This is a topic that has been playing on my mind for a couple of months now. See, there was a kerfuffle a little while back about whether book reviewers can be classed as 'normal' readers anymore. The general consensus was that this isn't possible - because book reviewers critically read their books.
This got me thinking then about critically reading - how and when I do it; why I do it; whether it improves my reading experience; whether I conduct the same criticism for all books?
Let me give some examples to illustrate these points. I was always encouraged by my parents and an English teacher I adored to think about WHY I enjoyed the books I read. This English teacher - one Ms. Clarke (the first person who encouraged me to think that I could write) - read my reading journal on a weekly basis, and I would offer up quotes for her and favourite passages that we could discuss at a later stage. She also involved me in the 1994 Carnegie award, when Theresa Breslin won for 'Whispers in the Graveyard' - I was given each of the books that had been nominated and had to review them. There the seeds of my blogging began!
So, for me, as I read most books I will be analysing whether the narrative works, if I enjoy the dialogue, if the characters have realistic motivations. All of these matters will go through my thoughts - maybe not in a clearly defined way, sometimes just in a 'Oh! I like this scene of dialogue!' way.
I say "most" books because there are certain genres that I read purely for the comfort - and have found it exceptionally hard to put thoughts together as to why I like the novels in question! This is mainly the chick lit genre - in a lot of cases, the prose is deliberately light and fast-paced, with little sophistication (there are obviously exceptions to this!) The characters can be very cliched, and the plots have holes you can drive trucks through. And yet I don't want to be scathing and critical in reviews of these novels, because they are genuinely what my soul needs at times. Sometimes you have to read fluff, especially after some serious and heavy-going books.
I have to say - at times, trying to read critically has disturbed my reading rhythm. Here I use The City & The City by China Mieville as my example. I deeply wanted to simply immerse myself in the experience of such an intelligent and exciting novel, but ended up pausing at points to jot down notes and quotes that I wished to use in my review at a later stage. I know some book reviewers who feel incapable of reading a book critically on a first pass - they need to tackle a book twice, the first to get a general sense of the story and the second to look at the details which will make up the review.
Having discussed a few personal thoughts with you about my own process, I would love to hear from other book reviewers across all genres. For those who read and review only chick lit, which details of the novels do you focus on? For everyone, do you follow the same pattern in your critical reading? Do you have particular habits, use any props (post-it notes etc.)?
I open the floor to my colleagues.