Category Archives: book reviews

Start reading groovy

Do you want this man rampaging through your house?

ARE readers actually reading books these days? It is a fair question.

How many Amazon reviews have you read where the reviewer says, ‘I didn’t like the main character.’?

What about a rebellious undisciplined control-freak? How does he grab you? That’s Randle Patrick McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. An insecure adolescent inverse-snob. Holden Caulfield. Another wild adolescent with barely contained simmering violence. Heathcliff. In real life, you would not want any of these people traipsing through your house.
But you invited them in. So suck it up and read the goddamn words from page 1 to the end without passing judgement until you have it all in your head.
Wiki tells us, ‘Nell (1988) showed that there is substantial rate variability during natural reading, with most-liked pages being read significantly slower.’

The first thing to say about this: it is not the adjective slower but the adverb more slowly Wiki is searching for. At our next Pedants’ Society meeting, I am going to propose a strongly worded letter of admonition to Wiki over that one.
The second thing to be said is, Nell is spot on.
The much vaunted page-turners are turning us from being readers into scanners. Poorly constructed thrillers have all those irritating questions to recap the plot. Oh yair, I forgot that bit. Or maybe I skipped a few pages where that stuff was in it.
With the classics we know to read slowly and savour everything. Unfortunately we do not show the same respect to contemporary literary novels.
Read more slowly. Or even slower if you are grammatically challenged.
Start reading groovy!

How you write a book review

WHAT the world needs now are reviews, book reviews; they’re the only things (apart from fresh water, social justice and quite a bit of other stuff) that there’s just too little of: reviews, book reviews.
Please do not ask! I am not volunteering to review your book. After penning, publishing and promoting the damn things, I have no time to review any books other than ones that come my way serendipitously.
But ask any book lover out there and they will tell you trying to decide whether a book is a wise buy is more important than its price. A lousy book is a bad investment even if it is free.
I am unable to come to the party with extra book reviews but if you want to have a go, you will become a servant of humanity when you learn to do a competent job.
Before we start, check out Ionia Martin’s review of my novel Iraqi Icicle. (Whaddya mean that is self-promotion? You expect me to send you to a review of someone else’s novel. Sheesh, you can find your own example, if you must.)
Ionia is a Top 500 Reviewer so she knows what the task is all about. Check out her review HERE  
Ionia is also a pianist so she can play along to out featured video. (Don’t scroll down to see what it is; I am creating a structured piece on book reviews and we cannot anarchic readings of it.)
The rest of this informative rant is a list of my ideas on your writing a half-decent review.
Make it entertaining.  ­ No cheap shots at the author’s expense are needed, but if you are a lover of books, you should be able to string together a few pleasant sentences yourself.

22. Try to give the reader a flavor of the book you are reviewing from your get-go.
33. Don’t tie yourself in a knot avoiding spoilers. Of course, you will not be invited around to brunch if you announce you knew the butler did it after chapter 3. But neither will you be doing brunch with a grateful reader of your review, if it is so general, that, at the end of your critique, the reader is none the wiser what the book is about.
44. Talk about whether characters are well crafted and whether the plot works for you.
55. Somewhere around the middle of the review, comment on what you liked about the book and what you did not like. You need not mention what you regard as minor faults in some sort of unnecessary notion of balance.
66. Towards the end of the review, you can say who might not like this book. If, for example, you are reviewing a Gore Vidal novel, you might say members of the Tea Party may not love it.
77.  Next, you say who might enjoy the book.
88. You should finish in your own style but there should be some sort of summary, not of the book so much as of your review. As the reviewer, you are entitled to the last words Make them good so the reader will come back for more when they see your name attached to your next piece of excellent criticism.
99.  If there are too many rules above, just have a go. Always aim to select a quality book of whatever genre you are reviewing.
110.  It is your call whether you submit a negative review. Whatever your reasons, you can with-hold a review, but every review you submit should be honest.
Three reviews
Walter Kerr on the play I am a Camera: Me no Leica.
Dorothy Parker on Katherine Hepburn in the play The Lake. Miss Hepburn delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.
Leo Robson on Rachel Bradford’s book Martin Amis: The Biography. “spectacularly bad writing — about spectacularly good writing.”
Here is our celebratory song: Cheers, Bernie


Seeking serendipity

Apple Blossom Vodkatini 
based on Serendipity Green Apple Sorbet

VISIBILITY and curation are the two big buzzwords of book publishing today. I cannot see myself writing on visibility in this column so let’s talk curation.

Whatever way you slice it, when it comes to books, curation means book reviews.
Book reviews can take many forms. A news story saying the Fifty Shades of Grey trio have sold 40 million is a review telling the reader the series is most popular. Similarly a news report on a book winning a significant literary award  is a review telling readers  professional judges have declared this book a fine work, indeed.
At the other end of the scale, an author tweeting the assessment their own novel  is brilliant is a review, probably not effective as an impetus to sales, but a review.
Curation as a prod to buying a book is what both authors and readers want.
A reader wants a critic they can trust.  An author wants a kind reviewer and on the internet they usually get one, with kindness beyond the call of  fair assessment.
Many readers have a healthy suspicion of internet book reviews. As an exercise, compare the film reviews onRotten Tomatoes. Assessments of the general public are markedly more positive than those of professional critics. The number of first-time authors gathering four and five-star internet reviews are astounding. Few reviewers refer to typos or plot flaws which abound in many books not professionally edited.
Reasons for these glowing reviews include politeness to strangers;  friends submitting reviews and cognitive dissonance where the book buyer wants to reaffirm the shrewdness of their purchasing decision.
Producing informed objective curation was a thorny problem before the explosion of ebooks.
I have never worked on a newspaper with professional book reviewers. Instead the literary editor, if there was one, or the chief of staff or a general editor if there was not, would hand out books  to journalists on the understanding the critic would read them in their own time and the only payment was keeping the book.
This hit-and-miss system was one of the most disheartening facts of literary life for mid-list authors who, if they were lucky enough to achieve a review, it was likely to be from an unqualified critic.
On the internet, I would suggest the most valued (by readers) reviews  and the most valuable (to authors) are those on book-lover sites such as Goodreads and Shelfari.
I quit Shelfari  because I was miffed at continual rebukes for my trying to promote my own books.
I see now that I was in the wrong. It would be a tragedy if Shelfari or Goodreads were subverted by us author-trolls. The most effective way an author can gain a loyal following is by serendipity, happenstance, the good fortune to be noticed by an influential critic, usually an informed amateur.
One strategy for a writer is to hop off the relentless promotional treadmill of trying to manufacture the one-book wonder.  The more books you have out there, the better odds of attracting serendipity.
Another ploy is to be more creative in seducing serendipity than by endless tweets and Facebook posts.
A third is to seek the guidance of readers as to how they came by a book which they found a minor treasure. 
A fourth is to use a big word like serendipity in your blog on the basis that only confirmed readers will understand what the hell you are talking about. That’s the strategy I am going for, here. 
 Send me your thoughts on seeking or finding serendipity.

Today’s musical vignette is a serendipitous offshoot of our most  recent selection of Johnny Cash performing the standard, 16 tons.
Wiki tells us the song is about mine “workers (who) were not paid cash (but) with non-transferable credit vouchers which could be exchanged for only goods sold at the company store’’.

The message of the song is easily translated: workers will rise up in violence unless they receive wage justice. Check out how the elite of two countries, the U.S. and Russia, get off on a song which is basically against them.
I love both these versions of 16 Tons and I can see why the elites did too. But I love even more the exquisite irony of the former cold warriors culturally united. These back to back videos are a rare treat when you savour the audience reactions.

Reviews roll on

REVIEWS are coming in to Amazon for Bernie Dowling’s non-fiction work 7 Shouts:The Best of My Shout.
Gleaned from seven year’s of his My Shout newspaper columns, the book establishes Australian humour at the off-centre of the Universe.
The first two reviewers each gave 7 Shouts four stars.
Here is what they had to say.

4.0 out of 5 stars A fun read, June 10, 2012
By baggy
This review is from: 7 Shouts (My Shout) (Kindle Edition)
Bernie Dowling has a unique voice that really brings his columns to life. I highly recommend this to anyone that enjoys Australian humour. Even if you don’t laugh you will be entertained and informed. My favourite is the Slanguage chapter. For the record I say ‘marown’.

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun book for the person who loves journalism!, June 7, 2012
By Heather Marie Adkins
This review is from: 7 Shouts (My Shout) (Kindle Edition)
Bernie Dowling has compiled years of journalistic endeavors into one compendium, along with pictures (some of them quite funny), and has thus given readers “7 Shouts”. For the individual with a love of journalism, an open-minded viewpoint on all things living, and often insightful blurbs on life, I highly recommend this book. Love, tragedy, success, and history–it’s all there in the funny, intelligent, and sometimes satirical voice of Dowling. Definitely a getaway read for the nonfiction crowd 🙂

Reviews are also at Google eBooks for the Kindle-less lovers of lit.
Visit Amazon 
or Google Books
Give yourself a giggle.