Tuesday, June 16, 2020

On Reviewing Light bulbs, Novels, and Other Ways Word Travels

The reviewing of books is a strange endeavor. Most any writing-related magazine is nearly always accepting book reviews; many even offer books to be reviewed. For example, I've noticed that Necessary Fiction has had Hezada! available for review since winter 2019, and has yet to be picked up while more books are added to the free inventory. Publishers give away print and/or electronic copies of books to anyone who asks for a copy to review. 

Whole publications or newspaper sections dedicate themselves to the book review, whether that's Kirkus Reviews or the Book Review sections of Chicago Tribune or New York Times. With the ever-increasing population of self-published books, marketers encourage those writers to pay for reviews, which is not the custom but shows the important link between reviews and purchasing. 

Some presses encourage their writers to review books as a way to increase the odds that their own book is reviewed. A kind of Review Exchange.

In thinking generally about reviews, I've realized that I'm far more prone to review a box of light bulbs I've ordered than a book I've loved. 

Black Skin, White Masks

For example, I recently finished reading Franz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks, which I found to be excellent. Excellent. It's the sort of book that justifies living in the time you're waiting for a good book to appear. Much of my worldview has been altered by reading the book, and I've started connecting many of Fanon's ideas to my experiences and other readings. I know I'll read the book multiple more times, in addition to many of the books that Fanon references that I've yet to explore. I mean, it's a foundational book. He explores colonized and colonizer's thinking and the way in which colonization leads to a shared cultural viewpoint through the lens of the colonizer. He grew up in Martinique and discusses the black man's consciousness, identity, and being and how it is not allowed to exist/or function normally within the neurotic society that holds the white man's consciousness as not only superior but also as the end-all-be-all. I mean, there's SO SO much more to the book than this; a summary is like trying to contain an ocean inside a pebble. 

I was never assigned to read Black Skin, White Masks during the six years of studying literature at the undergrad and graduate levels. But why not? It was published in the 1950s, so all my professors would have known about it. It's the sort of book that I should have been assigned to read multiple times--I had to read Great Gatsby at least three times: in high-school, undergrad, and grad school. Not that Fitzgerald and Fanon are equivalent in their focus or depth, but I mean, Fanon is by far a more important writer to read, study, and know. No question.  

But have I reviewed Black Skin, White Masks on Amazon? 
On Goodreads?
Until this moment, had I taken the time to write about it here?
Did it even occur to me?
I think in passing, and in passing, I thought, Fanon? How could someone review Fanon for Christ's sake? I mean. It's akin to reviewing Aristotle. Who does that? 
But the book was all that I've said and far more, so shouldn't I review it so that it appears on other readers' book-radar? 

And yet, I had no difficulty or hesitation in reviewing the string lights I bought for my child's Halloween costume. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

String lights

Or the package of comfortable underwear: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
An umbrella that looks like an owl: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The clay earrings off Etsy that arrived yesterday ⭐⭐⭐⭐  

Sun/moon earrings: 

And the vintage teapot that is on its way? No doubt if it was as described, arrives in a timely manner, and boils water: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

But why do I have an easier time reviewing a assorted box of Clif bars ⭐⭐⭐⭐ than Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts? (Yes, you should read it and thereby shift your worldview on cis/trans/straight/gay relationships and cultural expectations/past/present/future--amid perfect, right and poetic language). 

I've no idea. Certainly, The Argonauts is more sustaining, surprising, and useful to my life than eight Clif Bars. Even the cover is better than the Clif Bar packaging.

Perhaps objects are easier because we buy them to solve a particular problem and, in the purchase, hope that the object does not break. 

I'll think more on this.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

If you've read Hezada! I Miss You or any book recently that you think other readers should try, then please do. 

Here are some good questions that you could answer, and if you answer the questions, you have a review! Even one answer = a fast, useful review.
  1. What was your experience like in reading the book?
  2. Did you find yourself a slightly (or more) different person by the end?
  3. What other books or movies do you think this book compares to and why?
  4. Will you read this book again and/or will you think back to this book?
  5. What was your favorite part (or a direct passage) from the book and why?
  6. Did the book set out to answer/address/meditate on a particular problem/subject/thought, and in the end did it do what it set out to do?
  7. If you are a reader of reviews, did you find the book to meet the expectations the reviews promised, or did it exceed those, or did you think there were 1-2 aspects of the book that were not covered and/or were undersung that you'd like to address now?
  • Nothing fancy required. 
  • A one-sentence review is better than no review. 
  • Even one word is awesome (if you can find that perfect word). 
Most all readers likely know where to leave reviews, but here are a few easy places:
😄 Goodreads 
📚 Amazon 
😄 Your personal Facebook page (or other social media--even a picture of the cover by your coffee is a kind of review)

And if you're just not one to review anything, whether that's light bulbs, music albums, or novels, then no worries. I grew up watching my mother send and receive books from her mother and brother and sister. Once one family member finished the book, the book was wrapped in brown paper and mailed to the next family member on the address loop. 

Send Hezada! through the post office

🎁  Give your copy of Hezada! to a relative or friend. You can ask on Facebook who would like you to gift you a copy. Or maybe you take part in those Buy Nothing groups. Offer it up there.
🕮  Ask your librarian to purchase Hezada! for your library;
🏠  Donate your copy of Hezada! to the Little Free Library in your neighborhood;
📬  Mail your copy to a faraway friend; Lord knows this is the best time to support the United States Post Office.

Whatever length of review you leave, for whatever book you leave it, use the time and space for the books you found worth reading and that you think others will, too. At least, those are the books I want to read. After all, books aren't light bulbs. 

Except for the best ones. 

And those never go out.