What gets reviewed and why? AWW 2013 Wrap-up post

At the end of another year of the AWW challenge, I look down at the list of books I read and reviewed and wonder. How come I found the time to review these books and not those? 

Of the 25 books read, I managed to review only nine. They were (in rough ordering of reading):

The books I read and didn’t review were:

  • Kirsten McDermott, Madigan Mine (horror [edited as per coments])
  • Rebecca James, Sweet Damage (mild horror, contemporary fiction)
  • Dianne Hester, Run to Me (psychological suspense)
  • Sara Foster, Shallow Breath (psychological suspense)
  • Lucy Tatman, Numinous Subjects: Engendering the Sacred in Western Culture, An Essay (nonfiction)
  • In Falling Snow, Mary Rose MacColl (historical/contemporary fiction)
  • The Mother’s Group, Fiona Higgins (contemporary fiction)
  • Dawn Barker, Fractured (psychological suspense)
  • Karen Davis, Sinister Intent (crime)
  • Jaye Ford, Blood Secret (crime/psychological suspense)
  • Tara June Winch, Swallow the Air (literary)
  • The Meaning of Grace, Deborah Foster (literary, general fiction)
  • Liane Moriarty, The Hypnotist’s Love Story (contemporary fiction)
  • Jessie Cole, Darkness on the Edge of Town (literary)
  • Alison Stuart, Secrets in Time (time-slip/historical and contemporary romance)
  • Candice Fox, Hades (crime)

The books I reviewed weren’t necessarily my favourites. So why did I choose those to review?

Part of the answer is time, the time I intended to devote to crafting my response. Sometimes the most moving and engaging books are the ones I find it most difficult to respond to quickly. They deserve more considered reflection, I tell myself; they need to marinate in my unconscious for a while in the hope that I’ll come up with a response that does them justice. Then hours, days, weeks, even months go by and the freshness of my response is lost. I end up feeling as if I should reread the book before writing about them. The problem is, there’s usually a new book calling from my growing “To Be Read” pile.

A good example of such a delay is my piece on Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl. I first drafted my response in July; I didn’t publish it until November. Those who have read it may guess why. I found the book confronting and disturbing, but very well written and deserving of attention. I have to be honest, though. If it weren’t for the fact that I wanted to publish a Q&A with Krauth for the AWW blog, I might not ever have finished writing my response. That happened to several other books on my “read-but-still-to-be-reviewed” list: I never got back to them.

Books I thought initially I would respond to in depth, but never got around to, include Dawn Barker’s Fractured, Tara June Winch’s Swallow the Air, Jessie Cole’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and Mary Rose MacColl’s In Falling Snow. All these books deserve attention, and some have received it. Winch’s book is well known (it’s even on the HSC list). Barker’s book attracted many reviews for AWW throughout 2013 (and the author was interviewed for the AWW blog). In Falling Snow has attracted a handful of reviews, including Shannon, Belle and Natasha Lester in 2013, and Shelleyrae in 2012. Darkness on the Edge of Town has only attracted two reviews, by Lisa Walker and Shelleyrae, both in 2012. It hasn’t been reviewed at all in 2013, and I feel guilty that the missing review is mine. This book doesn’t deserve to be overlooked or forgotten.

Are there any books you read but didn’t review for the AWW challenge this year that you think deserve greater attention? (By the way, I hope you’ll join #aww2014. The sign-up page is now open.)

falling-snowdarkness-at-edge-townswallow-airfractured-barker

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19 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this post Elizabeth. Like you I’ve read many books this year as part of the AWW challenge, but I’ve only managed to review half of them so far. Yesterday I sat down and wrote myself a list of things to be done regarding reviews and blog in the next five days and I was ashamed to see just how many reviews I had half finished or compeletly disregarded. I thought I was just bad and felt horribly guiltity, but I’m somewhat relieved to learn I’m not alone. Many of the books I haven’t reviewed have been my favourites from this year as well, and like yourself I’ve troubled to write the reviews because I couldn’t find the right (aka most perfect) ways to articulate everything I want to say about the book.

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    • I’m glad I’m not the only one, Jess. It’s part of the reason I wanted to include a “read” as well as “review” component to the challenge, to let myself off the hook for not reviewing every one. It’s nice at times to read just for fun, but I do wish I could have more discipline and write reviews for the books I really liked.

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  2. Loved your post Elizabeth. I have no books that I read and didn’t review, which rather explains why I’ve read so few books this year … Or most years in fact. Some reviews take me a few hours – in fact most do, but I can’t bear not to write up books I review partly because I do it for my own record. If I don’t write it up, I’ll forget what it was about and what I thought. Such is the state of my brain these days.

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    • I admire your dedication, Sue. As for forgetting what you read, that happens to me. Usually I forget books that, for whatever reason, didn’t really resonate with me. I think if I knew I’d review every one, I’d be much more selective in my choices. But there are some books I just want to ‘consume’ for fun and not give too much time and attention to.

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      • LOL Elizabeth … I guess because I’m going to review each one, I am pretty selective in my choices. I tend not to consume books in that fun way you are talking about – though I love reading. My fun consumption tends to be TV drama – like Paradise on the ABC, or Luther, etc.

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  3. Meant to add that many times I’m dissatisfied with my review … Such a struggle to express what I really want to say in an engaging way, and difficult when you know the authors are living and so keen to receive meaningful feedback.

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  4. I often find it hardest to write reviews of books that I liked, especially if there wasn’t one clear thing that made me excited, but the whole package. By contrast more critical reviews — where I want to mention a few clear things that I didn’t like or that didn’t work for me — are much easier.

    On a tangential note to the topic of your post, I find it interesting that you’ve classified Madigan Mine as contemporary YA. While it is unassailably contemporary, I’ve called it horror (the supernatural element helped there too) and I also wouldn’t call it YA since the characters are well into their twenties. It’s interesting to me because there’s a certain type of speculative fiction, usually of the more literary variety and less often fantasy than SF or horror, that is denied its speculative nature by some readers, writers and/or publishers because it’s “good enough” to not be genre fiction. Not intended to accuse you of anything, of course! But I am curious as to whether you have a stance.

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    • Tsana, you’re absolutely right. It is horror (so I did read some SpecFic after all!). I read this really early in the year and for some reason got it mixed up in my memory. (Obviously one of the shortcomings of not writing a review.)

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  5. brendat59

     /  December 27, 2013

    With regard to Darkness on the Edge of Town Elizabeth, I reviewed it at the end of November 2012, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Well worth a read. I review everything I read so no is the answer to your question 😉 I can’t wait for the 2014 challenge, I’m really enjoying reading more Aussie women 🙂

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    • Oh, I don’t know how I missed your review, Brenda. Apologies for that. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the challenge. I’m in awe of everyone who manages to read and review so much. I think one of my problems is that I’m actually quite a slow reader.

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  6. I also reviewed Darkness on the Edge of Town (http://wp.me/pVZOT-1cj) as well! I try to review almost everything I read but there are ones that slip through the cracks (more this year) and I’m often not happy with my final review and wish I could spend more time on some of them!

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  7. For the second year in a row, I have done the reading but not the reviewing so this will be the challenge for me in 2014: completing the reviewing as well as the reading! I know the reasons and they are twofold: firstly, long work hours and the challenge of finding quality time to review as well as read and secondly, that I make the task of reviewing bigger and more daunting than it can be. I will work on these two issues in 2014! The book that I would like to have reviewed more fully was ‘The Longing’ by Candice Bruce. I just loved this book and its light touch and language, so like a beautiful painting. I’m doing a summary blog post now so hope to devote some time and words to its beauty there. Thanks again, Elizabeth for AWW – it’s a real pleasure to engage at whatever level we manage and an important focus in the context of Australian writing.

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Terri, and you’re very welcome. It’s great to have other readers to share with. Candice Bruce’s novel sounds like a find. I look forward to reading about it in your wrap-up post. Your point about making the reviewing task more daunting than it can be is spot on. I realised early in 2013 that I had to find the way reviewing would work for me, if I was going to have a hope of reviewing anything at all. For me, it meant giving myself permission to respond personally to the text (which lots of authors find annoying). I now choose to call these ‘responses’ rather than reviews and, for me, they’re a valid way of participating in the ongoing conversation that good book generate. It also means I’m passionate about a book and to me that’s a compliment to the author. Hope you enjoy your reading (and reviewing) in 2014.

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  8. Hi Elizabeth, time is an elusive thing, isn’t it? I too often find it hard to keep up with my reviews. I did manage to do all my reviews but at the expense of my blog and possibly my research. Sometimes you just can’t do everything. It took me nearly six months to finally write my blog on Eleanor Dark. Just scraped it in the last few days of the year.

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  1. End Of Year Book Survey 2013 | The Never Ending Bookshelf
  2. five favourites for 2013 | Book to the Future
  3. 2014 AWW challenge officially open – happy year of reading | Australian Women Writers Challenge

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