When I review a book I try to assess its good and not-so-good qualities. I try, but don’t always succeed, to avoid giving an opinion as to how the story should have been written. For example, I recently read How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz. It is written in a unique style that could be offputting to some readers. The story bounces back and forth from the past to the present to the past to the far past, and so on and on. I almost quit after fifty pages but am glad I didn’t. After one-hundred pages, I gave up trying to keep tabs on the chronological order of events and surrendered to the story. In the end, the author ties it all up skillfully. As a reviewer, I could have said that the book should have been written in a chronological style, but that would go against the author’s vision for her story. I’m sure she had her reasons for writing in the style she chose. I shouldn’t come along and say she should have used a more traditional writing style. As a reviewer I can say that I don’t like her style, that it confused me, that I lost interest, blah, blah. But I feel it’s inappropriate to suggest that the book would have worked better had it been written in a style I prefer. In fact, though I gave the book only three stars, there were many other readers who gave it four and five stars. What I did write in my review is that the style confused me and kept me from enjoying the book as much as I might have otherwise.
I am working on my second novel, which is currently in the final editing phase. Two beta readers told me that they would like the book more if I placed greater emphasis on the political angle of the story. I gave that suggestion a lot of thought. Ultimately I decided against it. Though my book has a political theme, it’s not where I want the reader to focus. I want the spotlight to shine on the main characters as they struggle with personal problems, some caused by the political upheaval that surrounds them. To emphasize the politics over the characters would alter my vision for the story. As a writer, I have to listen to my beta readers’ suggestions because often they are correct in their assessments. But sometimes it’s only a matter of opinion, and that is when I need to go with my gut. Recently a friend on Facebook posted a quote (which I will paraphrase): “No two people read the same book the same way.” That is so true.