Tag: book reviews

Getting Rid of those Pesky Spots

As I sit here writing this, I see that it is snowing. Again. I mean, come on. I feel like I’m living in Narnia. Which brings me to my topic this week: book reviews.

I work as a children’s book reviewer. I’ve heard various comments from authors when I tell them what I do. “Be nice,” says one. “Do you even read the book?” says another. “Must take you about fifteen minutes, right?” says the third.

None of these statements is true. I am not nice, since “nice” doesn’t help a person decide if they should spend their hard-earned money to buy the book; rather, I am honest. I read the book. Instead of fifteen minutes, it’s an average of nine hours, plus reading time.

I’ll use a picture book as an example, since how hard can it be to review a picture book, right?

I first read the book (which is usually in the form of an F&G, “folded and gathered”—it’s the picture book without a binding) to establish an overall, ingenuous idea of the story. Then I read it again…and again…and again… I study the typeface; is it effective, does it change, if so, why, where is it placed on the page and does that work? I look at the illustrations; their medium, their placement on the page—does that encourage the page turn, do they respect the gutter, does it balance with the type, does white space come into play? Next I look at the two together. Is the overall design of each page—illustration and text—well thought out with successful execution? Now I look at the content of the illustrations. Do they mirror the text or do they add another layer? Perhaps they even tell their own story, and does this work? Finally, trim size. What size and shape is the overall book? A story of a journey, for example, is usually most successful as a landscape format. My finished review can only be a little more than two hundred words and must follow a specific format. I must get in the plot summary, its successful or unsuccessful execution and why, and a recommendation or not.

My advice to writers who have received a review from a professional reviewer that they are unhappy with—read it very closely. Within the limitations of a word count, the reviewer is trying to tell you something. Those spots that prickle your skin with indignation—take them as critique.

By someone who cares.

 

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Ye Olde Multi-tasking

I’m on a deadline for a book review and I’m also on a deadline for holiday want-to’s.

Yesterday I sat down and wrote out a first draft of the review. My first drafts are rambling things where I try to include all the themes I want to cover as well as the basics of the plot, as well as my judgment about how successful the book has been in relaying it story.

So this first draft was a loosely structured bunch of ideas and hundreds of words too long for my word count, but it was okay for now. I saved it. Then I got out the needle felting foam and fiber, my gourd inspiration and got to it. Needle felting consists of jabbing a barbed needle over and over into the wool until it takes on the shape of what you want. Maybe you can see the connection here. Just finished first draft. Phrases and themes are floating around in my head; questions are rising to the top like feeding fish. Do I use “sardonic” or “wry” to describe the narrative voice, or just “precocious.” Is “engaging” too ubiquitous? —The sorts of thoughts that need to mull and stretch as I jab a pointed needle into felt.

The motion, smallishly aggressive, is just enough to let off the steam created by so much critical thinking—it fills the same purpose as nervously jiggling your knee, except that you get a cute little felted thing at the end. So I finished the green gourd—it didn’t take that long, maybe one-half hour, and then I put it down and went on to the second draft.

In the second draft, I’ll start stringing sentences together, picking the exactly proper verb and adverb and paring down my word count. Probably there will be another gourd break (they are to be Thanksgiving gifts after all, so that is a deadline too) then a third draft. Heck I might get the whole dang cornucopia done by the time I submit the review. Now that’s multitasking.

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