Most Difficult Books to Review

On one hand, it’s always seemed appealing to review professionally. But on the other, more ominously gnarled hand, that means I would have to review both books I hate and books which take longer than usual to review. I wanted to talk about these a bit, as ironically I end up taking on a few of them quite often, knowing full well that it’s going to take about thirty years to crank out a decent review, if even I can find enough to say for that! Sometimes it’s the opposite case, in that I can find a lot to say and quickly, but I purposefully cancel these words out, for solid reasons.

Anyway, roughly the top four most difficult sorts to review, for me at least, are these:

Disturbing subject, but solid book.

I’m unashamed to say I’m a fan of books which openly showcase madness and the twisted corners of human psyche in a bright and unforgiving light, as well as books with heavy tints of surreal horror. I value them for their potency as art and literature, though obviously I run into books with a lot of controversial subjects this way. These by nature are extremely difficult to review. I don’t necessarily think the grittiness of a book should keep one away from it, especially not if it has something important to say. A great example of a book well worth reading, but tricky to review because of its grim qualities, would be Ryu Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies.

I do have a rather strict review standard that it must be fairly tasteful – if it glorifies realistic violence or promotes hatred or abuse, then I can’t consider it to be literature, and I will say so. Your average “dark” novel doesn’t do this, however, at least not in my experience. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a violent novel and a novel that promotes violence.

Most forms of nonfiction, but especially…

Anything with a political or social bent – I avoid political books, period. Social issues are a fascinating, if frustrating, topic which I honestly love to write about. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to and also to avoid controversy. Apparently.

Knock on wood, literally the only review so far I have ever had someone else get belligerent about was on a feminist book. Yes, a rather bland, neutral review on a so-so book is enough to garner that sort of intolerance – imagine if I had actually written a good review…

Regardless. I like feminist books and books on social issues, if they have good points and are fair. Still, reviewing them is tough even without having to worry about some unwarranted backlash on a small opinion, so I tend not to.

Contemporary fiction and short stories

I… just don’t have a vocabulary built to review contemporary fiction, unless it’s angsty, artsy or everyone in it is a psychopath. My reviewing style is definitely designed more for other genres. I can review light contemporary reads, I just don’t think it sounds very fitting in my voice.

Short stories are just complicated and awful to review – fantastic to read, though. A lot of collections I’ve read have drastically varying types of stories or themes, which in itself does not lend to an even review. I will usually do a “best of” or piece-by-piece review rather than a combined review like you normally would do for a novel, as it is almost always impossible to review a collection that way and capture its essence. They tend to be, ironically, both less and more complex than a novel, and not to mention most short stories rely on subtlety and heavy metaphor to get meaning across in a brief span.

-S. M., April 2018

You can find my reviews and other novelties here on Blood Red Velvet.

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