If you read my book reviews, you may notice that they’re overwhelmingly positive. And you may think to yourself: Does this guy like every freakin thing he reads?
The answer is an emphatic “No.” More on that in a second.
You may also notice that most of the books I review are relatively obscure. They tend to be volumes from small, independent publishers that aren’t likely to get reviewed elsewhere.
I just tried to do a Google search (always an excellent way of getting accurate and precise information) to find out the number of new books published every day. A lot of online sources are using the number 1,500.
I don’t know if that’s true or not. Let’s just say that a buttload of new books are coming out all the time.
And that’s more the case now than ever before. For better or worse, publishing is becoming increasingly decentralized. The big book publishers are making less money and subsequently cutting back. At the same time, the resources necessary to publish books are more affordable and accessible than ever. The end result is fewer titles by major publishers, more titles by small ones.
“Sturgeon’s Law,” named for science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, holds that “90 percent of everything is crap.” And I’m certainly not going to argue with the late, great Mr. Sturgeon.
Still, given the sheer volume of new books coming out, common sense would tell you that a lot of good stuff must be getting published that nobody hears about – or not enough people, anyway. I’m trying to do my part to rectify that.
I pick up a lot of books from book shows and science fiction and horror conventions, as well as bookstores and the Internet. Books from smaller publishers aren’t the only ones I read. But they do constitute the bulk of the ones I review.
So to revisit the question at the beginning: Do I like every one of those books?
No. Some of them are bad. Some are beyond bad. And a few are so profoundly Godawful that they literally make me cringe.
I just don’t review those books.
It’s not like I’m a film reviewer, and people are looking to me for a comprehensive rundown on what to seek out and what to avoid at the local multiplex this weekend.
The way I see it, the purpose of my reviews is to point you toward some good books you might not have run across otherwise.
The bad ones? You’re not likely to encounter those anyway. It’s not like they’re flooding your bookstore, or going out to mass media outlets in the form of review copies accompanied by swanky press kits that a crack team of professional public relations staffers put together.
In light of their relative obscurity, panning those books seems not only unnecessary, but borderline mean.
I see myself as comparable to the publisher and sole writer of a local alternative music zine, from the days before the phrase “local alternative music zine” sounded impossibly quaint. I’m just out to point you toward the club gigs by the great local bands you probably won’t hear on the radio, and remain judiciously silent about the Kiss tribute band in residence at the neighborhood bowling alley.
Then there’s the remaining question. The one you can apply to any arts critic.
“What qualifies YOU to say what’s good and what isn’t?”
In my case? Nothing in particular. I’m just a guy who likes books. And if you want, I’ll point you toward a few I’ve enjoyed. Maybe you’ll like them too.