Reviewing Diverse Books – A Ramble

April 6, 2018     The Bluestocking Bookworm     Books, Personal, Random Thoughts, Reading

Reviewing Diverse Books – A Ramble

This post has been percolating in my brain for a bit, but I didn’t want to just sit down and write it and hit publish. I wanted to give it some time and let the thoughts simmer. I am really glad I did, because it gave me time to really reflect on these thoughts and how it all connects.

How it Began

In recent years, I have really tried to broaden my reading to include authors and stories from experiences different from my own. This means reading more from marginalized authors. The difference it has made is staggering. The stories I am now enjoying go beyond what I ever hoped to find. I haven’t read a book in 2018 that I haven’t enjoyed. The books are so rich with culture and nuance that I didn’t know before. It is a wonderful thing as an avid reader to discover that there is so much more to your passion than you ever hoped.

I was at the coffee shop writing out notes for the reviews I have to type up and publish. I was going back from what I had just finished reading, and I got to Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. I was sent an eARC for review, and I had finished it just after the publication date. (PS, I loved the book so much!) I sat there thinking about all of the things I wanted to say about the book, and I started Googling. I don’t even know why I started Googling, to be honest. I think it was something to do with wanting a pronunciation guide or an index of terms, since they were so unfamiliar to me. But I digress. I was Googling, and I learned what I hadn’t known before. The people, the language, the gods and goddesses, a lot of the aspects of the story of Children of Blood and Bone are inspired by actual West African culture.

I sat there for a minute in the coffee shop and thought about the implications of what I had just learned. Did I miss a marketing note? Was this common knowledge among other bloggers? I didn’t know. And honestly, it didn’t matter. I knew now. It didn’t change my opinion of the book at all. I still loved it. But now I was faced with the daunting task of reviewing something based on real world experiences that I knew nothing about. And it was overwhelming.

I spend a lot of time trying to disengage from learned (bad) behaviors, to examine my privilege, and to really think about the impact my words have. I knew I didn’t have the tools to write a thorough review of Children of Blood and Bone because I am not familiar with West African culture. By the time I learned even a fraction of what I need to know, my review would be way past the point of doing any good for driving the sales of the book. And it would still be coming from a white woman from Canada.

I am not going to lie. This caused a bit of an identity crisis for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about my reviews, how to present aspects outside of my lane, and what it all meant for my future as a book blogger. I was sure I was going to have to give up on reviewing anything that had any element of diversity in it. I have seen so many people outraged at white reviewers getting it wrong, and it made me really anxious to attempt to write reviews of the diverse books I have read. But reviews really help authors, and the bottom line is that these books are amazing, and I really want to see more like them, so should I actually stop reviewing them? Wasn’t that counterproductive?

Twitter Saves the Day

I am not even kidding, you guys. I was browsing Twitter last night when I came across a series of tweets about a publisher of romance novels, their imprint for authors of color, and the mess that the romance industry is. Now, I don’t personally read a lot of books billed as romance, simply because of personal preference. I have no issues with the genre, and I think that the whole mess with the RWA and the RITA award is horrible. But I found a lot of interesting information in the tweets and the replies that made me think some more.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for that thread of tweets and the people in it, I probably would have given up on reviewing books like Children of Blood and Bone.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, reviews matter so much to authors. They help drive the sales of their books, and they help show publishers that the book has been well received. As book bloggers and reviewers, if we loved the book we were given to review, I feel like we owe it to everyone to write that review so that more people can see it, engage with it, and enjoy the book as well.

My whole experience with Children of Blood and Bone has proven to me how important it is to get books into the hands of reviewers who can relate with them the best. If my ARC had been a physical one, I would have sent it to a West African reviewer in a heartbeat. But, I also know that the industry isn’t going to change anytime soon.

My desire for diverse fiction, especially fantasy, is not going anywhere. I plan on researching books before I request them for review so that I am not taken by surprise again. And in the case of reviewing outside my lane? I will work really hard not to. I can write a review of Children of Blood and Bone that talks about how much I loved the book, how Tomi Adeyemi’s writing is magical, and why I would recommend it. I can acknowledge and point to the West African cultural references while admitting I know nothing about them. And I can boost the voices of the people who know the things that I don’t.

How do you feel about reviewing books with aspects outside your lane? Do you struggle with the books you read for pleasure and the books you read for review? Feel free to comment below!

If you are a West African reviewer of Children of Blood and Bone, please link to your review!

Stay bookish, lovelies! ♥

Talk bookish to me!

4 responses to “Reviewing Diverse Books – A Ramble

  1. The fact that you are concerned about this speaks volumes! When I review a book “outside of my lane” I feel that I have to say that I am not part of the target audience or that I am not fully aware of their experiences. I draw from my own experiences with diversity though to try to say what it felt like it relates to for me. It always feels important though to let the reader of reviews know if you are part of the target group for the diversity aspects. I know it was probably a weird experience to feel this way about a book, but I loved reading your process!

  2. I simply state that I’m not an own voice review” meaning I am not qualified to rate or review the world building that stems from the culture that is being represented. As long as you make that disclaimer, and then make sure to avoid that part in your review, you’re fine. I’m talking saying things like “that one ritual felt fake to me.” You don’t know if that ritual is made up by the author or a legit ritual done in the culture you don’t know enough about.

    Also a big help is to link another own voice” review or two that can cover what you cannot. Then we get to see your thoughts, as well as someone whose culture is being represented. Both are important, especially because EVERYONE should read about all cultures, and having so many voices chime in is important. Besides, you reach more people than many others, so having you 1) state that this book is amazing and share your thoughts, and 2) share the thoughts of someone who probably isn’t reaching as many people, but whose voice is a little more important than your own about this particular book and subject is SUPER helpful.

    At least that’s my thoughts, what I’ve seen, and what I’ve heard other own voice bloggers request.

  3. “But now I was faced with the daunting task of reviewing something based on real world experiences that I knew nothing about. And it was overwhelming.”

    That’s so well said, thank you for this post, Erin! As a white woman as well, I think that’s a really challenging thing to face and I think part of what this involves is actively acknowledging that challenge and giving space to own voices reviewers, just as you’ve done here