On the perks of being picky [or, I explain why I’ve been gushing so much lately]

2010 has been a year of great books for me already. It started with The Little Stranger and The Unnamed (the first pantyworthy book of the year). It continued with my better-late-than-never discovery of Sarah Vowell. And then came In the Land of Believers and Flow and Just Don’t Fall (which I should have hated but ended up lurving).

Most recently, Orange is the New Black and The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors rocked my world, and in the next week or so, I’ll be reviewing The Singer’s Gun (about which I plan to gush excessively because it was REALLY FREAKING GOOD) and Day for Night (pantyworthy, for sure).

Last night, I started Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, which I’ve been assured is going to be face-meltingly awesome. In another day or two, I’ll probably be plotting ways to slip him a pair of camouflage undies when I meet him at Politics & Prose on June 8th.

So yeah, there’s been a lot of gushing this year because there have been a lot of deserving books.

And because I’ve been picking the right ones.

Someone (I can’t remember who) said something on Twitter recently to the tune of “I know you don’t write negative reviews, but….” and I was all, “What do you MEAN, I don’t write negative reviews?” Remember #iheartthespark?  Remember when I spoiled The Lost Symbol? Remember all that ambivalence about Beatrice and Virgil?  And don’t even get me started on Stephenie Meyer.

And there are others, novels whose surprise twists just didn’t work out and memoirs that tended to the self-indulgent and nonfiction pieces that were too dry to be readable.

I do write negative reviews…when the books call for it. I am always honest about my response to a book and my thoughts about its strengths and weaknesses. If something is really horrible, I put it aside after 50 pages because 1) life is too short and 2) I’m not going to tear something apart or go crazy insulting an author just because doing it will give me a bump in traffic. That’s not how I roll.

But the bottom line is that I’m really picky, and the more I read, the better I get at selecting books that are going to challenge me, entertain me, impress me, expand my mind, and make me want to toss my panties.  That’s what this year of reading deliberately is all about. The community of intelligent, discerning readers I’ve found here on the interweb also helps. I know whose recommendations to trust. I know who has similar taste. I listen when they tell me what they think they’ll like.

Also, I’m selective about which review pitches I accept. I take the books that sound fantastic, and when it turns out that they are, I gush appropriately and do my best to tell you what makes them so fabulous. (And when they’re less than fab, you know I tell you that, too.)

I have become a picky, picky lady, and it is totally paying off. I almost always feel that my reading time is well spent, with a variety of books on a variety of topics, with all kinds of characters and themes and language and images. Variety is the spice of my reading life, and the common thread between all of these books I’m gushing about is that they are supremely gush-worthy.

Sure, I can write you a negative review . But what’s with all the suspicion about a series of positive reviews?  Why the assumption that because I’ve been writing positive reviews (about books that totally deserve them), I don’t write negative ones? If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time at all, you should know that I tell it like it is.

I’m just reading the books I want to read. I’m loving most of them. Who would have it any other way?

38 Responses

  1. Same for me. I have more Favorite books so far this year than the last few years for the whole year.


  2. The best reward for reading what you want when you want to read it.

  3. I’ve fended off the same accusation of “you don’t write negative reviews.”

    The book gets the review it warrants – good, bad, or Did Not Finish. I have fewer of the bad and DNF because I’m choosy about what I read.

    It’s like dating. I’ve always wondered about women who have bad date after bad date, are they not selective when they consider going out with someone?! … except, hopefully, you’re reading more great books than dating around good men … and then when you get married the whole metaphor goes to hell …

  4. The term I use for myself is ‘persnickety’. Yes, it is about living deliberately–thanks for that framing.

  5. No one wants to read a bad book unless their aim from the beginning is to pull it apart. Personally I don’t mind writing negative reviews, I find my writing’s better when it’s that way, but I’d rather write about a positive book and not have reasons to moan about someone’s work.

    As long as they’re written well and describe the book effectively a positive review of a good one is just as helpful as a negative one of a bad one, it helps you choose what to read. It doesn’t matter which you tend to write about.

  6. I’m learning to be more selective and have been pleased with the results. I do try new things when they’ve been recommended to me personally, but I no longer feel the need to finish a book “just cuz.”

  7. Being picky is certainly working out for you. I would never accuse you of not doing negative reviews, I would only marvel at how incredible you’ve become at identifying the books that you will love. And, as I’ve been finding, that I will love ;) Congratulations on being picky! I, for one, approve.

  8. http://bit.ly/Top10-Q12010 is a link to my top 10 from the first quarter of 2010 from the 70 books I had read at that point in the year.


  9. I loved The Wordy Shipmates. Hilarious and precious at the same time.

    Glad that you are being picky. :)


  10. Amen, sister! My thoughts exactly. The more I read, the more I know what kinds of books I’m more likely to enjoy. And there have been a couple in recent months that I couldn’t finish and posted them as DNFs, explaining why.

    More often than not, I find myself writing mixed reviews, liking but not loving a certain book because of one thing or another. But if I come across a book that I absolutely didn’t like, you can bet I’ll be honest and say so.

  11. Great post! In the last few months I’ve been getting super-picky. It used to be that I would give just about any book a chance if I had the slightest glimmer of interest – but now not so much. I’ve finally realized that I don’t have all the time in the world to read, but the time I do have will be better spent reading books that I’m about 70% sure I’m gonna enjoy.

  12. I have noticed the same trend. The more I read, the better I get at choosing my next books. And what a wonderful skill it is.

  13. This is an extremely awesome post, my friend. I am well aware of books you haven’t liked. They’ve saved me the grief on a number of occasions – most recently Beatrice and Virgil. Here’s the thing. If you liked a book okay, you wouldn’t gush. If you hated a book, you wouldn’t gush. Does that person feel guilty about their own reviews? It makes me wonder.

    BTW, I have The Unnamed at home right now and damn it, I’m going to read it. I’m in desperate need of some panty worthiness.

  14. “But what’s with all the suspicion about a series of positive reviews?”

    Maybe this says more about the questioner than it does about your reviews? I think a lot of people equate being critical with thinking critically and I agree that it’s easy to overlook the fact that carefully choosing the books that you read reduces the likelihood of reading frustrations and disappointments right from the start.

  15. I often see review-based blogs accused of being “too positive” or “rarely negative”. Those casting the accusations seem to forget that most of us are essentially hobbyists, running our blogs out of our own pockets, who wish to share our passion with other like-minded souls.

    As such we’re in a position to pick & choose our own review material rather than have it dictated to us by an editor or some other outside force. It therefore follows that our instincts usually serve us well and we enjoy most of what we read/watch/play/listen to. Occasionally our instincts will let us down, or a favorite author/musician/whatever will have an off year, in which case we won’t hesitate to share our misgivings, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that we largely enjoy what we’re blogging about.

    I used to write music and video game reviews for Wired magazine. Back then I’d simply review whatever my editor mailed out to me and let him pick & choose what to print. Needless to say there was a fair mixture of positive and negative reviews. Now I’m writing a personal video game blog, I write exclusively about the games I’m passionate about. There’s no sense in subjecting myself to stuff I know I’m going to hate. (And with video games costing anywhere up to $60 a pop, it’s only the very rich and foolhardy who’d deliberately follow that path.)

    The medium of books allows us to be a little more experimental with our choices, but we still tend to stick to what we know and trust when we’re putting our hands in our pockets.

  16. Been a really good year for me too. I feel like I am gushing all over the place.

  17. I would have it any other way! I need to trick you into reading some crap, so you leave my wishlist alone for awihle.

    Seriously, though, it is awesome you’ve had such a string of books you’ve loved.

  18. Um, I’m picky! It’s in my blog name! :)

    I love it when I get a string of books I just absolutely love. And, of course, as bloggers, we have the ability to read reviews. That has really helped narrow down my reading in some aspects (which can be both positive and negative). There are some things that just are not my taste. I may be passing up something great, but like I said, I’m picky. I’m ok with that. It’s why I don’t eat mushrooms. I’ve lived a pretty darn good existence not eating them, and I eat plenty of other great things that I think it balances out.

    So go on being picky. I’ll write a negative review when called for, but who wants to read a blog where the blogger hates every book? Not me.

  19. Yay for reading books you love.

  20. That makes complete sense to me, probably because I try to follow the same principles. Of course, there will be a misfire every now and then (I’m reading one now, actually), but I’m usually a good judge of what I think I’ll like. But I still haven’t come to terms with the DNF – if I start a book, I’ll finish it, which is actually one MORE reason to be picky, I suppose.

  21. Well said! The pickier I am, the more I enjoy what I read. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it’s tempting to read a book I know I probably won’t like because I keep hearing about it, but there’s enough good stuff out there that I really shouldn’t waste my time.

  22. Makes sense — and you are totally honest when you don’t like something (Beatrice & Virgil, I’m looking at you!). You have had a great string of reads lately!

  23. It is crazy when I feel guilty for having a string of happiness on my blog! But like you, I am pretty selective in what I read. I know what I like, and while I do attempt to stretch beyond my comfort level, I still try my hardest to make every book count! So Amen to you!

  24. Dude, I have a kid, a husband, a house, 2 cats, a dog and an extended family, and lots of stuff to take care of here. Why would I read a book I’m not enjoying? Who has the time?

  25. I’m relatively picky (hence my first DNF post last month) but I also try to stretch a bit and read things I’m not sure how I’ll react to. And I often don’t like those books – not because they are poorly written, but just because I don’t click with them.

  26. Good call. You’re completely right: life is too short to read bad books. I find myself writing fewer and fewer “negative” reviews because, for the most part, I can tell what sorts of books I’ll enjoy before I even crack the spine — and the ones I’m not enjoying? I stop reading. And I could write snarky little posts about them but, generally speaking, I choose not to. (Or, at least, I try to keep the snark to a minimum!)

  27. I’ve noticed that the quality of the books I’ve read has gone up since I started blogging and got exposed to better books than I would have found on my own.

  28. You’re doing better than I am! I’ve read some great ones this year, but also some real snoozers.

  29. I’m too old to read books I know I won’t like, although I admit I tried the YA bandwagon once; the peer pressure was too great. But it only took one attempt to realize I don’t like vampires, werewolves or ghosts. So like you, I read and review books I like. Occasionally I choose one I’m on the fence about and may not like it for one reason or another.

    Bottom line…my reviews are honest, and I expect others’ to be the same.

  30. I waiting to get my hands on the audio version of Matterhorn. Enjoy; it sounds powerful.

  31. I applaud your willingness to gush when called for. I sometimes have trouble letting that out. I should work on that.

  32. I have read a lot of great books this year. Much more than last year and we are not even at the half-way mark. I am picky too and I am trying to read only what “I” want to read. I’ll only accept a review copy if 1) It was already on my list of “to reads” or 2) it sounds absolutely fab.

  33. After talking about reading deliberately all year, I’ve actually been doing it the past month, and I love it. I’m recommending more books, gushing about more books and find myself invigorated by my reading in ways I haven’t been for awhile. I’m glad it’s working for you too. The best part? I don’t feel the pressure to read every book, or even every book bloggers are raving about. There are a few bloggers whose recommendations I trust, and I’m reading as much from award lists as possible.

  34. Well said Rebecca, I don’t think there is anything wrong with focusing on what you want to read. You know what you like so why would you take the time to read something you know you’re going to hate? The key is being honest (either in a positive or negative light) and constructive. At least for me anyway. Nothing wrong with the positive I say!

  35. Amen to that! I’m really picky, too, even when it comes to my good-cheesy-fun reads (I’m one of those readers who care more about the writing then the story, so even those cheesy reads better not have any grammar errors!). I haven’t been reading your blog for very long, but I picked up on your honesty right away. I’m a gusher myself, so I take others’ gushing seriously :)

  36. […] ~ Book Lady’s Blog: On the perks of being picky […]

  37. […] started the week with a piece about my recent streak of rave reviews, and I gave warning that my forthcoming reviews of The Singer’s Gun and Day for Night will […]

  38. Frankly, I’ve never understood the people who judge a reader by the number of positive or negative reviews they write. This isn’t a job; it’s a hobby. Hobbies are supposed to be for fun. I’m in the camp that I have to finish every book I start, but if I don’t think I’ll like the book, I don’t tend to pick it up in the first place. I’m not going to torture myself so I can have an even spread of reviews.

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