Here are some interesting links I came across this week and “deep thoughts” that some of them evoked from me.
Books vs Kindle — The Ultimate Showdown
You know how much I love my Kindle, but so many of us have trouble letting go of our beloved books. If you want a good laugh, check out this post over at Bookgasm that pits good old-fashioned books against the Kindle. The post is quite tongue-in-cheek, and it gave me a good chuckle. Let’s just say, if you are fighting off zombies, books are the winner. But if you are moving up to the top of third-floor apartment, the Kindle wins hands down.
Lookalike Book Covers
If you are not familiar with Avisannschild’s excellent series on Lookalike Book Covers over at She Reads and Reads, allow me to link to some of them here. I thoroughly enjoy these posts of hers, and I am amazed at how many similar books covers she has uncovered. Here are just a few of the links, but you can just visit her blog and click on the “Similar Covers” label to see all the lookalike posts.
What Makes A Book A Classic
Rebecca over at I’m Lost In Books had an interesting post about what makes a book a classic. Some of her questions were:
- Is it how old the book is? Then how old should it be?
- Is it the style in which it was written?
- Should the author no longer be living?
- Should the book evoke a certain response from its readers? What kind of response?
- Should it teach a lesson?
- Should it simply be books that we were supposed to read in high school and college?
There is a wonderful discussion in the comments section on this topic, and I wanted to ponder it here for a little bit myself as I wanted to figure out what I thought about this in more depth.
Is it how old the book is?
My first thought is that “classic” equals “old.” But what I think this really means is that the book has been read and reread for a period of time, and each generation of readers is still finding something to gain from that book. But then what about the “modern” classic? I think the Harry Potter series is destined to be a classic, but can we make that judgement now, or do we have to wait 50 years and see if it is still being read?
Is it the writing style?
I don’t think it matters really. There are classics that are poetry, adventure stories, novellas, long novels, plays. The style doesn’t seem to matter, but the quality of the writing does, and the story itself must be strong enough that we still want to hear it again and again and again.
Should the book evoke a certain response from its readers?
I think a classic does have to evoke a strong response from readers — either positive or negative. I don’t think generations of readers will still be reading a book if it is just so-so or doesn’t make you think. It could be a type of writing style that has never been done, a story that is shocking, the first “type” of story of its kind, or simply good writing. If people are still talking about a book 100 years after it was written, there MUST be some kind of response it is evoking from readers.
Should it teach a lesson?
I don’t think this is a requirement for a classic. I think a compelling story is — and you usually learn something from a compelling story.
Should it simply be books that we were supposed to read in high school and college?
Absolutely not. How often have you read some of those “classics you must read” lists and thought “Why is that on the list?” But, then again, if someone thinks it is important enough to be read and discussed, maybe it should be. But I certainly don’t think that is the only requirement.
So, I guess for me, a classic would be writing that stands the test of time and has a compelling story to tell in a unique way and that evokes a response from generations of readers.
Book Reviewing — The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
There have been several thought-provoking posts about book reviews lately. Here are two that I enjoyed reading and that have a TON of discussion going on in the comments section. The first one at My Friend Amy asks what type of American Idol judge are you when it comes to book reviewing? Are you a Randy, a Paula or a Simon? I love this analogy and subsequent discussion. Over at Hey Lady! Watcha’ Readin’?, Trish discusses “when do negative reviews go too far?” After reading both of these posts and the lively comments, I was compelled to think about this topic myself.
First, I do think I treat books I buy myself and books I get for free differently. Now, I’m not saying that I’m not honest, but I do think I owe a more “professional” type review to the books that I’ve gotten for free. I tend to spend more time on these reviews, and I will try to be as thorough and fair-minded as possible — without compromising my own thoughts. I feel I “owe” that to whoever sent me the book. If I buy the book myself, I feel a bit more free in my review.
Second, I will always try to be honest but without resorting to negativity. Unless I find a book to be completely unreadable, I can usually find something to like about a book (the Paula side of me). But I will mention if I had a problem with a book or if it didn’t “do it” for me. But I think it is important to remember that not everyone has the same taste in books so I do try to think “OK. I didn’t really love this but what type of reader might enjoy or find this book useful?”
Third, I finally settled on a structure for my reviews that I hope works for both me and for you. I start with an overview to give you an idea of what the book is about — often, just a story line might make you think “I want to read that!” and I think I owe it to you to tell you the basic gist of the book without spoiling anything. Then I like to share my thoughts — what I liked, what I didn’t like, what I felt about the writing, whether this was “my” type of genre. Then I like to have a short “bottom line” where I share who I think might like this book and mention anything that might be a red flag for certain readers.
Fourth, I’ve shied away from using a rating system because I think a shorthand rating system is very hard to accept when it is just one person writing. My “five star” book might only be a “three star” book to you and vice versa. I think “star” rating systems works when you have a bunch of people rating the same book and you can get a general idea of what lots of people think about a book. For example, if a book has an average rating of two stars on Amazon based on 55 reviews, I’m probably going to skip that book. But if only one person gave it two stars and there were no other ratings, what does that tell me? Nothing helpful. For example, I gave The Kite Runner three stars. To me, this doesn’t mean it was a bad or even an average book. It just means I didn’t adore it, love it, crave it, want to stay up all night reading it. I’m glad I read it, but it just wasn’t my favorite book of all time. If all you saw were three stars, I don’t think that would really tell you enough about what I really thought about the book.
Finally, I think over time you might get to know a reviewer and learn if you like the same books they do and whether you can “trust” them when they say something is good or something is bad. If I rave about a book and you love it, you might trust me the next time I rave about a book. I used to read a certain movie reviewer (back when I went to the movies all the time) and I used to love movies he hated. He became a good barometer of what I might choose to see — if he hated it, chances are I was going to go! More than anything, I think book bloggers can expose you to books you might not have heard of, give you some ideas of books to read, engage you in a lively discussion and possibly steer you toward or away from a book. Personally, I like reading dissenting opinions about books. I had some problems with Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed, but many people LOVED this book. I enjoy finding out what others think about books I feel strongly about; it often gives me a much fuller perspective or give me something to think about that I might not have thought of on my own. I think all readers owe it to themselves to find out what they think rather than just accepting what others think.
Oh, and one last thing, I always stay away from reading reviews before I write my own reviews. I want to give my honest, unfiltered thoughts and opinions without being affected by what others have written. But, as soon as I am done writing my review, I love reading other reviews (often thinking “Damn. She said that so eloquently. I wish I’d phrased it that way.) If I’m on the fence about a book, sometimes reading reviews will actually help me “make up my mind” about how I felt. Plus, reading reviews often offers validation to my own thoughts.
Whew! Sorry this was so long, but I guess I had a lot to say!