacks up as compared to another. With so many choices out there, knowing the reviewer prefers one book over another can be very helpful in how we as readers choose that next book to devour.

But at the same time, saying that one book isn’t good only because it’s not as good as another isn’t giving that book a fair shake. We shouldn’t let our judgment be clouded by an incredible connection we had to one story simply because we haven’t made that same connection to the next. We shouldn’t approach the book with a feeling of disappointment because it’s not that other book.

If we find it impossible to look at the current read without making comparisons to the last, we should ask ourselves the question, “If I hadn’t read the previous book, what would I think about the current book?”

As a reviewer, I believe that every book should be looked at on its own. I try not to make comparisons in writing styles, characters and plot – unless the similarities are to difficult to ignore. While I have personal favorites, that is all they are, personal favorites. One person’s top ten book isn’t always another’s. So as I write my reviews I look at each story for its merits and not what it may or may not be lacking as compared my top favorites.

Not every book will hit all those points that make us fall in love. We won’t form a bond with every character we meet, but a well-developed and well-written story with interesting characters with incredibly unique personalities shouldn’t have points taken away simply because we haven’t made a love connection.

Reviews are subjective. But we must recognize that other readers will be reading our reviews, and they won’t always get the same feeling we do about a book – we are all different, after all. So, when we write a review we should keep that in mind and give enough of a critique that will be helpful to readers that might just not share the same passion for or emotional connection to the story.

Besides, starting any review with, “Well, I loved it, but it was no BOOK X,” will immediately tell readers that the review is biased in some way. And if the reader of the review didn’t like Book X or hasn’t read it, then they may not bother continuing to read the review.

Being the next book on the pile to follow the read and review of a book that is so phenomenal that it leaves all other books in the dust is never an enviable position to be in, but it’s unavoidable. But reading wouldn’t nearly be as enjoyable if not for those “hard acts” or mind-blowing reads.

And if anyone said reviewing books was easy, I’d certainly love to meet them, because in my experience, it has been quite the challenge. Well worth it, but definitely challenging.

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