Recently I was talking with my wife about some podcast and website stuff here on AIC Stories and she thoughtfully listened to me whine for a couple minutes before stopping me and asking me that one powerful question… “Why do you care what anyone else thinks? You do this stuff because you enjoy it, don’t you?”.
Of course the short answer is, well yeah of course I do it because I enjoy it.
But, as with any artist or creative, there is that desire and hope that even though you do it because you enjoy it JUST MAYBE someone (or many someone’s) may ALSO enjoy it.
The old concepts of “needing to feel somehow validated in our creative pursuits” likes to rear its head when least wanted.
As we finished that conversation (I was in the shower and she was in the bathroom getting ready for work so as the water got cold and I finished my shower, she finished getting ready for work and headed out) I stated that “Of course I enjoy doing this, but I ALSO hope others enjoy it too and maybe even find it entertaining or useful. I mean, after all, why else review a book or movie? If it’s ONLY for myself, I don’t really need to write up and record a review of it… I just watched or read the damn thing and already KNOW what I feel about it.”
Laughing it off we went about our day.
But it’s stuck in my head. The whole idea of WHY do reviews and WHAT am I hoping to accomplish with them is one that likes to rear it’s head now and again for me.
A while back I watched a video on YouTube from the fantastic Well Read Beard. (Sidebar – go follow/subscribe to him on YouTube and Twitter, it’s well worth it as he’s a good dude sharing tons of great info about the horror books he loves to read)
He was reviewing a book that he didn’t particularly love and you could tell he wasn’t loving the thought of delivering a somewhat negative review of this particular book. But he spoke briefly about WHY he was still going to deliver an honest review.
WRB went on to explain how he doesn’t get anything out of going online and bashing a book he didn’t enjoy, doesn’t like to do it and knows it’s always a bad feeling to receive a negative review(I’m paraphrasing) so he doesn’t look forward to having to say he didn’t like the end result of all the hard work an author has put into crafting their story. BUT – He also explained how his reviews ARE NOT for the author’s benefit. Sure they are a bit of publicity for the book. But the MAIN reason he reviews the books he does is to share these books with his audience, being fellow readers and horror story fans.
THOSE are the people he felt deserved an honest review.
I agree whole-heartedly.
An honest review, be it good or bad, HAS to remain HONEST. If you don’t have that, your word means nothing.
I know that when an author or publisher sends a copy of a book for review, they are hoping for some good news back. But the truth is, not every story is going to land for every reader and there is a big difference in wanting an honest review of a book and wanting a praise filled promotion of a book.
Now, I say all this but want to make something else very clear.
I am NOT in favor of the trolls that take joy in completely ripping down a book or film just because they didn’t like it. These people usually can’t really articulate WHY they didn’t like it or WHY the story didn’t work for them.
Instead they are basically toddlers throwing a temper tantrum and refusing to acknowledge that while the story didn’t connect with them, it MAY have some redeeming qualities that other readers and viewers may enjoy.
Anyways, don’t feed the trolls… the world has too many of those idiots already.
But then, I read this wonderful article today from Strange Horizons about criticism and reviews.
Seriously, click that link, read the article, then come back here and I’ll finish up.
Ok, you’re back, great!
They talk about how there is a difference in criticism and reviews, but how they both feed off of and essentially need each other. They talk about the benefit, as a reader, to having the ability to think critically about what it is you’re reading(or I’d add watching), getting past the surface level reactions and really digging in deeper to see the truest sense of what that text(or film) is saying and how you are interpreting it.
And even if you aren’t writing reviews for websites, podcasts, social media, or YouTube, there is real value in putting some critical thinking into practice to further enhance your enjoyment of good storytelling.
You know, I worked for many years at a movie theater. First as an usher and then for years in management. As such, I watched every single film that came through our small theater for years and years. And I rarely gave a critical thought to any of them.
I became numb to movies because there were none that seemed to REALLY step up and blow me away. I usually found SOMETHING enjoyable about the movies and as such if I were to rate them(which I wasn’t doing back then), everything would have been given a 4 or 5 star review. They all did the same thing… allowed me to check out of reality for some mindless movie time for a few hours. If it did that, I was cool with it.
By the time I moved on from the theater I grew totally burned out on all movies, and as such hardly watched ANYTHING for the next 5 or so years. I’d catch a film with my wife on date nights here and there, but that was about it.
Loving everything and never taking time to really THINK about what I was watching made everything seem bland and boring… a waste of time.
And that really sucked.
But fast forward a bit and I began to take time to think about the movies I was watching. Looking at them as more than just some “mindless fun” and seeking to better understand the messages and themes and even really getting into appreciating the details such as cinematography, pace, music, and the like.
What happened is I started to find more and more movies I didn’t really care for… AND found a renewed LOVE for the art of storytelling and movies because when a film got it right… I REALLY loved to enjoy those moments.
Then I started getting back into reading.
I’ve read my whole life and as a kid/young adult I was a voracious reader. Then through my 20’s and 30’s life got busy, I played in a band, got married, had kids, and just didn’t give myself the space to dedicate to reading like I used to. I didn’t realize how bad I missed it until I started interviewing authors on the podcast and as part of that I had to make sure I was reading all of their books before I’d interview them.
It lit a fire under me and I’m finally getting back to my previous levels of reading.
And now, since I’ve started adding and writing reviews for the site here and also for the podcast, it’s made me continue to focus deeper on the stories I’m consuming.
The simple act of sitting down to write out my thoughts about a book I read or a film I watched allows me to better understand my connection with(or lack thereof) a story.
Which brings us back to my wife’s question while I was in the shower the other day. “Why do I care what anyone else thinks? You do this stuff because you enjoy it, don’t you?”.
Ultimately, there is real value to me in taking time to sit down and write about or talk about the stories I’m watching and reading. It helps to truly enhance my reading and watching enjoyment(yes, even when I don’t LOVE a story) because it gives me the opportunity to think critically about what it was I just consumed.
It moves the books and films from the world of “mindless fun” to “life enrichment”.
So even if I never wrote another blog post review or recorded another audio review, I’d still keep a journal of my written thoughts on the books and movies I’m taking in.
I choose to publish them publicly because I feel it’s important.
No, not that MY OPINION is somehow super important to anyone else. But because there MIGHT be 1 or 5 or 10 or 100 people who read this site or listen to the podcast that may be looking for a new recommendation. People like you, who may be thinking about picking up a book but aren’t sure if they’ll like it. Or who may be scrolling through Netflix looking for something to watch, but are overwhelmed with the tidal wave of options.
And yes, I truly enjoy working with authors and publishers to read and review books and always look forward to the opportunity to speak with the authors whenever possible to discuss their works.
I always HOPE to be able to LOVE a story because I want to be a cheerleader for the author that has poured themselves into their writing just because they had a story that needed to be told, that needed to come out.
As a lifelong creative, I can fully empathize with the need to create something and the courage needed to release it to the world and HOPE that people don’t absolutely hate it… or worse, that it lands without notice and is simply ignored.
I’ve been on both sides of that equation and truly appreciate the work that goes into chasing your creative passions AND being willing to release it and share it with the world.
I dread taking in a story and finding that it just wasn’t for me because I feel so horrible saying I didn’t like it.
But at the end of the day, my loyalty is to those of you who have chosen to follow me and who are interested in what I think about the stories I’m consuming. And the ONLY way for that to be worth ANYONE’S time, myself included, is if I give my honest thoughts.
And that’s my pledge to you, whether you are an avid reader, film lover, author, or film-maker. If I’m going to take time to read/watch or otherwise consume(hello to the MASSIVE amounts of audio storytelling I constantly pump into my ears via all sorts of amazing podcasts!) then I’m going to share with you my honest thoughts about the story.
Through some critical thinking, some gut reactions, and by always being willing to look a little deeper into what the story is really saying to me, you’ll get my HONEST views on it all.
We may not agree, which is perfectly ok. But there will never been any troll-like nastiness and negativity because even if a story doesn’t quite connect with me… I know there are ALWAYS elements that MAY connect with someone else.
So send me your books and I’ll give an honest review. I’ll also likely ask to schedule a time for us to chat about your book for the podcast so we can learn more about you and your stories and all that goes into it. If you think there’s a film or streaming series/show I NEED to see, send me your recommendations and I’ll do my best to take a look and share my thoughts here or on the podcast.
But at the end of the day, know that whether I’m sharing them publicly or not, I’m the BIGGEST supporter of taking time to think a little deeper about ALL stories, even if it’s just jotting thoughts in a personal journal, because that’s where we find TRUE enjoyment in storytelling.
And it’s the only way to find the true heart of what stories speak to you at your deepest core levels.
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Keep reading, listening, watching and most importantly… enjoying stories and storytelling!