I have seen a lot of bloggers write very honest and compelling posts about their struggles to remain invested in blogging. Particularly when the site hits and the comments seem to be missing, it is easy to wonder what the “point” of blogging is and to lose motivation. Bloggers have come up with a number of effective responses to this situation, but one strategy in particular is finding something new to do with the blog. Starting a new feature or adding movie reviews or soliciting guest posts from other bloggers seems to help bloggers feel that their places on the web are fresh and meaningful.
I admit, after three years of blogging, I have not really felt this depression—not to the point where I have considering quitting blogging, at least. However, I realized recently that I sometimes deal with this problem on a more micro scale. I don’t think my blog in general is in need of some revamping—but I sometimes think my reviews do. I write them and read them and worry that they all sound the same.
Maybe this is all in my head (and if it is, please do let me know). However, I think there is something to the thought. Reviews are, of course, in a general sense about “what is good about the book” and “what is bad about the book.” However, I think readers, being individuals with personal preferences, may focus on certain aspects of books. Some readers enjoy books that are character driven. Some don’t care who drives what as long as the plot is fast-paced. Some aren’t impressed by how exciting the plot is if they don’t find the characters likable. Individual readers look for certain things in books, so it stands to reason that they would comment on these things in all their reviews.
My reviews are partially driven by my internship with a publishing house a few years ago. I’m not claiming that everything I write for the blog is worthy of being a reader’s report for a top editor somewhere in NYC, but I do keep in the back of my mind some of the things the editors asked me to comment on when I read manuscripts for them: the voice of the novel, whether the novel is character driven (a big preference for the editors I worked with), how much of the story is action and how much is character development, the pacing of the novel, whether I recommend the book, and whom I would recommend the book to (hopefully as specific as “fans of Sarah Dessen” and not just “fans of contemporary YA”). And, of course, general comments on “what is good” and “what needs improvement and how it can be improved.”
The issue? If I am working with an unofficial list of things to comment on, it seems as though my reviews run the risk of sounding very similar. Of course, the details will always be different—whether the voice is compelling or whether the voice sounds forced—but I am still talking consistently about voice. (Actually “voice” may be a poor example because I’m not sure that’s one I do talk about a lot, but you get the point.)
But I have found my own partial solution: I find a lot of inspiration for my reviews by looking at themes. I believe the technical aspects of books are crucial, and really do enjoy commenting on writing style, character development, pacing, etc. However, themes tend to be incredibly diverse throughout literature, and breaking them down—and then also remarking on how I feel about the presentation of them, and whether I agree or disagree—gives me a lot of new fodder for reviews. Themes are also the hearts of novels, the reason I think many people read. If a book isn’t “about” anything, if it isn’t striving to impart some type of meaning, it doesn’t necessarily matter how exciting the plot is or how likeable the characters.
Perhaps whether themes are “good” are “bad” is even more a subjective matter than whether the technicalities of writing are “good” or “bad.” However, I think they open up a lot more issues for discussion and, ultimately, matter more to readers and more accurately determine what types of readers will like a particular book. So, while I keep in my mind my little editors’ checklist of things to look for in novels, I always add the one thing I was never asked to discuss in that publishing house: what the book is ultimately trying to say to its readers. And that’s how I keep reviewing interesting.