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Saturday, October 08, 2016

On Reading, Learning, and Writing Reviews

Jean Sexton muses:

I'm pretty eclectic in what I read. According to LibraryThing, I have well over 100 tags or subject headings on my books. It lists my most frequently used book tags as fantasy, science fiction, mystery, RPGs, adventure, and cookbooks. This year I've also read graphic novels, Westerns, and romantic suspense novels and short stories as well as a child's book on astronomy and and a collection of essays on wargaming. Basically, if it sounds interesting, I'll give it a whirl. Doing so keeps my mind engaged and I learn information. I also wanted to read books outside of work-related products.

In 2012, I started participating in some reading challenges. As my life got more straightened out, I moved from reading a book every other week to a book a week, more or less. I moved from just recording my information on LibraryThing to Goodreads with their yearly reading challenge. I started moving from "I read this book and liked this aspect," to writing reviews of the book. If I liked the book, I would suggest categories of people who might like it, too. I think it hearkens back to my librarian days and some of the "reader's guides" sort of books. The ratings I give books are usually high because I choose most of my reading material carefully. Sometimes I get a recommendation and the book doesn't work for me, but that is rare.

A friend read some of my notes on the books and suggested writing "real" reviews so I started posting reviews on Amazon. I started in the four millions on reviewer ranking. Slowly I am working my way up the ranks with a goal of someday being in the top 10,000 reviewers. The hazards of being a proofreader is that if a book is filled with typos (including a correctly spelled, but incorrect word), then I get annoyed at the author for not hiring a competent editor. Nothing gets my goat quicker than to read "You armor isn't on right," or "Here is you bed." Once or twice, I mutter and move on; combine that with more frequent uses and even more errors, and I start growling. In the five years I've been doing this, I've only given up on one book.

My reviews are not designed to retell the story. My philosophy is that the publisher's blurb is enough of a teaser to draw a reader in and the reader doesn't need me to tell the story over again. In fact, I get annoyed at reviews that summarize the book -- let me find out what happens on my own! I try to tell people what I liked about the book (good story, excellent use of language, or interesting characters), what might be cons (typos, graphic sex or violence, or unlikable main characters), and if they need to start at the beginning of a series of books to understand what happens in a later volume.

I've started moving into reviewing other items I purchase on Amazon. After reading reviews that are five-star reviews that read merely "Excellent," I decided I could do better than that. Some of my reviews have moved up to become "featured" reviews, so I think I'm doing something right. True, sometimes I buy esoteric things and my review defaults to featured. Still, I look at other reviews and try to learn from what people with years of experience cover.

So from books to music to videos to everyday items, I am enjoying telling people what I think about them. Since my collections pre-date Amazon, not everything shows up as a "verified purchase" (and sometimes I buy locally so I can put my hands on something to see if it suits me), but I have decided to share my experiences. It's a fun hobby and forces me to summarize my thoughts and feelings. I ponder if I love something, like it, or it is merely okay.

I'd like to urge people to review books and music they like, especially if it is an independent creator on Amazon. It helps the item move up in the list if it is good. If someone has made a mistake and thought he created the Best Book Ever when it desperately needs an editor, then you can let people know. I've seen one author who actually got her Kindle book edited due to feedback, so your opinions are heard.

Now I've spent a while writing this -- time to go forth and write a review!