Three Issues of Reviewing with Paul Weimer

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The fifth installment of TFF’s new guest post series on the demands of reviewing welcomes Paul Weimer from SF Signal and The Functional Nerds.

“I’ve only known Paul for a rather short time, but I’ve quickly come to respect and value his opinion. It is no surprise that he is one of my preferred go-to-reviewers when I need an external opinion on a book. In his guest post, Paul highlights some of my own issues with reviewing, and offers some great thoughtful commentary.” ~Shadowhawk

Three Issues of Reviewing

by Paul Weimer

The difficulties of reviewing, genre in particular, go hand-in-glove with the joys of reviewing. The very things that I love about reviewing and being a member of that community can turn around and make it a chore, or something less than salutary. This unfortunately means that the joys inform and are entangled inextricably with the difficulties, and form a knot of joy and frustration that complicates this reviewer’s most modest efforts at reviewing.

The connection between me and the authors and other fans of reviewing, first, is both a joy and an Achilles heel. The advantages of this connection and the disadvantages of this connection wind around each other like caduceus’ serpents.

 It’s absolutely jazzing for me to write a review of a book that shows I’ve connected and engaged with an author’s work. Those authors who do read their reviews appreciate it, engage with me about the review, and extend the conversation and the “playground of the mind” created by the genre work. The same applies to fellow reviewers, readers and fans. The idea that people take my reviews seriously and will try works on my recommendation is heady, believe me. It gives me the feeling I can positively affect this field.

On the other hand, there is a dark side to this connection. It has happened, more than once, and recently, that a negative review has caused me to step on toes. Or, an overly positive review that others disagree with has led to uncomfortable conversations. I am extremely chatty and present in the virtual Genre-sphere, and fellow fans and authors can often be inescapable that way. When a work doesn’t work for me, or my review of it doesn’t work for others, this can lead to difficulties and conflicts. The blurring of lines or the overlap of the spheres of professionalism and friendship can be, and are, fraught with peril. Does that 4 and a half star review of that author’s work really reflect my feelings on the book, or the friendship with the author? How do I engage with an author whose book I reviewed negatively, and yet consider a friend? I’ve faced both of these perils and they weigh on me with every new review.

Another major difficulty and joy with reviewing is the matter of time. Time is both the greatest gift and greatest thing to spend in the universe, and yet is a ticking clock of doom.

I enjoy reading and writing. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t find both a worthwhile spending of my time. I sneak off time to do both, especially when I should be doing other things. When I read, and when I write, I feel free and alive in ways I don’t in most other pursuits. It’s the joy of the creative act, in engaging with a text and then transmitting that engagement forward.

However, to do a well formed review takes time and effort. Sometimes, reality and other priorities intrude, and getting a review of a book slips in time, much to my chagrin. I really don’t like a pileup of undone reviews, but a busy person can face a daunting pile of to-be-written reviews that match the daunting to-be-read pile of books. Some days, I just want to do some photography, or make a map, or play some Hegemony. Or even clean the apartment. Time is indeed the fire in which we burn.

The third difficulty is a matter I don’t face as much as other reviewers and that is the question of receiving review copies and the implicit contract between publishers and reviewers. I don’t receive dozens of books in a month; if I’ve received two or three, that’s a pretty big haul for the month. This is a consequence of being invisible to most publishers, since I do work with other sites rather than my own. Publishers (with notable exceptions) don’t know me, and don’t know to send me metric tons of books. And I really feel special when a publisher has noticed me enough to, unsolicited, send me books. It makes me feel like someone of moderate genre importance.

And yet, when I DO receive a book from a Publisher, perhaps because I do not receive tons of books, I feel obligated and guilty if I don’t read and review the book.  Much more commonly for me, I will be and have been contacted directly by authors rather than publishers, seeking to have me read and review books. I’ve gotten good at saying no to self published books without guilt or consequence, but it’s difficult for me to say no to an author whose book sounds interesting, or perhaps already engage with on social media. And so the to be read and to be written pile just grows and grows. I have no idea how people who get 40 books a month deal with this.

So, yes, reviewing is difficult. It can be wearying, trying, and sometimes socially scary. Coping with the demands of this hobby can be hard, and yet I persist in trying. I love this genre too much to stop. I share my opinions at the drop of a hat.  I find and make the time to keep up with the demands of the hobby. If I somehow stopped writing reviews, I’d just chat about books informally on twitter or Facebook instead. And I can’t see, save catastrophe, how I would ever stop reading in the genre and immersing myself in this world that I love.

*****

Paul is an extremely prolific reviewer and he writes regular columns for the Hugo-award winning SF Signal, as well as for The Functional Nerds. You can find Paul on Twitter.

Paul was also eligible for this year’s Hugo Awards in the Best Fan Writer category, and I’m really hoping he makes it through the final ballot (to be announced on March 30th), and wins!

The next guest on for the series will be fellow reviewer and friend Sarah Chorn from “Bookworm Blues“, on the 21st of March .

Previous entries:

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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