I recently asked friends and family to recommend a good book. I had been in a desert of non-fiction, and I needed a break. I also looked for really great book reviews. The kind that are great reads on their own.
I confess to some quirks in my reading habits, like occasionally jumping to the end to make sure the journey to get there is worth my commitment, but I’m not sure the authors intend for the non-linear reader to approach their story that way. That strategy is not my standard operating procedure, though. Most of the time, I don’t want to know the ending at all. It’s just that I’m one of those travelers who likes to see the full color brochure before I buy a plane ticket. A great book review will provide a glimpse into the world of the book. The reader won’t be walking in their shoes, just following their path. A great book review will guide you through the rough spots, allowing you to find the gems without giving up too soon.
Some readers love a great ending. I love a great beginning, like the opening lines of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic One-Hundred Years of Solitude, hints at the future that tease you and place you deep within the story before you turn the first page. A great beginning allows the reader to step into the story and start constructing the world where the characters will live, work, and play. It does not just depend on a raw description of that world, but creates a sense of place and time.
You can see in your mind the old cotton dress that is trying to hang on through the depression, the sunshine on the endless prairie, or the gritty sidewalk leading to no place in particular. If I see something curious in the beginning, I will keep going down the rabbit hole. A great book review can encourage the reader to wade patiently through a slow start to a great story and says, “Trust me, it is worth it.” Of course a great book review never spoils the ending. A great book review, however, will leave a red flag on the path.
As a writer, I think the quirks in my reading habits are born of the appreciation of the craft of storytelling and an understanding of the mastery it takes to place the reader into another world and make it come alive, summoning thoughts and feelings. A good story feels almost like a memory, so very real, yet you can’t touch it.
A good story is like a dance with the author in the lead, creating new steps to a dance performed between the imagination of the reader and the imagination of the writer. That dance is why, for all my quirks of wanting the beginning to promise that the end is worth the trip through the middle, many, many books have rewarded my patience with a good ending. Not necessarily a happy ending, but one that makes me appreciate that the writer is a storyteller who can braid together this part and that and tie it up with a little bow. A really great book reviewer is a storyteller who lets you peek inside their own journey through a book, an intrepid explorer who carves out a little path to a great ending.