The 2018 Etiquette of Book Reviewing

DSCN7023.JPGA lot has changed in book reviewing in my lifetime. Nowadays, professional book reviews still appear in published magazines, both online and in print, but more book reviews appear on Amazon, B & N, Goodreads, varied social media like blogs and on/through NetGalley, a site to which publishers pay money for the right to display the titles they would most like to promote to readers.

What is expected from reviewers? Readers of Goodreads know that many reviewers are hard to please. If a book does not sink its teeth into these reviewers by Chapter 3, an author may expect less than five stars, even if he is Tolstoy. The reviews are sincere, if harsh.

If you read reviews by people who get their books through NetGalley, then “I got this book for free” is the amateurish first line–one of the drawbacks of handing books out for free.

Professional writers know that the first sentence is worth $58. Or close.

Then there are reciprocated reviews. Those are tricky. Authors who review for other authors do not know what they are getting. If they write nice things about bad books, no one will believe them as time goes on.

Still, etiquette dictates a certain amount of grace. If someone is kind enough to give your book a good review–or let us go a step further–if someone is kind enough to give you a great review (without being asked) on a blog and on Amazon and/or Goodreads, that person deserves more than a message of thanks. That person deserves some investigation. Is he or she an author? Might you investigate that person’s writing to repay the favor? (Since you have already received the great review, the discovery of the author being a horrible writer simply means you don’t have to do anything. Be grateful and do not send the reviewer your latest work, hoping for more freebies.)

That is the etiquette of book reviewing in 2018.

You are welcome!

The Children of Aleppo’s Struggle to Survive

40199729 We have seen the heartrending images of babies crying on missile-shelled streets, heard the furor of debate over desperate people seeking shelter from a war-torn country, but rare is the on-the-scene tale in English that gives us a window to feel it all up close. This coming-of-age story starts with a 13-year-old Syrian boy running for his life through a battle zone to no safety at all.

The narrative then slams backward, to a place any young person will recognize: the classroom and a tedious lesson. The teacher is driving home the message of what Assad’s presidency has meant to the people of Syria. Zaid’s classmate Ahmed is one who, echoing his father, presumes Assad is a great man who helped the economy.

Readers who have not grown up in dictatorships may find it strange that school lessons include whimsical “leader” stories given on a daily basis. Such propaganda is a reality that children in free societies are spared.

Zaid’s life seems normal in the sense that families get up, go to work or school, and come home to eat and sleep, but his 13-year-old neighbor and classmate, Fatima, notices that nine students are absent.

The Heart of Aleppo is a courageous and versatile account of young Zaid, who discovers the “heart” of his home city even as it is destroyed. His life moves from some semblance of normality living over his rug merchant father’s shop to learning how to survive with Fatima and her brother Salman as adults die around them. Zaid comes to question every notion or tradition which structured his life before chaos. Prefabricated ideas of who and what represent safety fall away as government soldiers and rebels fire through civilians to dominate each other. There is no safety.

Ammar Habib is a prolific young American author who manages to make a 7,000-year-old city under onslaught come to life. Readers will feel they are running in the rubble and understand what it must mean when there is no way to stay out of a fight—not when it has engulfed an entire country.8442873