Reviewing books is a strange occupation. If I’m going to buy a book, I’ll often read a couple of reviews first (unless I’m doing my brand-loyalty thing and buying whatever some familiar author’s just released). Even if I’m looking out for a detective novel for my dad in the charity shops, I’ll check out amazon for customer reviews, and if I turn against the book for the very reason the reviewer recommends it, it’s still been helpful.
So reviewing books lets me give something back. It also lets me, as an opinionated windbag, share my considered views with the world. But it makes me read in a different way: not only do I have to persevere to the end if I hate a book I have to review, but I also need to analyse my gut feelings. It’s not enough that a book left me breathless with joy or foaming at the mouth, I have to put into words why it did so, and how likely it is to have the same effect on other people. I read with a notebook to hand, looking for clues to my reactions and jotting them down.
For a writer it’s a useful process: it makes me think more directly about what works, how writing affects the reader, how best to convey an idea or what pitfalls to avoid, but it also tests my communication skills. If I can’t get across, briefly and clearly, my views on a real book I’ve just read, how can I expect to share the visions in my head in any successful way?
There’s another review up now at SFReader if you want to see how I’m doing.