"An honest review"

I’ve been appending that phrase to my official book reviews for a while now. I used to write “a fair review,” but I started to over-analyze what I meant by the word. Should I try to include the good and the bad of a book when I mostly hated it? Should I try very hard to find an audience the book might appeal to? So I started saying honest review. I can be honest. I try not to hedge when I have unambiguous feelings about something I read.

“Oh dear god! Chick-lit!”

The reason I’m bringing this all up now is because I just finished listening to the latest episode of Dear Book Nerd, “Book Diplomacy.” In this episode, the first two questions had to do with readers who disliked or even hated books they were given by friends. Rita Meade, the host, and her co-host, Dagmara Dominczyk, answered each of these questions with extreme politeness. They offered dozens of white lies the questioners could use to let their gifters know that they didn’t like the books without hurting the gifters’ feelings.

Yes, I realize this appears to be a fairly ironic topic after my most recent opinion post, “Booksgiving.” So it goes, as the man would say. But if you’ll stick with me, I can show you that this topic and Booksgiving and my opening paragraph aren’t that disconnected from each other.

I encourage book givers to be bold enough to give books they love. They (we) shouldn’t get hung up on making sure the book is the perfect choice for someone. If you over-think it, none of us would give (or get) books ever again. But if someone gives you a book you don’t like, let them know. You can be polite about it, but I wouldn’t invent a series of white lies. You can say to a book giver, “I tried this, but it wasn’t for me” or some variation on that. Readers need to be honest.

When I give a book that turns out not to delight the giftee or I get a book that I didn’t like, I take comfort the the closest thing to a catechism librarians have: Ranganathan’s Five Laws. Here are laws 2 and 3:

Every reader his book.
Every book its reader.

If a book you give doesn’t work out or you get a book you don’t like, re-gift it. The book (even if it’s Twilight) will find someone who loves it. In my experience, books have second, third, or even fourth lives as they change hands.

The upshot of all this is that we readers shouldn’t be afraid to form and share our opinions about books. We should talk about why we do and do not like books. We should try new things and avoid reading ruts. Our reading lives should be dynamic.


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