"It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away." - lyrics by the BeeGees that I live by and strive to inculcate in life
Everything in this world has a review because we are humans. Humans (who have brains - and some who don’t) have opinions that range from wholehearted agreement to outright denial and everything in between. Thus, reviews were born.
For this piece, I’m specifically writing about book reviews, as in the past I took great pains to avoid them, but now find myself seeking them out and writing my own.
There are different types of book reviews and since I am also a human with opinions, I will be giving my two pennies on some of these types.
1. The reviews we vomit out during school for a literature class:
These are the commonest and probably the most hated types of reviews that any one of us has ever had to come across. We had to present a reasonably decent piece for these because they determined our grade and whether we passed that course. I have no recollection of what I wrote in those or what I wrote about because, like I said, I vomited those reviews on paper after choking down the original content.
2. Reviews that will never be articulated on paper but have continuous mental additions.
For me, these comprise the books I read during my school years, not for a grade, but during the assigned reading times. Somehow I had got my hands on the shortened versions of a few classics and because I abhorred physical activity, I read through all of them. To be honest, I understood the gist of the story - because that is essentially what was written in those books - and I’m glad I do so that now I don’t have to struggle though the actual book. I understand that reading classics is a fad and trend, but man those things are boring, and I am so glad that I can cook up a review of those books from memory if and when required (a classic example would be when you are doing your younger sibling’s literature homework because your entire family has managed to blackmail you into doing it, and aforementioned sibling is simply too lazy to do it on their own)
3. One line reviews (praise and criticism alike) regarding every published book.
I’m specifically talking about the ones that are printed either at the back or front of the book or in the first few pages. Of course, the ones printed would be praise (the criticism comes if one goes on online review sites). I never understood them, not the fact that they exist, but the fact they only consist of a single sentence. An opinion cannot be described in a single sentence. Opinions arise from a tangled mess of reason which is connected to another tangled mess of reason and so on and so forth. How did you manage to convey all that clutter in a single sentence of ten to fifteen words (I’m being very generous with the word count here)? You can’t review a book by simply stating that it was ‘enthralling’ or it was a ‘disgrace’, you need to give reasons so that other people may present their own opinions on that subject.
4. Reviews that basically summarizes the text.
Now I understand that summary reviews are a thing. These are what lazy/disinterested people go for when they want to know the basic plot points without having to read the book. I, too, have been a part of this category a few times when I just couldn’t manage the motivation to go through a book. Honestly, these reviewers are doing a great service to humanity and I thank them with all my heart. These are also the reviews that I diligently ignore when they pertain to a book that has found a place on my ever multiplying TBR pile. I do not need spoilers in my life - that I have not specifically sought out.
5. Reviews that are basically key-smashes with a lot of exclamation points and other emojis.
These are in direct contrast to the kind of review mentioned in point number three above. The contrast being in the emotion it represents. I am pretty sure it is a type that has come into existence after the internet became a household staple and millennials and new generations started to take an interest in literature. These are one of my favourite type as I can understand what they felt by ‘reading’ the characters that were typed. Almost any emotion can be expressed in these reviews, and it is marvellous that I can understand them even in the absence of words or having never met this reviewer in my life.
6. Reviews that concentrate on a particular point mentioned in the book.
These can be either for or against the point mentioned and these are another of my favourites. It shows that the person has taken the time to think about that point they are arguing about (even if that argument makes so sense to anyone else but them). These reviews signify that these people took time out of their lives to read a book, think about it, consider a point (any point that fascinated them), research about that point (this step may be skipped by some reviewers), write down their opinion about that point and finally publish that opinion into the world. They have essentially fulfilled the greatest purpose of any author - to make humans think.
7. Reviews about how a book impacted the reviewer life
It is very easy to find a list of books with the title: ‘Books that will change your life’. Everyone wants to change their lives, because the grass is always greener on the other side. That’s the reason why this title is so popular. But I’m not talking about lists here. I am talking about the reviews that I have come across that mention how reading a book (or any piece of literature) changed lives. When I was younger, I didn’t read these because I like to have my own unique experience with a book. But now I try to read some of them so that I can understand the difficulties that a person may encounter and how they were able to overcome them.
8. Reviews that use the subject of a book to postulate on an opinion
These are the reviews that I absolutely adore and the type I indulge in the most. Like I mentioned, an opinion - or any idea for that matter, arises from a web of clutter. When one strives to understand a particular point, they will eventually have to consider another related point as well and that is how reason can be found in the ever present chaos. Such reviews have flung me across chasms and pushed me down rabbit holes and I have come on the other side with the absolute certainty that I have learned a ‘new thing’ while discovering a thousand other things that I don’t understand. This basically creates a cycle of learning that can never end because the human life is finite while the universe is expanding infinitely and not in a hurry to get anywhere in particular. These are also the kind of reviews I prefer writing because they give me a sense of pride that I contributed in some way to this delightful chaos (even if that pride is completely baseless)
That is all that my two pennies were worth. A review on reviews. I might have a different pair of pennies later on, or they might be worth something else later on in the future, but for now this is all I have.
I would also like to add an extra penny to the two I provided earlier and add a short piece on mindset. That is, my mindset while writing reviews.
This is a fairly new exercise for me because earlier I didn’t think I was capable of it outside of academics. I am still trying to discover my writing style and making the habit of articulating my opinions (which I have a lot of) into words - not just in my mind, but on paper - or the virtual equivalent of it - as well.
Reviews and opinion pieces have played a great role in shaping my life views, and now I would like to put these fleeting ideas into more concrete forms. I hope that by writing reviews I may start building some structure for the web that I want my thoughts to be in so that it is perfectly designed to catch even more ideas and postulates that can entice me and cultivate my writing.
© 2021 Sanjana Mahanta