Thursday 7 April 2011

On Book Reviews

I came across a few posts recently, both on book reviews, but both with different focuses.  The first was on what reviewing does to you as a reader.  Grasping For the Wind asked: Do you think book-reviewing has soured your overall experience of books? Why or why not?, in response to this post wherein the reviewer stated he was going to stop reviewing books because it took the joy out of reading.

I can understand where he's coming from.  Reviewing entails a fair amount of pressure.  Books can take as little as a few hours or as much as a few weeks to read.  When a publisher (or worse, an author) has sent you a book, you feel obligated to read it a quickly as possible.  Sometimes the book doesn't suit your tastes.  Do you know how it feels to email a publisher back and tell them you didn't like the book they spent money on printing and mailing out to you?  How about an author you know personally?  It's not fun.  And luckily it doesn't happen (to me at least) that often.  But it does happen and it's not pleasant.

And it means two things for your reading.  1) You're not necessarily reading books of your choosing, pushing back books you'd really prefer reading first in order to fulfill your obligation and 2) you become a lot more critical when reading, finding flaws that normally wouldn't bother you and trying to pick apart what the author's doing so as to give information to potential readers about what the book did well and not so well.  In other words, reading becomes less fun as it's more of a job.

Having said that, when I come across a fantastic book, or a book that does setting or characters or pacing better than anything else I've read recently, it's great knowing you can encourage others to read it too.  And even with negative reviews, what I didn't like might be what someone else is looking for.

Reviewing is not for everyone, and you need to take breaks (like I'm planning on doing once my current obligation pile is gone) and remind yourself what fun reading can be.  

The second batch of sites I encountered were ones discussing the ratio of male/female reviewers and the gender bias of books reviewed.  You can find several pie charts concerning the SF magazines' ratios here.  And here's the post that linked me to it and got me wondering what my own averages are.

So I went to my pages, where I list reviews by subgenres, and counted them all.  Now, I read three categories of books: books that interest me, books I'm sent and books I feel I should read because they're classics/popular or deal with a subgenre I haven't read/reviewed in a while.

I've never stopped to wonder if I'm reviewing more books by men or women.  I like books that have good characters, intelligent plots and comprehensive world building. 

So here are my stats (this only includes published reviews, I have several in the wings waiting for publication):
For fantasy I've reviewed 33 books by men (including 3 horror novels) and 22 by women (1 horror).  
For urban fantasy it's an almost even 8 by men, 9 by women.
For science fiction (including steampunk) it's 23 by men, 16 by women (which is higher than I expected).  
For YA, 2 fantasy and 11 SF by men, 9 fantasy and 10 SF by women.
I also have 1 anthology and 1 book written by a husband and wife team that don't fit the above categories. 

That makes my totals 76 books by men, 65 by women.  Or roughly 52% of the books I review are by men and 46% are by women (that leaves 2% 'other').  So I guess my gender bias is fairly even and skewed only a bit towards men.  I think that's well done since, as I said, I've never based my reading on gender only on genre - trying to make my genres even out.

And I've not done the best there.  I've reviewed 57 fantasy novels (my preferred genre), 17 urban fantasy (my least favourite), 39 science fiction and 30 YA. 

Do you notice a gender balance in your reading or a gender bias?  Do you care about the author's gender?  Do you think reviewers should try to balance their reviews so as to avoid a bias?

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