Enthusiasm at the Edges: Thinking Aloud About Book Reviews
A note on this post: I ain’t saying’ nothing new. But every now and then I think it’s worthwhile for me to put these things into words (and also, to trick myself into thinking I absorbed something from my college stats class) – if only for myself.
Like just about everything, book quality follows a bell curve.
Basically, there are a few books that are just the worst (“OOF!”), a few books that are tops (“YEAH!”), and a whole lot of books that fall somewhere in between. All books don’t fall into the same categories for everyone, of course. Each reader has their own bell curve of quality based on their taste.
The two extremes are what I like to call the “Zones of Enthusiasm”.
It’s interesting to talk about/review books that fall into these categories.
Interesting, but not always fun.
I’ve never really reviewed books I don’t care for here because:
A) While interesting to discuss why a book doesn’t work, it’s super time-consuming. A responsible reviewer can’t be flippant when bringing up a criticism (although I do often get a laugh at the expense of those who are flagrantly irresponsible).
B) It’s an act of bravery that I respect in others, but I don’t really enjoy much myself. Call me selfish, but agonizing over a review of a book I don’t care for isn’t my idea of fun.
This is why I thank professional review journals – they all give their straight opinion about books they find lacking. I know from experience, I’ve written plenty of professional reviews of books I didn’t care for in the pages of SLJ (a situation where you’re given a book that you are required to review).
And this leads to the last thing I’ve been thinking about.
I wonder if, because the Zones of Enthusiasm are so alluring, sometimes we try to push more books into them. We nudge books into the OOF! or YEAH! zone when really they don’t quite belong. While I actively fight against it, I’m sure I’ve fallen prey to this.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Have you been thinking about this stuff too? Just want to comment and say “Duh, Travis”? Let’s hear it.
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About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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