Back in 2003 or so, I started writing reviews, first on spec for places like Plots With Guns, then semi-regularly for a now-defunct print magazine. Eventually, this led to in invite to write for the Private Eye Writers of America newsletter, a monthly gig I held for about four years or so. In turn, this led to regular reviews in January Magazine, then Mystery Scene. Not a bad progression and certainly a damn sight better than writing crappy screeds on Amazon. (Some of those make me wonder if the reviewer could even read the book they’re talking about, since English appears to be a third language in some of them.)
But a writer friend once told me reviews are the worst sort of gigs to get as a writer. They don’t pay well, and in my case, most of the gigs didn’t pay at all. But you have to put in 4-6 hours reading a book, then write the review. In the case of my one paying gig, that was 4-6 hours where I’d read an assigned book and write a review that might not get published.
In the meantime, the old bugaboo of academic demands reared its ugly head, and real life tossed a period of unemployment my way. Contrary to what you might believe, unemployment does not give you more time to write or to read. You’re too busy job hunting, and most of my unemployed period was spent job-hunting while doing contract work.
Something had to give, and if you’ve read this space regularly for anything besides the boob posts, you know I very nearly stopped writing altogether last November.
But if I am to write, to graduate, and to keep my now-shifting IT career on track, reviewing has to go. So it has. As of today, I’m reading solely for pleasure again. Not that I reviewing didn’t have its pleasures. In fact, I was told by Mystery Scene‘s Teri Duerr not to waste time on books I didn’t like.
There are some reviewers who take special pride in writing negative reviews. Personally, I’ve always believed those reviewers should never have been allowed to write. It’s not negative reviews I dislike. It’s the perverse joy some people take in writing them. They seem to secretly harbor ambitions of being political pundits: Long on venom and bullshit, short on any sort of worthiness of the very oxygen they steal from more deserving human beings. Like murderers, con artists, and that person you picked up a rash from after hooking up one night clubbing. I never did. It’s like when people spend long screeds complaining about TV shows or music they don’t like. My response is usually, “Well stop watching/listening and shut the hell up, dumbass!”
Nor did I ever aspire to literary criticism. I’ve done it. Academically. But it’s like opera to me. There are people who enjoy it, but while I can appreciate the skill and structure of opera, it sounds like a lot of noise to me. Same with literary criticism. I don’t want to read the implications and cultural relevance of The Great Gatsby. I just want to read Gatsby. Period.
So I reviewed. I said why I liked it and what didn’t work for me. But after a while, even that got to be a chore. I like just picking up a book, reading it, and moving on to the next.
I don’t miss reviewing, but I don’t regret it, either. I got to read books I normally wouldn’t have read.
But I need to get back to writing.