Voracious reader and DPhil candidate blogs about books and scholarly life.
Most of the novels I read for review are given to me with a pretty straightforward idea in mind: the novel will be published soon, please read it and publish a review somewhere close to the release date so that people will hear about the book, become curious and start thinking about buying it. Even negative reviews can have this effect: if, for instance, I write that I didn’t like a book because it was written in the style of another author I really dislike, a fan of said author may be very happy to see this similarity pointed out.
A few weeks ago, though, something entirely different happened. I had been given a book to review, as usual. I really liked the premises on which the book was written: something with Tolkien not having included enough women in his works (not one, in fact, in The Hobbit) and this book wanting to set things straight. I can’t really say more about the contents, unfortunately, as I promised the publisher not to reveal the name of the author or the title of the book.
So the publisher had sent me this book, and I excitedly started reading. Soon, however, the reading began to feel dutiful rather than exciting: though the premise of the book was indeed enticing, the book itself was chaotically written and the various interweaving storylines were extremely hard to follow. Still, I never abandon a book I have been given to review, so I read on.
When I was about two-thirds through the book, I received an e-mail from the publisher. Now here was something interesting: the publisher wanted my thoughts now already, no matter how much of the book I had or hadn’t read so far. First impressions, opinions, everything was welcome. This is something I’ve never experienced before, and I was quite confused as to the reason why this would be asked of me. Still, as the publisher had explicitly asked for it, based on my reading experience of two-thirds of the book, I typed up a review and sent it back.
The explanation for this strange request followed soon enough. Simply put, the publisher explained, they shared my opinion that the book’s premises were great, but that it was written in a very confusing manner. The reviewing process had been a test case to see if other people shared their opinion, and it turned out that many reviewers brought the same problems to light. Therefore, the publishers had decided not to publish this particular book yet and to send it back for re-writing.
In short, this book is going to be written based on what I thought of it! Well, I must say, this is one event I had never foreseen when I started out as a reviewer. Reviewing, in my view, is a way of informing the public of what is happening – not necessarily of influencing the happening itself! However, of course I am flattered and honoured to see to what an extent my opinion counts and is listened to. And in its own way, this process is part of what a reviewer intends to achieve: to make the reader experience as great as possible. Whether that is through pointing out which books to read or through changing the book itself, either way I hope many people will benefit from it.