If you ask me what I’m reading, you’re on your own recognizance


A writer friend of mine once told me she looks at my book reviews here as prospective To Be Read books for her Kindle. “You have never steered me wrong, Malcolm,” she said. Perhaps he fingers were crossed behind her back.

Take a look at my current reading shelf. It should be a warning. I say that because I am probably the only person in the known universe who has these three books on his shelf at one time. Or at any time. My reading tastes are both wide-ranging and eccentric. (Not always because, hey, I can enjoy a good Nora Roberts or John Grisham novel like anyone else.)

People sometimes note that most of my reviews on GoodReads and Amazon end up with four or five stars and suggest that I’m just trying to be nice. No, I’m doing that because I usually only review books I like a lot—well, unless I read something that really ticks me off.

However, five stars from me doesn’t mean the book will get give stars from you.This was proven conclusively several years ago when I gave  Dow Mossman’s novel The Stones of Summer a glowing review. People told me I was crazy. Possibly so even though I was one of 30 people who felt that way.

Consider the Source

So, when I tell you what I’m reading, you need to consider the source (me) and remember that even though I often read mainstream bestsellers, I probably read them for the wrong reasons. The other books on my shelf are going to have a very strong flavor of magical realism, speculative fiction, fantasy, folktales, literary fiction, and stuff that—for the want of a better words—is just plain weird.

Now, my writer friend hasn’t told me directly that I inadvertently steered her wrong on a book last year, that one being The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht,  but I noticed she gave it three stars on GoodReads. Sigh. After The Night Circus, that was my favorite novel of the year. I think both of these novels are Pulitzer Prize level novels, though I doubt either one was nominated (or seriously considered) since the rules say the novels must be truly American stories and neither of these books were.

Your Own Recognizance

As it turns out, this post is a disclaimer, meaning that I am often drawn to stories that mesh one way or another into my sense of wonder and my world view of real life and fiction. Before spending your money on anything on my To Be Read shelf, you better get a second opinion.

What’s on your shelf these days?



8 responses

  1. Interesting – I’ve also had people accuse me of giving 4-5 stars “to be nice.” The reality is, I’m pretty picky about the books I choose to read (busy life, short attention span). Every now and then I’ll pick one up that isn’t quite what I expected, and I have a hard time finishing it (there’s one on Goodreads I’ve been “currently reading” forever). In those cases, I don’t review them because I didn’t finish them. The end result is my reviews/ratings tend to be nearly all 4-5. I completely agree that my 5 star may be someone else’s 1 star – something for everyone – that’s the beauty of it.

    • I try to finish them if I can, but don’t always. I don’t have (or want) an e-reader, so I probably buy fewer books than those who have Kindles and Nooks due to the price. So, I tend to make sure it’s a book I like before I buy it or before I request an ARC from the publisher.


  2. I have been wanting to read Night Circus – what did you love so much about it? And Tiger’s Wife as well – why didn’t your friend like it. I just wonder. : ) It’s finally out in paperback! I think they both are.

    • “The Night Circus” set up such a wonderul alternative world, the circus, where magic happened quite outside what the visitors saw elsewhere. One plus was the fact that visitors assumed what they were seeing was sleight of hand rather than real magic.