Reviews and Re-reading

I’ve never counted but I must have between 2,000 and 3,000 books in this house. It’s a small house and I have to fit in a husband and two inside cats, but of course the books come first. I do have a teensy collection on the iPad, but I prefer paper.

Every so often, when the stacks rise up from the floor and I start double-shelving, I weed and reluctantly toss a few cartons. Sometimes I end up re-purchasing the discarded titles.

I re-read constantly. I’ve done so all my life. I can remember checking the same titles out of the public library over and over, returning to my favorites. Back then, as a child, I couldn’t purchase the books and most were out of print anyway. I was lucky back then: it was a very good public library. Where I live now doesn’t have a good library. Years and years of bad decisions and shrinking budgets have ripped the heart out of it. But, bless it, there’s the internet and if it isn’t in print I can find it, and buy it. And keep it.

What have I got? Old mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, some memoirs, autobiographies, a few good biographies, references and commentaries on the above. If I like an author, I tend to collect everything they’ve written, so I have a complete run of old John D. MacDonald, Laurence Block, and Patrick O’Brian, who doesn’t fit in the above genre categories and the hell with the categories. I have John Sandford and J.K. Rowling, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, Elizabeth Moon, and Laurie King. I have Margaret Kennedy and Muriel Sharp. And a few hundred more: Tanya Huff, Walter Jon Williams, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, it goes on and on. Twenty years ago I gave up on random shelving and put them on the shelves by author, not because I was working as a librarian but because I kept purchasing books I already owned.

As I’ve said somewhere else on this blog, I’m late to Goodreads. I’ve thought of starting a project to list all my titles and post reviews of everything because heaven knows I have opinions on it all. Frankly, 3,000 reviews is a bit daunting to think about, plus Goodreads doesn’t have a “re-read” category, so it would look a bit strange to read a few thousand books in six months. Not to mention the “date read” box. Sometimes I’ve picked up a title on the day of publication and sometimes I’ve been, again, late to the party.

At the rate I read, and have read for many years, my collection is only a fraction of what I have gone through. If I’ve kept the book in the house, it’s a four star or a five star, because I’ve discarded the stuff I hated or considering the space problem, the stuff I mildly disliked. So the reviews would have a disproportionate amount of high marks, as though I loved everything bound between two covers. Also, now that I am writing my own stories, I have a new sensitivity to comments about plot or characters. Perhaps I am missing the author’s point through not reading carefully. But it is, in the end, the author’s responsibility to attract and keep the readers, not just the friendly ones.

Right now, I’m grinding through creating the plot of my new book. I might, as a break, review a few titles/authors a week and see how far I get. But it is certainly easier to critique other people’s hard work than to do hard work of my own, and that’s not a trap I want to fall into.

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Mary Holland

Mary Holland writes alternative-world fantasy for grown-ups. Her books include Matcher Rules, The Bone Road, and The Dog of Pel. She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with three cats and an ever-changing assortment of wildlife.

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