Choosing a Book to Review
By Mary-Lynne Monroe
What kinds of books do you look for when you go into a bookstore? What section or sections attract you? What sections do you avoid? Are you an avid cookbook reader? Do you prefer the adult coloring book section or books about nature? What genres do you enjoy reading? Do you favor one over others? Or are there several from which you generally choose? Are you picky about authors? Are there certain genres you would not ever want to read?
One of the most enjoyable things about being a book reviewer is the opportunity to dance from one genre to another to a third and back again. According to one Wikipedia page, the classic major genres are Fiction, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Non-fiction, Realistic fiction, Romance, Satire, Tragedy, and Tragicomedy.1 The California Department of Education, on the other hand, divides it into All Fiction (including among others: Drama, Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Folklore, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mythology, Science Fiction, and Short Story) and All Nonfiction (including: Biography, Essay, and Narrative Nonfiction).2 There is no consensus as to the list of categories. If you go into your local bookstore, they will have created their own sections. Even those divisions differ from bookstore to bookstore, unless it is a chain. Many sections align roughly with the genres established by the Library of Congress, of which, as of May 2015, there are 125.3
Looking at my personal library, my reading preferences fall generally into the areas of spirituality, young adult fiction, fantasy, biography, and women’s history. Of course, some of my books are outliers simply because I am a reading fanatic. As a book reviewer, I am willing to flex my mental muscles and broaden my reading genre horizons. When the list of choices of books to review arrives, I make my choices by first looking through it and checking out the genre divisions in which my personal choices would lie. On my first pass through, I may see a book title or author or topic that intrigues me and I list it as one of my choices. Every now and again, my search ends after this perusal.
Sometimes I have already read all the books of interest in my preferred sections. Sometimes none of the titles or authors snag my attention. At those times, I expand my search. I go back to the beginning of the list and skim the titles, author names and publishers. One book or another always jumps out at me. Sometimes it is the title that intrigues me and I go to amazon.com to check more closely for details. Even though I am on the amazon.com site, I never read someone else’s review. I do not want to know what another reviewer sees or thinks. I am wary of its influence on my review whether for good or ill. What I do look for is the nutshell description of the book. Its storyline. Its focus. If it captures my imagination, if it draws me in, if it amuses me, I put it on my list as well. Making choices that way can also lift me out of my regular patterns.
A pleasant consequence of being a book reviewer has been having the opportunity to explore books written in genres that are new to me. Some of them have been wonderful, others have been more of a challenge. I have also discovered new authors, some of which are new enough to be self-published or small press published. Again, they have ranged from wonderful to challenging. Of dozens of books I have reviewed over the past three plus years, I have only experienced two about which I felt compelled to write a less than positive review.
Clearly one of my favorite components of reviewing is having choice. It is a pleasurable adventure to open myself to new authors, new publishing houses, and especially, new genres. I look forward to the list arriving each month and plan to expand my choices further in the coming year.