In the process of writing my review for Tom Gallant‘s new novel The Lord God Bird (Quantuck Lane Press, 2012), a curious difficulty of reviewing books occurred to me to which I have not previously given sufficient consideration. I liked Mr. Gallant’s book – not just as a pleasant idle story read once and then more or less forgotten but in a way that I would go well out of my way to encourage others to read as well. However in putting the words together that would best express my appreciation of both the story itself as well as the manner in which it was told, I found myself at a loss for the right word or phrase far more often that I usually am. I would write something, read it back, and then change it as not sufficiently effective in conveying the idea I wanted to convey.
This is not how I normally write, and certainly not how I write when I am criticizing a book I found less than enjoyable, poorly written, or with which I have found some other fault. Hence my dilemma. I’m not in the habit of writing negative reviews. Indeed, I tend simply not to review at all works I didn’t like rather than tear them to tatters in print; I much prefer to tell my readers about books that I found interesting, thought-provoking, enjoyable, or enlightening. So why is it so much easier for me to write something nasty about a book than to praise it? When I’m being critical, my fingers can’t strike the keys fast enough to record all the barbed observations that spring fully-formed into my mind. It is a discomforting feeling, to be sure, to discover such an unbalance of critical energies in oneself.