How to write about reading

I’ve been giving some thought to this. Part of my 2015 challenge is to write about every book I read. I read many book reviews; sometimes I think I like reading about books almost as much as reading the books themselves.

The reviews I read often make me feel inadequate as they throw around language such as central themes, literary terms, subtexts, framing, substance over style, and meta fiction. So I don’t think I can do that.

The other dilemma I have is that it is difficult to criticise South African novels in South Africa. Perhaps because the writerly community is quite small and fairly active online. Imagine if I’ve connected with someone on Facebook or Twitter and I enjoy some exchanges with them; then I read their book and I don’t really like it? It is a bit awkward.

I will just have to be true to myself and state what I think. I also think that whether I like or dislike a book is almost immaterial. It has little bearing on the ultimate value of a book. It is subjective and has a lot to do with one’s mood at the time, what is going on in one’s life, what one expects of the book and the other books to which it is being compared.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt springs to mind. I read a very interesting article comparing the reading of The Goldfinch to the reading of novels by Henry James ( I loved The Goldfinch yet many critics slated it. I loved the premise; the stolen painting and how it dominated Theo’s life, the antique furniture shop and how he was drawn to it, his unease in the rich family with a bi-polar father and Andy, the awkward friend, his friendship with Boris and so on. I was drawn into Theo’s constant reflections on his life which were counterpointed by occasional perspectives on Theo by other characters. This showed that Theo’s version of himself was a bit like having the wool pulled over one’s eyes. Yes, it was a bit too long and baggy but it didn’t take that long to read. Yes, the sermonising about art at the end didn’t really suit the style of the book. I enjoyed it enough to be forgiving of those things.

Funnily, it didn’t even cross my mind that it would be pigeonholed as YA. Nor would it have crossed my mind to compare it to Henry James. Different leagues. I have totally different expectations from a Deon Meyer novel than I have from Dostoevsky though ostensibly both write about crime.

Therefore I will write very simply about the aspects of the novels that I do and don’t like with an awareness of the subjectivity of my opinion. Let’s see how that goes.

5 thoughts on “How to write about reading

  1. I stumbled upon a post about this blog on my Twitter timeline. I followed the link in the tweet, came here and read all the posts.

    I enjoyed all of them. I’m even surprised that reading book reviews makes you feel inadequate.

    I found that confession (if may call it) interesting, and one that I can relate to.

    I always find it encouraging (to me)when someone who seems–in my opinion at least–particularly good at something (such as what you’re doing on this blog) shares with me the same feeling of inadequacy when they read other people’s work.

    It’s a great feeling to know that you’re not alone in your situation, to know that your feeling of inadequacy is perfectly normal.

    I love writing (at least that’s what I think whenever I read an enjoyable piece of writing) but I always find my writing to be “not so good”.

    Anyway, I also plan to write a lot this year (including about books that may read) and I’m sure I’ll use your blog as a source of inspiration.


  2. In addition to my previous comment, I think anyone who wishes to write about a book they read should write about their feelings on (or their reaction to) the book with without ever feeling intimidated by the language, style, depth etc found in other reviews, unless, of course, one is writing for a certain publication that requires adherence to certain guidelines.

    There’s so much that can be written about any book. Book reviews, reactions and discussions enlighten readers, aid their understanding and improve their enjoyment of the book.

    Therefore, diversity in how people write about reading can only make it better.

    I wish I had the authority to tell you not to feel inadequate about your writing about your reading….


    1. Thanks again. I suppose i also fear being ‘wrong’, too judgemental ot conversely not critical enough. Thats why i wanted to state that what i write about books is my opinion which is subjective.


  3. You’re welcome. I understand your fears. Regarding objectivity vs subjectivity, I doubt if “true” objectivity really exists when it comes to literature review. I think by nature we tend to be inevitably subjective, which is perfectly alright with me.

    Liked by 1 person

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