I ran into a question yesterday I hadn’t thought about before. Not one of those big, meaning of life or the universe type questions. Rather it was one related to this blog and the books I review. I was asked how I chose the books I review and came with an attachment of an e-book the person had written that it was hoped I would review.
Free books to a bibliophile are kind of like a Starbucks card for a coffee lover (hint-hint!). But no matter how quickly I read or how many books I read, the old axiom on one of my favorite t-shirts is becoming ever truer: So many books…so little time. So I thought it might not hurt to share, as best as I’ve figured it out, how I choose books to review:
1. First of all, I like to choose! Most of the books I read are ones I’ve chosen. Even those which are free review copies are ones I’ve chosen to request. I don’t tend to like the idea of reading books others think I “should” read, unless I would have chosen them anyway.
2. I choose books to read for the same reasons most readers do: they are by an author, or on a topic, or tell a story I think I would be interested in and think I will like. Friends recommendations help, particularly if I perceive our interests match up well or they’ve made good recommendations in the past.
3. Similarly, I want to review books I like. I respect the work a writer puts into researching and writing a book. It is a laborious process whether done well or badly by someone who aspires to this work. While I will give my opinions and sometimes critiques of works I read, I want, on balance to affirm the writer’s effort and help connect that effort to readers who will appreciate it.
4. Requesting and receiving review copies of books also means being strategic about reading choices because publishers and authors like reviews in a timely manner, ideally close to the publication date of the book. So when I have a queue of several of these books, I feel obligated to read those and not others.
5. On occasion, I will review the works of personal friends (real personal friends, not simply those who are virtual friends on social media). I will do this if I’m genuinely interested in their book and think I can give a review that will help them.
6. There are several things that tend to drive my choices of books: my interest in thoughtful or even scholarly works exploring the intersection of Christian faith, culture, and higher education, the arena in which I work; a love for science, contemporary issues, history, biographies of those in public life, science, and industry; and a love for well-written, thoughtful fiction, which can include literary fiction, science fiction, mysteries or even spy thrillers.
7. Here’s some suggestions of what I won’t choose: “inspirational” Christian fiction or non-fiction, motivational books, works that trade on “conspiracy theories”, and work that uses excessive violence and/or excessive and graphic descriptions of sexuality as a substitute for a good narrative. This is not a judgment on either the writers or readers of these works but simply what I’m not interested in.
I realize authors really do need others to talk about their books in this internet driven age of book publicity. I want to do that as someone who thinks reading can be life enriching and perspective-enlarging. But of all the books out there, I will probably, in a good year, get to about 120 of them, most which I’ve chosen because of personal interest. If you want to send me something, I really appreciate the thought but honestly won’t hold out hope that I will read it unless it’s one of those serendipitous moments where your work and my interests and perception of the book’s worth magically line up. I hope you won’t take it personally if I don’t. It is simply a case of “so many books…so little time.”
I’d be curious how other reviewers deal with this question?