What I’ve Learned by Reviewing Books

I noticed something the other day. For all of my book reviews, I’ll give a capsule rating with scores ranging from 0-5. I put a pretty good bit of time into each one, flipping back through my notes, looking over the dog-eared pages, tracking down links online, etc. When I first start writing the review, I’ll go ahead and write the draft title in the usual format: Title (review: rating). What I’ve found is about ¾ of the time, my rating for the book will creep upwards as I write my review for it.
I read this good advice about learning the other day: “If you don’t understand something, try to explain it out loud, then listen to yourself.” It’s a challenge to look over a book try to sniff out the big ideas, highlight what is interesting, and articulate what I learned—and to figure out how to share that without rambling on for 5,000 words (which isn’t bad, but this blog is the wrong context). It brings to mind that old quip: “Learn to pause… or nothing worthwhile will catch up with you.”

There’s something about the process of looking over the book again and taking a while to reflect on everything, letting ideas and impressions gel together, that increases my evaluation of it. It’s no accident that “appraise” (to evaluate) and “appreciate” (to recognize quality) share the same etymological roots. It takes some time, but the result is worth it: I think more highly of what I understand more clearly.