I was going to write a review, but then I wrote a very long response to someone on the goodreads version of my "Leaving Sorrowfully" that I thought I'd post instead. Someone came onto that comment thread and said that if you aren't writing straight-up book reviews, you should take your ball and go home. I obviously disagree, and was trying to articulate why. Here is what I wrote:
I'd say the vast majority of what you find
here are still book reviews, but I'm delighted when people play with
the form, and any time the enforcement arm of a community focuses on
whimsy, I'd say you have a real problem. Taking a few extra seconds to
have to scroll past a review you don't think focuses properly on the
book is not a huge imposition on your time - and the real issue is that
we'll disagree on what "properly" means, 9 times out of 10.
here is where I ideologically differ from you, I think, on what book
reviews are/should/could be. I see reading a book as a truly subjective
experience. I read a book through the lens that is me, with all the
experiences, knowledge, and biases that entails. Sometimes it might be
the time of day I read it, if I was having a terrible time and a book
lightened the load or made it more difficult. Sometimes it might be that
I read a book too close to another book with the same theme, and that
very act has influenced how both books sit in my memory. Sometimes my
knowledge of the author has had an influence on how I interpreted that book.
in time-honoured fashion, I attempt to write reviews that reflect all
those things, as they seem relevant, so that my readers can tell that if
I'm overly critical of a book because it compares badly to something
else I just read, if perhaps it was just that two books came onto my
radar at the wrong time, to one of their detriments, and can decide
for themselves whether or not I'm overreacting. If I write about my father's death, as I
do when it seems appropriate, it helps explain why books that
affected me deeply (or enraged me in their treatment of cancer - I'm
looking at you, The Help) did so, and people can gauge whether or not they think my reaction would be the same as their own.
a book is a deeply personal act, in a way that writing a recipe is not
(although I disagree with you there too - my favourite cookbooks include
little anecdotes before each recipe - Food That Really Schmecks
is a perfect example of this.) And so my reviews tend to be
deliberately personal, and sometimes I'm inspired to go off on tangents -
but that's one of the great joys of books too, the ideas they provoke
that might not be directly related. And I love reading other people's
thoughts and inspirations and funny parodies. Parodies, I think, are
perfectly legitimate reviews, in that they are attempting to capture
something about a book humourously and share it.
back to the first issue that sparked this debacle, if I am writing reviews
through my own experience, and I am, if what I know about an author has
influenced how I've read their book, I want to acknowledge that as well.
It's part of the baggage I carry.
But the bottom line is, we are
all going to fundamentally disagree on exactly what a review is, and
the question is how wide the latitude you give is going to be. I am willing to read a
wide variety of responses - and honestly, most of what my friends write
are straight-up book reviews, and those few that are not are a lovely
spice. I am particularly willing to do that when the alternative is that
our words are being strictly policed to say when something
is or is not a review. The lines are fuzzy, at best. To haul in my review of Gone Girl, again, is that an illegitimate review because I write about how reading the last few pages first changed my experience of the book? (Also, it's my most popular review ever, so even if you hate it as an example of a review - and I'm not saying you do! - lots of people disagree with you.)
The real trick to goodreads is to find
those reviewers you like, and follow them. Then, when you look up books,
those people whose opinions you trust will show up first, and you need
not worry about the bulk of reviews below the cut.
shouldn't police what books people read, neither should we police what
people want to read in a review. My tolerance and expectations for such
things is very wide. Yours may not be, but you can change your goodreads
experience by only following people who stick strictly enough to your
own expectations. But I would hope that neither of us wants to be in an
atmosphere where people having fun and playing is something that needs
to be threatened with deletion.