Book review philosophy

My book reviews are about getting under the covers, or at least between them. I want to help potential readers understand what is actually in a book and what’s not, so that they know whether to read it for themselves.

I try to do two things in my reviews: one, provide enough of a sense of the book – how it’s organized, what it contains and doesn’t contain, how the writer’s style sounds, and how it compares or relates to other books – that you can decide for yourself whether it sounds like something you’d be interested in. Some books are extremely good or extremely bad, but most fall somewhere in the middle, and precisely because they’re neither timeless classics nor birdcage-liner, I may want to read them much more or much less than you do.

Two, I provide my reaction, the good, bad, and ugly, and do my level best to tell you why I had that reaction. I promise, I won’t just call a book “stupid” or say it’s “useless” – I’ll tell you why I think that’s so. I also won’t say that you need to read something without telling you why I think you need to read it. If you don’t think you need to read it, that’s the most important judgment.

I also try to provide a little perspective by putting a work in context in terms of the author’s background, other works, or the larger Pagan community and its ongoing discussions. Oftentimes a work is in large part a response to some other work, but that’s not stated anywhere in the pages – you have to know the context to get it. You might be coming in in the middle of an ongoing conversation, and without knowing that, it can be hard to make sense of whoever is talking or writing. I’m trying to make myself more familiar with those kinds of interactions and share them with you.

Finally, the ultimate test I try to apply to a book is what I tend to call “truth in advertising.” If a book’s cover says that it’s an introduction to Wicca, but most of it is taken up by a discussion of the Washington Redskins, that’s a truth in advertising failure. Most of the issues I deal with are more subtle. Sometimes the author doesn’t announce her intentions at all, and I’m left to try to figure out what those intentions might have been, to tell you about what they might be, and then to describe how well the author fulfills any intentions. If your book says that it’s an account of your astral journey to meet the Guardians, and that’s what’s in it, great. I may or may not like it on my own grounds, but I’ll give you credit for doing what you say. If, however, you say that your book is the foundation of your tradition, but most of it is your astral trip, I’ll be merciless in pointing out the mismatch.

Most of the time when we’re trying to decide whether to buy a book, we have a few minutes, at most, to check the cover and maybe table of contents, flip through, and make an up-or-down call. Amazon gives us a bit more, sometimes, but also a bit less when we can’t see the TOC or selected pages. I’m trying to get between the covers to help you make that call with a little more knowledge at your fingertips.