I’ve thrown out some thoughts in the past about books, reading, etc. and if you look at my past entries it’s pretty obvious that a fair number of posts revolve around book reviews. Many of these books are provided directly from the publisher in exchange for reviewing them here and/or on Amazon (and this is usually, if not always, noted in the review). Recently, I’ve come across a few interesting posts discussing the trend of “free books in exchange for reviews” (Bill Kinnon wrote “Bloggers need to invoice publishers…,” Jordon Cooper wrote “The Christian Book Whore,” and Jamie Arpin-Ricci wrote two posts here and here). Reading these thoughts (which are both constructive and critical) led me to a few thoughts about my own philosophy and practice about receiving and reviewing books.f
1.) I’ve never been given a book and asked to write a positive review. If someone did ask me to write a glowing review of a book I did not like or recommend, I would not write a positive review. Yet, I recognize that receiving a product for “free” (though, as Bill Kinnon argues, free is not necessarily the most accurate choice of words when describing these review copies) likely causes me to view the product more favorably as I enjoy the opportunity to read and review and have little invested in the book other than the time I took to read it. This means that my book reviews may tend to be biased in favor of the publisher, but I do not think I have been unfairly generous with the books I have reviewed (most of them are rather mediocre).
2.) I’ve become more selective in which books I choose to receive. As an unemployed post-graduate student, I have a surplus of time but not a surplus of money. Initially, this made me less critical about which books I would spend time reading and reviewing, but after reading a few too many books that I found little value in, I’m becoming more selective (and hopefully will continue to become more selective).
2a.) I also hope that this selectivity is reflective of the decisions publishers (and Christian publishers in particular) are making. There are a lot of books that receive a lot of negative and poor reviews and very few positive reviews, and hopefully publishers are listening and will stop publishing books that should not be published. There are enough good books available (many which would benefit (and benefit from) a wider readership) that we do not need the distraction of too often well-marketed and publicized mediocre/bad books. It would be interesting to see publishers take advantage of technology and social media by creating something comparable to the American primary election system with their books: accept a certain number of books for “candidacy,” let the blogging/reviewing community decide through their reviews which are worthy of publication, which need further editing and revision (with helpful ideas as to what kind of revisions), and which should remain unpublished. This would save publishers money and make things a lot more interesting.
3.) I try to review books that I choose to purchase (or get from the library) alongside those I receive from publishers. I hope this balances out the potential bias caused by receiving something for ‘free’, and I hope my level of discernment is balanced and fair regardless of where the book comes from (and/or how much I paid to get it).
4.) For now, I will continue receiving and reviewing books. After a few years of reading mostly formal and scholarly theology books and articles, I am interested in what types of books are coming out at a “popular” (rather than academic) level, as they are the books that most people choose to read. I feel a bit behind in this area, and want to be able to offer discerning and experienced advice when I’m recommending books at different levels. Books provided by publishers allows me to do this in a way that I would not otherwise be able to afford right now.
5.) Finally, although most of my posts are book reviews, I have tried to continue writing as many “normal” blog posts as possible. So, if the book reviews aren’t your thing, feel free to skip over them. I think I write as often (if not more often) about life, ministry, ideas, ramblings, etc. as I ever have, and hope that I can continue to balance that out. Let me know if you think I’ve gone off the deep end either way – I’d prefer this blog to be both personal and (in some sense) professional, but recognize that is not the easiest line to toe.
That is all for now.