Saturday, January 1, 2011

Twelve years online. Why review?

2012 is the 12th year that The Compulsive Reader has been in operation. In Internet terms, that's a long time!  So I thought it might be appropriate to explore the question - why.  Why do I do it?  Why review?  Before I hop into it, I thought I might explore why not. There are some good reasons not to write book reviews.  The first is that it's time consuming - I can spend many hours on a single review.  Generally speaking, I don't get paid for it.  The time I spend writing reviews is invariably time taken away from writing other things - such as my next novel, poetry, some other piece of nonfiction (perhaps a paid commission), or time with my kids, working my reasonably well paid day job, etc.  Managing a review website is also time consuming.  Each review is personally edited by me, set up by hand, and hand coded - with images and links sourced, and an overall consistency maintained with each one, regardless of how they are submitted.  I respond personally to every review request (and I get hundreds each month), vetting and distributing them to reviewers where appropriate and of course, I can spend many many hours researching for an interview and conducting them.  So, back to the original question.  Why?  The simplest answer is always the same - love.  The following bullet points explain why I love it:
  • Reviewing a book is like a second, deeper, more interactive reading.   I'll often finish a book - especially a complex one, and not feel like I'm quite finished with it. It isn't until I do a final revisit and analysis where I begin to understand what worked for me, what didn't, and what the ultimate value of the book was for me.  I think back on the many books I read in the years BR (before reviewing), and I can't actually remember some of them.  I remember everything I've reviewed - the characters, the plot, the settings, the voice, the point of view - it's all part of my active memory because of the extra, engagement after the reading.  To me, the review process has now become an integral part of my reading process.
  • I've got a habit to feed.  I can pretty much request any new title that I want and get it sent to me by the publisher.  This may seem like a minor payment for many hours of work, but as someone who tends to buy books as gifts, I know exactly how expensive a new book is (in Aus, it can be exorbitant - the last book I bought for my son was nearly $50).  Being able to get in fast on those authors whose work I will always read and even obtain an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) is a pretty compelling perk, especially if I get to have a conversation with them afterwards about the book.  
  • Fame, glory, and a following.  The respect that comes with being a known, oft-cited reviewer is often well above that which I receive as a lowly author. The 'following' aspect is actually a kind of community of people who are united solely through the love of reading.  That kind of camaraderie is pretty wonderful.  Yes - I'm talking about you - you're wonderful. 
  • Finally, because it feels like a good deed in the service of books and authors.  As the points above show, I definitely get something personally valuable out of reviewing, but in the bigger scheme of things, I also get to showcase and help promote some utterly wonderful books that might have otherwise skipped the notice of the general public.  My focus is always on quality, so I can add a tiny bit of 'non-commercialist' weight on the side of the literarily wonderful.  That kind of positive power, however small, is probably enough on its own to keep me reviewing. 
So there you have it.  Welcome to year 12 (2011) of The Compulsive Reader.  We've got 2,670 reviews in the database (and I've got 10 still in my in-box to set up).  That's a lot of words, and plenty more to come.


  1. Wow, 2670 reviews!

    What are your views on the new tax laws in regard to reviews?

    I'm actually limiting my reviews now because of it. Or, I'm asking for ARCs or final proofs to read.

  2. Thanks Karen, I think the new US laws are rubbish and completely unmanageable. As an author, they disturb me because I know that review sites will continue to diminish as a result. As a citizen, they're completely unfair - will film critics have to claim their films? Will restaurant reviewers claim their meals? What if I don't review the book - send it back or give it away (I get sent many books that I don't request or review and they tend to go to charity - I don't claim a deduction for those). Ebooks are a can of worms. Not sure how ARCs or proofs/manuscripts are treated. The whole thing is absurd. Glad I live in Australia and it doesn't (yet) apply.