I’ve been thinking recently about the proper process for writing a book review. I wrote a review on Goodreads a few weeks back, and someone I don’t know responded with a bit of criticism because I hadn’t finished reading the book before reviewing it. I frequently review books without having finished them, and I actually believe it’s a good practice.
In the review in question, I mentioned that I hadn’t finished reading the book and didn’t intend to, and therefore, it may not have been a valid representation of the book as a whole. I believe that sort of feedback is more beneficial to prospective readers than reviews in which we struggle tirelessly through the bog of purple prose and nonredeemable characters. Often, if I push myself to finish a book I’m hating, I end up ranting all over the interwebs and to everyone I know about how horrible every aspect of the book is. On the other hand, if I tell readers that I didn’t finish because I didn’t like it, I’m usually more constructive in my criticisms because I don’t feel like I’ve wasted hours of my life reading sub-par work.
Also, I’m just not sure I believe endings are very important.
If, as a teacher, I lecture on how the writing process is at least equally as important to becoming a good writer as the product is, then I also have to believe that the journey is at least equally as important as the destination in other areas of study and life.
I’ve written before about how difficult vulnerability is for me because of the uncertainty of outcomes. And yet, I believe vulnerability is one of the noblest actions of the human experience. Similarly, if a book is worthwhile, the ending is of little importance. What matters is the characters, their desires, their tribulations, and the world they live in. While finishing well is important, a well-run race that ends in defeat doesn’t suddenly become a poorly-run race (unless we’re considering the spiritual realm of heaven and hell here… so don’t think of this too theologically or it won’t work), nor does an amazing story transform into a mediocre one because it ends badly.
Think of poor Frodo’s journey to Mordor.
What if he’d died? What if Sauron had won and covered Middle Earth in a second darkness? Does the rest of the story become a waste? Should Frodo have stayed in the Shire without even trying?
And think of Harry.
What if Voldemort had killed him? Would that mean that Lilly’s sacrifice was stupid? Would it mean that she should have let her son be murdered so that she could be “the woman who lived”?
Of course not.
We all agree that it’s more important to try. We all agree that certain journeys must be attempted, and the while the outcome matters, it doesn’t dictate the choices we make about setting out to destroy the Death Star.
Therefore, I often write book reviews before I know how stories end. For, if I’m unable to estimate the book’s value prior to the ending, it musn’t be a very worthwhile book, because the value of the journey is based entirely on its success or failure. The best journeys justify themselves, as do the best books. They don’t need perfect endings if the journey was worthwhile to begin with, and I’ve never read an excellent book in which the ending significantly altered my judgment of the book as a whole. Never.