We caught up with English teacher and fellow reviewer, James Neenan of Book Guy Reviews, to learn a bit about how he approaches his reviews, why he loves to read and what books he’d recommend you add to your TBR pile. All the linked titles here will take you through to his reviews—do take a peek.
Can you tell us a bit about your site: how long have you been reviewing and why did you start?
What kind of books do you review?
Whatever I’m reading at the time! I try to read as widely and diversely as possible, and hopefully my reviews reflect that.
What’s your reviewing process?
I read minimum of a book a week and make a point to review it within 24 hours of finishing, which in and of itself has taken far more perseverance and diligence than I previously thought.
How do you decide what to read next?
Library visits, I read the Paris Review which always has wonderful interviews with new and established authors/poets. That, and I’m constantly seeking suggestions from friends and fellow bloggers 🙂
What are three key things you look for in a good story?
This is a particularly tough question to answer in that what I’m looking for depends on the genre/type of book I’m reading. In regards to fiction:
- Strength of language: I recently read a novel a fan sent me to review, and I felt terrible, because after reading, I realized that my review was going to be scathing. Nothing against this individual personally, the writing was just fraught with typos, grammatical inconsistencies, and idioms that just didn’t exist. Needless to say I didn’t publish the review.
- Unique Characters: A diverse and exciting cast or voice is essential for me. If the characters read as simple imprints of others that have come before them, I stop reading.
- Plot: It’s got to be gripping in its own way. I’m not talking about explicit thrillers like Dan Brown, but the book, in some fashion, must be entertaining. That’s why we read, right?
What do you love most about reading, and why is it important?
Reading evokes empathy. It’s one of the most actively passive hobbies a person can have, and because it takes perseverance and diligence to finish the difficult books out there—it demands a sort of effort that other hobbies do not.
Why is it important? I could write a book about that question, but I’ll leave it with what I tell my students: It creates windows into the worlds and minds of people and places we would otherwise never be able to experience. What could be more important than that?
Why are book reviews are important?
Honestly, I don’t think they are that important. I review books out of a compulsion to articulate and quantify my thoughts on what I read. Really, I just want to entertain people out there with what I write, and hopefully inspire them to read more!
What’s been your favourite read so far this year?
What five books should everyone reading this add to their TBR pile?
If you could live inside a book, which one would you pick?
Harry Potter. I could go with something super literary here, but honestly, what sane person hasn’t wanted that owl from Hogwarts to appear in their fireplace.
Which three fictional characters would you most like to meet and why?
- Cheryl Glickman (from The First Bad Man) Because she’s one of the most uniquely fascinating people to appear in a book for as long as I can remember
- Dean Moriarty – because he’s mad.
- Don Quixote – because he’s Don Quixote!
Who is the one character you’d never want to run into in real life?
Meursault from Camus’ The Stranger. Would anyone?
What advice would you give to new and aspiring reviewers?
Set a schedule and stick to it. There are days when you don’t want to write anything, but you have to. That, and don’t do it for the viewers, do it for yourself. Reviewing sheds insight into your own reading that is strangely profound.
What advice would you give to emerging writers?
Same as above. Whether it’s fifteen minutes or an hour a day, be sure to attack the page every chance you can. The more you hone your craft the better it’ll get. That, and get used to churning out crap. Be content with the poor stuff that you write, because it’s only after you shed the excess weight of the terrible plots and characters can you get to the beauty beneath.
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