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 ( http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/henry-james-great-ya-debate). 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.