Tuesday, July 5, 2011

About Writing Book Reviews

I like the agreement that exists between a few companies and me to review books. I haven’t really signed a contract or entered into negotiations. I’m not Tim Challies or someone well known in the reviewing world. I merely signed up to receive books for free in exchange for an honest review.

Through these various programs I’ve gotten to enjoy works like The Christian Lover, Radical Together, Matar a Lutero (To Kill Luther), and Living by God’s Promises. I’ve had relatively few books come my way that I disliked, since I get to choose which titles to request for review and I have plenty of uninteresting reading to do for seminary.

I find writing book reviews somewhat difficult. It’s not that I can’t find much to praise or criticize in books. That’s fairly easy. It’s that most of these companies prefer that I write a review of no more than 200 words. In case you’re counting, that last sentence put me at 150 for this post.

In roughly three or four paragraphs I am expected to recommend or reject a book that took the author many months (if not years) to write and me many days (if not weeks) to read.

There are various reasons for the 200 word limit (which I typically exceed) imposed by these publishers and distributors. For one, few people will read a blog post longer than 200 words. If the company assumes that most of its books will receive positive reviews (especially if the reviewers choose which books to review), it wants people to read them. Second, potential buyers on Amazon and other websites usually only look for the number of positive and negative ratings and rarely read any reviews beyond the top ranked five star and two star reviews.

At least one publisher has not given me the limit, and I tend to include a more substantial review of each book’s contents. Unfortunately the vast majority are not this way and I have to think creatively to give a proper recommendation or warning that will at least be heard if not heeded.

To that end I will continue reading and reviewing. Perhaps if my blog ever becomes popular (unlikely), I will have more freedom to write lengthier reviews. For the mean time, however, I will seek to be faithful with the one talent the Lord has given me, knowing full well that if I am faithful with one talent, He may reward me with more (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).

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