I feel like I need to 1) read more, a LOT more, and 2) write intelligent book reviews of every book I read. After all, I want to succeed in book publishing, right? And this is how you do it?
I’ve fallen victim to some weird mix of internal pressure (you need to write book reviews to advance your career) and the fear of missing out (everyone on #bookstagram writes several reviews each month) that led me to this mindset. I have to churn out book reviews, especially if I am so lucky to get my hands on an ARC or a newly released book. When I received an ARC of Shari Lapena’s latest thriller, A Stranger in the House, I felt that urge to read it just so I could write a review of it. I don’t usually read thrillers, but here it was, a golden opportunity to read a new book and showcase my book reviewing skills to the world.
As I read the book the night its release date, I realized that I could allow myself to just enjoy reading it and not try to think two steps ahead to what I would write in a review about it. Removing this pressure from myself was a relief—as I read on, I took less notes in the margins, let awkward phrasings escape my underlining or question marks.
It’s not that the writing was stunning or that the mystery was so puzzling that I needed to know how it ended. Either I’m watching too much of The Closer, or I’m getting better at reading and evaluating the writing as I go, but I picked up on hints about the wolf in sheep’s clothing and about Karen’s true identity as I read. But I kept going; I wanted to finish the book. I wanted to see if I was right about the hints that Lapena left throughout the text. I cared enough about the characters to want to see how they ended up. I wanted the satisfaction of reading that last twist that happens in the last few pages.
Sure, I have gripes about A Stranger in the House that I could pick apart in a review. I could tell you that the random scene of two strangers who find the dead body in the restaurant and who are completely unrelated to the rest of the book is not a great scene; it seems like the sort of thing that could be told instead of shown. I could tell you that the first paragraph’s reference to Karen as a “panicked animal” is kind of blah and could be more interesting, especially since it’s the first paragraph of the entire book. I could tell you that the prose is bland. But I’ll spare you that review.
I wanted to write a review of it. I wanted to swoop in before its release date with an insightful, unique review of this thriller. I wanted that fleeting #bookstagram fame of having an ARC of a book before everyone else.
But after considering it, I decided I will not write a straightforward book review of A Stranger in the House. Why? Because I am a not a genre reader, and my reading interests are not generally sympathetic toward genre fiction. I try hard not to be a literary snob, but it just comes through in my opinions about books. I need to recognize that I read this book, enjoyed it enough, and can move on. There is no point in wasting my time and energy in writing a vigorous review of it—because that review would simply be misinformed and shortsighted due to my lack of experience with this genre. I would probably end up criticizing things that don’t need to be criticized. It’s just not necessary to feel the pressure—especially when it’s internalized—to write an in-depth review of every book I read; it takes the fun out of reading. It is possible to read a book, have a few half-formed opinions about it, whether positive or negative, and move on to another book.
That’s not to say that I shy away from writing negative or nuanced reviews of books; I enjoy doing that way too much. But there is a certain maturity I need to learn—a maturity of reading books outside my comfort zone, thinking about them, soaking them in, and then moving on. I don’t need to write a groundbreaking review of each book I read, especially if it’s outside my normal reading list.
Shari Lapena’s A Stranger in the House is her second thriller. The novel follows Karen Krupp and her husband, Tom, as they try to piece together why Karen had raced to a bad part of town one night and wrecked her car, which leaves her with memory loss as to what actually happened that night. The couple tries to figure out who the other person really is and what happened that night as other forces work to drive them apart.