I don’t review everything I read: I would expect to review about half my current reading, and am working my way through a to-review list of books that have stayed with me over the years.
Why do I do it? Two reasons. Firstly for self-discipline. I can get lost in books quicker than you can spit, and this way I have to concentrate on one book at a time. Secondly, because of the quality of some of the reviews I’ve seen, particularly of history and historical fiction.
I generally won’t review outside the genres or periods I know well. I will never inflate my opinion to do someone a favour; I will always review with total honesty. And I will never review without having read the whole book at least once.
Particular interests: history (currently spending a lot of time in the seventeenth century), historical fiction, literary fiction. I was once asked to provide a list of favourite authors, which came out looking something like this:
- PG Wodehouse
- Dorothy Dunnett (particularly ‘Checkmate’)
- Dorothy L Sayers (particularly ‘Gaudy Night’ and ‘The Nine Tailors’)
- Salley Vickers – ‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’ and ‘The Other Side of You’
- Patrick O’Brian, Allan Mallinson, Julian Stockwin
- Douglas Adams (for his style, as much as anything)
- Poetry – anything from John Donne to Robert Frost…
- For a little light relief – Eva Ibbotson, Dick Francis, Josephine Tey
- Russell Baker – ‘So This Is Depravity’
- And for his unstinting determination to be sidetracked – ‘The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes’ by Stephen Marlowe
Stars: I’m unlikely to post many one- or two-star reviews, as I won’t have had the patience to finish the book, and don’t believe in reviewing on the basis of a partial read. Three stars is likely to mean that I finished it, but wouldn’t necessarily re-read it. Three-star fiction is likely to be adequate but not to my taste; three-star non-fiction is probably missing something in its hypothesis.
Four stars mean good stuff. Four stars are reserved for things I enjoyed enough, or things that intrigued me enough, to warrant a second or third read; for things that help me understand what makes people tick.
And then there’s the fifth star, for those books that work their way under my skin, that fundamentally change the way I perceive and understand things; for the kind of prose that sinks deep into the mind for the sheer beauty and majesty of the language. Five stars are the books that are friends for life.