The book was brilliantly written, original, and intriguing. But I didn’t love it. I couldn’t form a relationship with it.
I started wondering what I would write in my piece. I could lie, and give it a rave review. I could list the things I did like, and leave out the rest. Or I could be honest, and say I found it difficult to engage with. I didn’t like any of these options and so I went back to the publisher, who was (luckily) very understanding and happy for me to pull out.
I think I’d make a terrible critic for lots of reasons, including:
a) I’m very contrary in my reading habits and if I’m REQUIRED to read a book then I’m unlikely to properly enjoy it. A bit like being stuck in a lift with someone – they might be very nice, but I’d rather decide if I want to get to know them better over a coffee.
b) I tend to either fall in love with books in a silly fan-like way, or to think they’re so-so. I stop reading before I really hate them. Gushing or indifferent reviews would get very boring.
c) I’m not very good at saying clever things about other people’s writing.
What about other people’s critiques – do I find them helpful? Hmm – I don’t think I do. Reading the first sentence of a book tells me more about whether I’d enjoy it than a full page review. Maybe I do agree with Mark Twain, who said:
I believe that the trade of critic, in literature, music, and the drama, is the most degraded of all trades, and that it has no real value–certainly no large value…
But then he went on to say:
However, let it go. It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden.
I know he’s being funny, but are they always a burden? I do listen to my friend’s recommendations when it comes to new music, or new fiction, or new films. Maybe a good critic does attempt to give us their honest opinion of a work of art, so we can decide whether we want to directly engage with it or not. And we all have a bad critic inside us, one that would take a nasty kind of pleasure in ripping someone else’s work to shreds. Or is that just me?
Maybe that’s the final reason why I’d make a terrible critic. I secretly enjoy thinking a book or a film is god-awful, I enjoy hating it, in the same way I enjoy falling in love with other books/films.
From now on I’m going to keep my relationship with my books strictly personal. I want to say ‘I think this book is…’, not ‘this book is…’. I’ll leave the rest to the critics.