This week was an interesting experiment in the reviewing of paragraphs. I decided to wander Powell’s and pick a random book for review this week, since I had to stop by there to pick up a book anyway. No sweat, right? Random is easy.
Random is easy until you walk into the store. There are aisles and aisles of books. Displays of books. These books are new! These books are staff picks!These books are on sale! These books are classics! And then there are the oh-so-convenient sections of books: sci-fi, literary fiction, romance, western, non-fiction. Then, the books are even further (conveniently) broken down alphabetically by author. Normally, this causes a glorious swell in my chest and a comforting sense of home to snuggle into. But now, with this task of choosing a random book in front of me, it has turned into a daunting sensory overload. How random can it be when I know what section I’m in, and what part of the alphabet the author’s last name begins with? My ideal of random obviously wasn’t going to happen. How could it?
I decided to stroll the literary fiction section. I figured it would give me the biggest sort-of variety within a genre. I chose an aisle that felt good, and decided to find a skinny book to review. For no reason. Just some arbitrary use of distinction. I scanned the shelves. Man, people just don’t write much skinny literary fiction. I started to panic. The spines seemed to be mocking me. Big, bold letters giving away names of books and authors, bright colors and clever uses of contrast meant to catch my eye working a little too well.
I finally chose a book from a lower shelf. And this, dear reader, is where things got messy. The paragraph I read was awful. Not even a little bit redeeming. I went home with clever insults bulleting through my brain.
Once home, I sat down and wrote a scathing review reminiscent of our own Indelicate Editor on a manic judgment high. But it wasn’t settling in my stomach well. Maybe it’s the years of, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” drilled into my noggin, but I felt dirty saying all those things. I sent a copy of it to my husband and he had an instant negative reaction, too. I knew something was off with my review, because he is not one to spare feelings when it comes to critiquing art. His critique of my review? “I don’t see the point.”
Hmmm. Yeah, I get it. Why pick a book out of nowhere and run it into the ground? What’s the point? It’s not on the best seller’s list, isn’t new or on any reading lists. It isn’t a little-known treasure. In fact, after doing some research on the book, it became clear that this book is just about nowhere. There is not a single review of the book anywhere online. It is a thinly disguised self-published book that Amazon only has one copy of and apparently Powell’s has two copies of. To make it worse, it is a badly written failure, which makes it seem extra cruel of me to publicly ridicule.
I did debate with my husband a bit. I mean, I am doing reviews, and they can’t all be favorable, but in the end I concluded he was right. A negative review of some random obscure book doesn’t do any good for anyone. You are not apt to run across this book, and even if you do, I have enough faith in our readers that the description on the back of the book would turn any of you immediately off, anyway.
So, my random experiment has failed. Or maybe it hasn’t, because now I can get on with reviewing paragraphs of books you might actually care about.
Today’s Paragraph Review conclusion? Review for the reader, not for the process.