Reviewing With Emotion

TheOceanattheEndoftheLaneI absolutely love this line in today’s excellent post by Patrick Rothfuss about Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane:

I will say this. It made me smile. I laughed out loud. I cried. Not because of any particular sad moment, but because sometimes the shape a story makes is like a key turning inside me and I cannot do anything but weep.

I know this feeling so well. I have strong emotional reactions to great books, too: I laugh. I cry. Most often of all, I get chills. The best art—not just books, but music, movies, you name it—will often generate strong emotion. It’s an almost physical reaction. It’s involuntary. It’s the high all readers chase after, I think, and for some it gets ever more elusive.

I try to cover different angles in my reviews. Some basic description of plot and characters. Some interpretation, or an attempt at such at least, without spoiling too much—themes, imagery, and so on.  I include, obviously, my own opinion—a recommendation to read the book, or not.

I believe my writing style can sometimes be a bit distant, reserved maybe—because I try to focus on the book and keep my personality out of the mix. It’s not about me, it’s about the book.

However, the very best books make this impossible, as Patrick Rothfuss so eloquently said in his post, and I don’t think there’s ever anything wrong with expressing that strong a reaction in a review. I felt that way when I reviewed Catherynne M. Valente’s Six-Gun Snow White earlier this year, and more recently when I read Kevin Barry’s City of Bohanewhich I’ll be reviewing here and at soon.

So while I often edit my own emotions out of my reviews before posting, replacing them with a relatively lame “highly recommended” or something like it, they’ll sometimes, inevitably, sneak in after all. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

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2 Responses to Reviewing With Emotion

  1. Pabkins says:

    I can’t help but have my personality in the mix. I figure if someone reads my review and jives with what I say as well as me that’s coming through what I’m saying then that helps them determine if they should even go with my opinion.

    I love it when a book gives me chills. You know what I hate though? Getting annoyed – i loathe annoying characters that get on my nerves and make me want to face punch them. It takes away the enjoyment for me even if I know the author is trying to make them annoying. You?

    I’m going to Neil’s San Francisco signing at the end of this month – I cannot wait!!

    • Neil is awesome. I met him a few years ago at a signing here in San Diego. My copy of Good Omens is now signed by both Neil and Terry – one of them wrote the first half of a joke, and the other one completed it.

      I don’t mind annoying characters as in “they’re annoying people” – what annoys me most is when they do things that don’t make sense except the author needs to advance the plot. E.g. (to refer to the other post you commented on) I think Miriam Black is an annoying person – she would drive me nuts inside of 5 minutes, but she’s a brilliant character because everything she does makes sense.

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