Reader’s Dilemma #34: The Trustworthyness (or Not) of Book Reviews

Reader’s Dilemma #1, of course, is “Many Books, Little Time” – which, inevitably – at least for many of us booklovers – leads to a semi-reluctant reliance on book reviews as a device for discerning what we shall risk reading, of all the possible things out there vying for our bookish attention.

In a brilliant explanation of how exasperating it can be to be overly-dependent on book critics, the editors of n+1 recently pointed out why we readers are so often disappointed with so many book reviews – and how book blurbs (often cropped from reviews) are more often misleading than helpful.

The problem, it seems, has a lot to do with how book reviews (and book blurbs) are usually written and the conditions under which people often write them.

The article is long, but certainly summarizes Reader’s Dilemma #34.

Read the n+1 “editorial.”

Found via an alert at Arts & Letters Daily


The Neglected “To Be Read” List

Most booklovers have one: a list of books that you Fully Intend To Read One Day.

For some of us, this list is embarrassingly – or at least intimidatingly – long.

British biblioblogger Janet Jones recently characterized her own TBR list in what I thought was a particularly charming – and accurate way:

Are you sometimes surprised, dear reader, at what you actually discover when you start browsing among the peaks and vales of your very own TBR mountain? . . . Notable books from yesteryear’s “best of” and prize lists! Sales books that were so attractively priced they demanded to be taken home! Serendipitous books rewarding an afternoon’s ramble in musty old secondhand shops and elbowing others at crowded library book sales! Impulse books (this category speaks for itself) and books acquired with an eye to impressing your visitors! Books that you were hot to read after a particularly glowing review by one of you naughty bloggers (names are unnecessary — you know who you are) but that you never actually read because you lost interest before your hard-to-locate copy arrived! “Mystery” books whose reasons for being on your shelves is now a conundrum that will never be solved!

If you like Jones; writing style, or are curious about what she’s been reading lately, you can find her blog here.

How Much of Your Reading is Re-Reading?

Nobokov's Lectures on Literature cover

We’ve all heard about, or read about, readers who’ve repeatedly read certain books – even readers who claim to read a certain favorite at least once a year.

On the other hand, other booklovers – perhaps oversensitive to the the tragic arithmetic resulting from the “So Many Books, So Little Time” predicament of all readers – choose against reading again any book they’ve already read, regardless of how much they enjoyed reading that book the first time, or how profoundly it affected them.

Like so many other avid readers who were also writers, Vladamir Nabokov encouraged readers to spend more of their reading time revisiting certain books – usually those books that are widely considered classics.

According to Nabokov, “A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.” He beautifully explained his reasoning in his introduction to Lectures on Literature (1980). This essay is not a quick read, but it’s a persuasive one.

Read Nabokov’s essay.

Found via Patrick Kurp’s February 7, 2020 blogpost at Anecdotal Evidence

“How Long Will It Take to Read This Book?”

So Many Books So Little Time

In a recent blogpost, bookish blogger Alexander Atkins mentions a heretofore unknown-to-me genuine Internet Wonder, a website developed by Idaho-based Bridger Putnam that will tell you, based on your reading speed, how many hours it will take for you to finish reading any given book.

I just plugged into the website the title of the book my book club just finished reading this week and found the results to be quite plausible.

Given the difficult – and important – choices book clubs are constantly forced to make, and the numerous factors that sometimes go into choosing one book over other candidates, this tool could come in mighty handy at times in resolving some of those choices.

And for any reader, even those not participating in (or even allergic to) book clubs, this tool is also a sobering reminder of ye olde adage “So Many Books, So Little Time.”

Found at Atkins’s Bookshelf blog

On Getting Rid of (Certain) Books


“It is not merely absurd to keep rubbish merely because it is printed: it is positively a public duty to destroy it. Destruction not merely makes more room for new books and saves one’s heirs the trouble of sorting out the rubbish or storing it: it may also prevent posterity from making a fool of itself. …But it is not always easy to destroy books….”

Indeed: it is not always easy.

To fortify your resolve, read this digitized essay written at the beginning of the 1900s by Sir John Collings Squire, literary editor of The New Statesman and The London Mercury (and included in Selected Modern English Essays (Oxford University Press, 1927).

Found via booklover Patrick Kurp’s most excellent blog Anecdotal Evidence

The Shock of Recognition…???

Stacks of books on table

Angela Liao explains what the Japanese term tsundoku means – and how to pronounce it.

She then offers several methods of dealing with it.

Several of these suggested “remedies” sound promising. Or you can skip them all and enjoy the solace offered by Liao’s final paragraph:

However, if the mere presence of the beautiful stacks can bring you joy and lift up your mood, then you have nothing to worry about. As British fiction writer Jeanette Winterson said, “Book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate. It is not a hobby. Those who do it must do it.”

Found at Bookstr

“On the Heartbreaking Difficulty of Getting Rid of Books”


Over at Literary Hub, blogger Summer Brennan thoughtfully examines whether it makes sense to apply the clutter-ridding principls espoused in Marie Kondo’s bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to one’s personal book collection.

The comments of readers of Brennan’s essay are as thoughtful as the essay itself.

Whatever you think about this dilemma, I think we can all agree that hanging onto or getting rid of books is far from a rational process.

This is definitely one of the best essays on this topic I have read. A bonus is Brennan’s hyperlinked list of nonprofit agencies that will accept any books you do decide to “let go of” in any of your impulsive or long-put-off purges. (And don’t forget your local public library, most of which also accept donated books in decent condition.)

Found at Sue Searing’s Facebook page