Unlocking Worlds – Sally Allen

First of all, what a terrible advanced copy this was. The book is basically a list of books with brief synopses and discussions of each, and in a few cases the book title is entirely missing. Which has no relevance to the book itself, since (I sincerely hope) it was fixed in the final edition, so – moving on.

It started out very well, with a paean to being a reader. The author evidently took a book to her best friend’s eighth birthday party; I was known around that age to take one to a wedding. (In my defense, wedding receptions can be shockingly dull for a kid.) “When deep into a great book, a need possesses me to carry it with me wherever I go, never to let it stray too far from my thoughts or person.” My Kindle – or my book, if I’m reading a “real” one – is never far from my side – I have a quote on my blog from Lemony Snicket: “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them”, which is how I live my life. I liked the quote from her professor about what makes Literature (it’s subjective), and her own exploration of what makes a book good or bad for her. So this particular book should have been a joy.

[If] I write a bad review detailing everything wrong with a book, does this change the book itself? Is the author going to revise it based on my criticism and then re-release it? Well, no, obviously. So then who or what is actually changed by my criticism?

For me, writing a negative review has several motives. First, in a few cases – a very few – then, yes, the author might see what I’ve said and, if they find anything valid, either revise the book or use the criticism to improve the next one. (Hope springs eternal, to coin a cliché.) Second, as I always say, putting a book out into the world for sale, asking people to spend money and time on it, had better mean that that book is the best it can possibly be – and when it isn’t, I find it offensive. Third, a review is a mnemonic device of sorts for me, taking the place of my sometimes-nonextistent memory. Fourth, it’s a way to help other readers with tastes similar to mine. If I thought a book was amazing, I want everyone to know about it and read it too – and it I thought it was horrible, I’d like to keep others from wasting that precious time and money. And, finally, yes, a review is just a place to jump up and down – with joy, if it’s wonderful, or with disgust if it’s terrible. A review is a way to vent.

Anyway.

This is not a negative review. It’s not an overwhelmingly positive review, either, though, because while a book about books is never a bad idea … But I’m not entirely sure about the format. The author presents over a dozen themes, and lists her “must reads” for each, including synopses and a bit of discussion. Her choices do not entirely tally with what mine would be (she states that she doesn’t read fantasy, which isn’t a comment calculated to warm my heart – and it’s also not entirely true, as she includes a fair number of sci fi and fantasy novels in her lists), and in fact I’ve never heard of a handful of them – but that’s actually a good thing: behold how my wishlist has grown.

Best of all, there are bookish quotes throughout. The best of all possible book quotes:

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” – Desiderius Erasmus

Truth.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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