May 27, 2004

A Watershed Moment

This past month has been something of a watershed in my life as a book reviewer. In the past month I've read five books which I received as free review copies--and for the first time one of them was a book which I'd have read anyway (Mistress of the Pearl, by Eric Van Lustbader, which I'll be reviewing in the next day or so).

I've said a few words about review copies in the past. The books I review are the books I read, and the vast majority of the books I read are books I simply felt like reading. Or re-reading. Or re-re-reading. And all through the time I've been reviewing books on-line (I started in December of 1996) I've occasionally been asked if I'd enjoy a review copy of an author's book.

The first time it happened, I was tickled that I gladly accepted. The book turned out to be an awful, horrible, unreadable philosophical/political screed, self-published by the author. I won't name it; let it rest in peace. Most of the requests that followed were similarly self-published, and most of them I skipped. A notable exception was Susan Wenger's The Port Wine Sea, a delightful parody of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series. That was just over four years ago.

But just recently I've been getting more such requests, and the quality has generally been going up. The three Lars Walker novels I've reviewed recently I was sent at the behest of Mr. Walker himself; I didn't mention it in the reviews simply because, for a change, I didn't feel that it unduly affected the reading experience. It's surprising--you'd think I'd be inclined to favor books I get for free, but it doesn't work that way. It can be a burden--I accepted the free copy with the understanding that I'd review it, and reading something out of obligation tends to put me out of sorts and make me more critical. In Walker's case, his tales pulled me right in, without let or hindrance. And then, I was reassured by the fact that they are published by Baen Books, the publisher of Lois McMaster Bujold, and also by the diffident manner with which he approached me. What can I say, I'm a sucker for a soft sell.

The fourth book was No Secrets, which I reviewed a few days ago, and which was a bit of a disappointment.

And the fifth was the aforementioned Mistress of the Pearl, which is published by Tor Books; they also publish Steven Brust. As I say, it's the first book I've been asked to review that I would have bought anyway. (Though, to be fair, I'd have bought Susan Wenger's book, and Lars Walker's books as well--except that until they approached me with them, I didn't even know that they existed.) I feel like I've finally come of age as a book reviewer--real publishers of real books that I really like have deigned to notice my existence. It's all too silly for words, I suppose, but gratifying nonetheless.

Posted by Will Duquette at May 27, 2004 08:58 PM

Lars Walker said:

Blogs seem to have a growth curve. You have to get on blogrolls and get linked to sufficiently, and then suddenly you're on everybody's list. Let's hope this is what's happening here. You deserve it.

kevin holtsberry said:

It is fun isn't it?! My only problem is when you combine the books I have purchased with the books I have been given the list is quite long. Choosing what book to read when is getting to be a bit tricky. Since I like to read a lot of non-fiction and I don't have a genre specialty it makes for a lot of work. But free books are great!

Will Duquette said:

Alas, I have the same problem just with the books I buy for myself.