A reader recently asked me why I swung both ways, i.e. played on the other team as well. I reminded him that I was heterosexual and played only on one team. “But you write book reviews,” he reminded me. “So?” “But you are a writer yourself.” “So?” Then he went onto clarify that writers should not write reviews as that often put down other writers, especially the weaker ones. “Writers should endorse other writers, particularly their friends,” he said. “You could very soon be kicked out of the writing fraternity for your critical views on certain authors.” “Balls,” I replied, and decided to make a list of reasons for why I write book reviews:
1) To remind myself of what I have read
2) To learn the craft and make points that I want to revisit later
3) To remind myself that my books too should be subjected to this rigour by others. Together we should source good writing whoever’s it is, and expose mediocre stuff
4) To share my views with whoever cares to read them, and to help others choose books wisely
5) To engage with other readers and discuss the merits of books we share a mutual interest in
I am sure that I will come up with other reasons why, but the above are enough to keep me “playing on the other team.” Besides I don’t get paid for this endeavour, so who should care but me for the time put in? And as a fellow writer, I am conscious of the writer’s day•to•day challenges and try to look beyond the missing punctuation and other grammatical inconsistencies which should have been an editor’s job to take care of anyway.
There have been occasions when I have written reviews of books of writers whom I know. In the situation when I did not like the book, I have sent the review directly back to the writer in the hope that it would help him (or her), and the matter ends there; nothing is published, unless the writer insists that the review be put on public display.
And as for writing fraternities, or fraternities of any kind, they have existed from time immemorial. Like gangs, they provide security and protection for members while in existence. And like gangs, they can become insular and unwelcoming to newcomers who do not fit the profile. Writers are notorious for their gangs, which gather in strength and occasionally jettison one of their stronger members to make his way in the rough and tumble world of publishing. I have belonged to some of these fraternities, but have outgrown them, or they have outgrown me. They have however, been useful pit stops on my writing journey. But even established fraternities are under siege today while newer ones are forming in the age of Internet 2.0. In this environment, isn’t it prudent to play on as many teams as possible, for who knows of who will be left standing when Internet 3.0 comes around?
So, for now, I will continue to play on the other team as well. If money and the fear of viral criticism were not concerns, it is indeed a great time to be a writer in this era of Internet 2.0, for like this blog, there are many ways for writers to express themselves today. Reviewing books and sharing that learning online is one of them.