When Is a Book Review Not a Book Review?

POSTED ON Jul 30, 2010

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > Reviews, Social Media > When Is a Book Review Not a Book Review?

“De gustibus non est disputandum,” the Romans decreed. There’s no disputing taste. I’ve decided to agree with them.

Why? Because I enjoy reviewing books that are helpful to writers, self-publishers and people interested in typography and design.

At one time I built (for an organization) a large library of “books about books.” Works on typography, the history of printing, the book arts revival of the late nineteenth century, about bookbinding, paper, and so on.

Acquiring and reading these books deepened my appreciation of the “black arts,” as my father used to call all the ink-stained occupations around printing.

And one thing that these books tend to have in common is a serious respect for the history of book design and typography, and an attempt to create typographic beauty on the page. It’s only natural, considering these are books about the making of books.

Now, Not So Much

Of course, books about publishing aren’t nearly so well-mannered. Publishing is a business and business books range from the prosaic to the workmanlike, and occasionally they are beautiful.

But I have to admit that when I started to buy books—just last year—about the new self-publishing, about the world of print on demand, about selling on Amazon and all the new ways to get into print, I was astonished.

Right away I saw what reviewers had complained about:

  • incompetent layouts
  • unreadable typography
  • mis-paginated books
  • books whose arrangement was illogical or inconsistent
  • book covers that were completely artless, or worse
  • books that looked like reports, like journals, like blog posts, like anything but a book

And these were the books about self-publishing. Some contained excellent content, worthwhile resources, amusing stories, outstanding tutorials, really valuable stuff.

Like the most beautiful ahi tuna wrapped in an old piece of newspaper.

So What About Those Reviews?

This put me in a bit of a fix. Here I was, a new blogger writing about book design and self-publishing, anxious to review the books that are current in the field.

But on the other hand, how could I review the books without mentioning the design?

And to make it worse, I was becoming friends with many of the authors of these books.

After a couple of early fits and starts I decided to write completely schizophrenic book reviews. Unless something in the design actually made the book unreadable, I would simply be a book reviewer, not a design reviewer, and ignore the book design—or lack—completely.

This solution pleased me, and I’ve enjoyed reviewing books regularly, from Christy Pinheiro’s Step by Step Guide to Self-Publishing for Profit to Tuesday’s review of Sue Collier and Marilyn Ross’ The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing.

It was actually a comment on the latter review that made me realize I wanted to address this on my blog. I try not to write about the blog itself, because that’s not why people come here. But hey, you can break the rules once in a while.

I had some serious issues with the design produced by Writers Digest for The Complete Guide, but I ignored them, treating it instead like a standard book review. That doesn’t mean I didn’t notice.

I also have a standing offer for anyone who would like a design review of their self-published book to submit it to the Book Design for Self-Publishers Group on Self-Publishing Review, and I’ll be happy to review it as time allows. In those reviews, I ignore the content.

So between ignoring the design on my reviews here, and ignoring the content on my design reviews over there, I’ve struck just the right balance for me.

Does that work for you?

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by Alex Normand, https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexnormand/

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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