Book Notes: Learning from Books


A little while ago I took the most-often taken road of a writer – I decided to no longer review books. This is something quite difficult NOT to do. Writers, are by nature, readers firstly – most of us got into writing after a lifetime reading habit.

Once we accept and start working on writing as our domain, our career, we also strike the contrariness of reading as a writer, and no longer for pleasure.

Reviewing books becomes our very nature – what did we like, what would we do better…how did the author do that? what star rating is that book worth?

Stepping away from reviewing is quite difficult to do – if we’ve purchased that book off one of the many retail websites, we are bombarded with emails reminding us that we should be reviewing it. And, if we’re – as most authors know we should be – on community reading sites like Goodreads, we also have reviews or star ratings to put up there for yearly reading challenges, group work and to prove to somebody (if only ourselves) that we are indeed, active readers.

But then there’s the politics of one side of this coin – I’ve read with mouth dropped open several blog posts across the web lately, suggesting that some other authors get despondent when fellow authors give them less than five star ratings. Yet, in the next sentence we are told to be honest with our views. Yet others tell us to either not put reviews up at all if we can’t give them a five star, or leave it to the readers only. Considering every author I know is also a reader (and reading is part of the magic formula for writing), this dismisses a heck of a lot of the readership from books.

Reviews are fraught with politics, sock puppet and purchased review scandals. Other authors appear to uphold an IOU or calling in favours regime. It’s such a shame that such feedback is so political, and that many writers like me are now considering our options with any book we read and enjoy – or not. Or indeed, whether we have any options other than keeping stum.

Hence my own decision to stop reviewing books. Even the ones that – in my opinion – actually should have a five star rating on them.

Wind-back….say what? No reviews. That doesn’t sound like me at all.

Yeah, caught me.

Ninety-five percent of the books I read will have much I find valuable in them (despite my ratings).  I’m a slow and considerate reader – I take my time and muse over chapters, I try to apply new knowledge to my writing work at the time. At the least, I note-take. Or sketch-take (I use some white-board apps and a jot flip stylus on my old iPAD, or type in notes into a note template sent directly into Evernote.) And with Kindle app highlights and quotes, I have a ready log of my own thoughts and learnings as I go.

I’m a huge Writing Craft fan – I hope I remain so for the rest of my days. Lifetime learning is one of my own holding patterns, and reading the latest writing craft and technical books is part of that passion and drive.

So, instead of reviews, I will be offering a growing series of tidbits and learnings I’ve personally taken from relevant books to my own writing life. I’ll link to the books on Amazon, show you a book cover, and perhaps how I’ve put the information to use. Sometimes I might just post my sketchnote and be done  with it. The series will be found under the “Book Notes*” category. I will be using affiliate links to Amazon for this, but with the promise I’ll only be sharing book notes on books I found really helpful. I hope occasionally that I manage to introduce you to a book you consider interesting and worth purchasing to study yourself.

* When exactly did cheatsheets / cliffnotes, lexicons and/or study guides get so accepted in society exactly? In my day of secondary education it was never okay to read cliffnotes of Shakespeare’s works etc (we only had a few, and they were incredibly expensive and rare to find) – we pretty much had to recreate the graft ourselves. On the other hand, it would have been interesting to see our bards like Shakespeare et el, working through the Amazon review system.


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