Every book is a journey: Rob’s ‘reviewing system’ explained

Hopefully, one of the first things that you’ll notice when you visit RobAroundBooks is that it’s a little different to anything else that may already be out there in Internet land. And one of the ways in which I claim my uniqueness is in the way that I ‘review’ books. I’ve been running this system for a long time now but I don’t think I’ve ever explained it fully to anyone, and with the reintroduction of one of my features and the introduction of another, I thought it would be a good time to go through it (provided of course, you can stay awake).

You may have noticed that I used quotes around the word ‘review’ in that last paragraph, and that’s because I don’t exactly refer to my reviews as being reviews (well expect for individual short story/essay posts, but that’s another story). Rather, I like to call them afterthoughts.

In my mind, to ‘review’ is to suggest that one is some kind of authority on a subject, and although I perpetually read and am fairly well educated (I hold two degrees from Napier University, Edinburgh and the University of St. Andrews, and a bunch of college diplomas), I would never claim to be any kind of authority on books and reading, well at least until somebody considered me worthy enough to pay me for doing so (and we’d all be wise not to hold out breath waiting for that to happen).

What’s more I believe that every book is a journey, and that we operate on a different level when reading; certainly a much deeper one than simple opinion would reflect. From going from not knowing anything about a book to knowing absolutely everything, is a journey of enlightenment. It’s a cerebral experience that engages all the senses, and just like taking a physical journey from A to B, one emerges from a book with a head full of reflection and memories, and a ton of fresh perspectives and new experiences.

It’s a wonderful thing and it should be celebrated, and what I try to do in an afterthoughts posts – my equivalent to a review – is to empty my head of memory and reflection, and fresh perspectives and new experiences, and put them on paper so that others can get a taste of my own journey through a book, so that they may better gauge whether a particular book is for them.

Part of the ‘reviewing process’ for me also includes recording my initial thoughts ahead of reading a book in a forethoughts post. This is at a time when I’m almost completely ignorant about the book, yet excited at the prospect of the reading journey that lies ahead. Again, as you can see, my forethoughts form part of this journey analogy, and during this ‘preview’ post I offer an overview of the book itself and its author, while sharing my motivations for reading it, together with offering something on my hopes and expectations of it.

The journey IS the destination
Now, you’ll have no doubt heard loads of quotes saying something on the lines of the journey being more important than the destination, and it may come as no surprise to you – given my beliefs – that I consider this to be absolutely true. I believe that something profound happens when one slowly travels from the left cover to the right (or the right to the left depending on where in the world you read). It is during this time that one is experiencing enlightenment, and I feel it’s essential to record the memories and feelings that spark fleetingly through the mind at this time. Therefore, you’ll often find sandwiched in between my ‘forethoughts’ and my ‘afterthoughts’, reading journal entries on a book I’m reading, which set out to record parts of my journey ‘live’ so to speak.

I should add at this point, that my online reading journal has been inactive for a while – this post actually marks it’s return – but I have always religiously recorded physical reading journal entries daily, and in the past few months by candlelight and using a dip pen, which is I can tell you, a sensorially sublime experience.

A missing piece to the jigsaw
As much as I love my reviewing system (I know calling it a reviewing system is contradictory to what I’ve said, but I can’t think of what else to call it), I’ve always felt that there’s one small piece of jigsaw that’s missing from it. I cover the fore and after and the journey in between, but what of that initial spark of emotion when a book first lands in my hands? I may cover this to some extent in a forethoughts post, but by the time I get around to this my initial first impression has passed out the window and been long forgotten. And so, along with reintroducing my online reading journal to RobAroundBooks as part of my reviewing process, I’m also introducing a new feature, in the form of First Flick.

My First Flick feature will offer nothing more than the briefest of introductions to new books which have entered my life, along with a sentence or two as an initial reaction. As inconsequential and insignificant as it may seem, I think this is a critical ‘first step’ in charting a literary journey in full.

Reviewing collections and anthologies
While I’m at it I should give brief mention to the way in which I review short fiction and essay collections and anthologies, because again I ‘review’ these in what I think is a fairly unique way. It all stems from my belief that short stories and essays are created as separate standalone entities, and therefore they should be treated as such. And so I may still file a forethoughts post for a collection or anthology as normal, but then I will proceed to offer my afterthoughts on each individual story/essay in that collection/anthology. Granted this is a labourious and time consuming way of doing it, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. And yes, I’m well aware that collections/anthologies are often themed, but I address this in a final afterthoughts post, when I look at the collection as a whole. First and foremost it’s about the story standing on its own two feet.

So, as you can see the ‘reviewing system’ that I employ on RobAroundBooks is a rather drawn-out and exhaustive affair, but I think it’s important for me to do it this way. My ‘About Me’ page makes it clear that I consider books and reading to be a religion, and in featuring the books I read in the way that I do I am able to record my own journey to enlightenment, while drawing out the inner essence within me that fuels and defines my passion for literature. In doing so I hopefully achieve my ultimate aim, in bringing literary love and light into the hearts of all those who may wish to embrace it. Amen to that!

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books)

Comments

  1. I too hesitate to use the word “review” when I write about a book. I use it though, because I can’t think of anything else better.

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
      says:

      Know exactly what you mean Suzanne. As I pointed out above I still use the term, ‘review’ even when I’m trying not too :). It’s a difficult word because there’s few that compare with it in meaning.
      Warmest
      Rob

  2. stujallen (Twitter: stujallen)
    says:

    I love followimg your Journey in books rob , I wish I had time to do a similar system but fell my style of covering books is evolvin all the time ,all the best stu

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
      says:

      I think everyone’s ‘reviewing’ style evolves all the time, and that’s no bad thing.

  3. Marie Monaghan (@drivel_head) says:

    I love your ideas of forethoughts and afterthoughts! I really find it difficult to ‘review’ books properly because if they are any good they have usually affected my thought process in such a way that it is impossible to write anything other than a stream-of-consciousness style ramble about what I liked and didn’t like. If I can detatch myself for long enough to actually structure a proper review it usually means the book hasn’t entirely grabbed me.

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
      says:

      Hi Marie,
      I know exactly what you mean. It’s like one feels blocked because it’s something that’s been felt in the soul and it’s difficult to articulate that. I think stream-of-consciousness rambles works for reviews though, because they’re less formal, and tend, oddly, to get more to the heart of the matter.
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts x
      Warmest
      Rob