Reading is one of the most intimate, personal activities we can do in public. Sitting on the bus or a park bench or in a restaurant, we can read about fantastic worlds, individual triumphs, grand adventures, erotic moments, and horrific loss. Whether or not the story touches my heart or captures your focus is very idiosyncratic. We always bring who we are to the reading experience.
I'm a lesbian who enjoys reading and talking about the books that I've read. I am a fan of lesbian mysteries, lesbian speculative fiction, and lesbian romances. I particularly enjoy finding and sharing new writers, especially from small, independent presses, with other readers. I review mostly novels that are usually (although not necessarily) written by lesbians or bisexual women with lesbian (or bisexual) lead characters (this is especially true in romances) or at the very least, stories with strong female protagonists.
For myself, I find that issues of time constraints and emotional energy can impact my enjoyment of and engagement with a book. There are books that I believe I read at the "wrong time" in my life and as a result they did not leave the kind of impression they might have left had I read them another time. There are books that, despite their popularity and quality, I simply don't like. I don't like brussel sprouts either, but I realize lots of folks do, and will leave them to tell you about the virtues of the vegetable.
I have some basic expectation of literary skill: books need to have decent plots, good character development, and more often than not, a sense of humor. These are books I read for my own pleasure, so a laugh can go a long way with me. Overall, I have to be able to empathize or sympathize with one of the lead characters. This is especially true of lesbian romances or fiction with a strong romantic element. (The last thing I want to read is how two characters that I hate --or don't respect-- are having fabulous sex.)
"The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story." Ursula K. Le Guin
I will not review a book that I have not read (completely). Ergo, if I didn't like it well enough to finish it, I won't review it. That's because I know that there may be lots of other folks who love the book. What's the point in my dissing it? I'd rather point you to books that I like than be a warning sign against those I don't like. If I like parts of a book, but have problems with it, I may post a review explaining the problems I had with the book.
I try very hard to explain and give examples of what I like and don't like in a novel, because you as a reader, might not be bothered by historical inaccuracies, or limited setting, but I might be bothered. Further, as someone who provides readers' advisory for a living (although rarely for lesbian fiction), I want to give a complete picture of my opinion of a novel so that a reader, who might dislike the book for all the reasons I liked it, will select something more to their own personal tastes.
Another reason I post reviews is as an opportunity to provide feedback to the authors. I once had an author tell me that writing a novel was like performance art with extremely delayed gratification. Trust me when I say that unless she's J.K. Rowling or Nora Roberts, she's not getting paid that much, and deserves every "thank you" I can help to provide. I want to encourage writers to keep writing and for me part of that is telling them what worked for me in their books.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I believe lesbians writing stories about lesbian lives are very brave women and I value their efforts to provide images for us all. It is hard to make a life for oneself when that life goes against the mainstream. Wonderful, high-profile, out lesbians are increasing; however, we all need more everyday mirrors for our lives. Books are still the best place to find those mirrors.
If there is anything I enjoy as much as reading books, it's likely talking about books. So feel free to post a comment or drop me a note to mj(at)mjlowe.info.
BN: This entry is future dated so that it will always greet you. 04/01/08
by Deborah Dewit-Marchant.
A print of it hangs in my living room.
To find more works by this wonderful artist,
check out her website Dewit Marchant