This topic prompt was proposed over at Top Ten Tuesday from That Artsy Reader Girl.
Thankfully, my old blog serves as an online record of my first book reviews (from 2012!). Wow, was I nowhere near as good of a writer then as I am now. In chronological order, here are the first five books I’ve ever reviewed and a quote from my not-that-well-written thoughts on them. (Also some criticisms about my former self’s reviewing skills–but with full appreciation that using whatever words I had back then is what allowed me to get better.)
1. The Lies of Locke Lamora
“This book, set in a city evocative of Venice, is about a group of conmen who unwittingly become dragged into the middle of a political power struggle…From gladiators fighting sharks to a religious cult obsessed with their own mortality, it’s the details of the world and how it works that pulls readers in.” – World Building in The Lies of Locke Lamora
(This is literally half of the review–it’d actually be pretty decent for something that’s meant to be short, but the truth was, I literally didn’t know how to say anything more back then. And I definitely leaned hard on the intrinsically interesting parts of the book to make my writing sound better.)
2. Discount Armageddon
Genre: Urban fantasy
“This book is about a cryptozoologist working with communities of supernatural people and animals (cryptids), when trouble starts to go down in New York…McGuire has a good grasp of the various different cryptids that she’s dealing with. I tend to enjoy it when books go beyond the current vampire/werewolf lore and delve into topics that require more research.” – Discount Armageddon, Cryptozoology
(Okay, that was just sad. I didn’t even really say anything.)
3. The Iron Knight
Genre: YA urban fantasy
“It’s a very tragic story, and the real beauty of it doesn’t come out until the last third or so, but it’s worth it…This story makes the characters understand exactly what it is they’re losing. The fact that what happens next is a choice based on a real understanding what they’re getting into is very powerful.” – The Tragedy of The Iron Knight
(This write-up completely fails to capture the weight of what I was trying to explain. Also, there’s a typo.)
4. The Hunger Games
Genre: YA dystopian
“I thought this book did two things exceptionally well. The first was competition, and this drives the first half of the book. It’s interesting to see the contestants and their strategies. I wanted to know how they were going to try to win. The manipulations of the audience, how they were trying to present themselves, which alliances were made and broken…
“The second thing, which primarily came out to in the second half of the book, was emotional conflict. For one, getting to catch glimpses of some of the contestants as people…
“Also, having our point of view character see the rest of the contenders as people, and experience doubts. Having her cope with having to be unsure of her emotions, because half of what she does is putting on a show. After all, Katniss is the one who’s aware of the larger implications around her, and the difficulty she has telling apart what she has to do from what she wants to do is striking.” – Competition and Conflict in The Hunger Games Novel
(I think I managed to convey my overall thoughts in this review, but presented it in a way that was kinda boring.)
Genre: YA fantasy
“What works best? The character progression of the main protagonist. In fact, the plot always serves to move Katsa one step further on her personal journey. The most striking part of the story being told is how she comes to think of herself, her powers, her relationships with people, and what she’s going to choose for herself.
“She’s a completely different person at the end of the book than she was at the beginning, but no one moment causes that change. It’s gradual.” – Character Progression in Graceling
(I honed in on what I liked about the novel–the last two sentences I might keep unchanged even now. But that first paragraph is kind of generic, when it could have conveyed something more specific to the book instead.)
And there ends this trip to seven years ago, because I think I’ve tortured myself enough. It really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, from the technical standpoint of putting words together. I’d already developed my voice by that point.
But I definitely had trouble expressing my thoughts. And even with how little I wrote, there were plenty of awkward and unnecessary sentences–which I mostly omitted in the quotes above. (I have to represent my writing in the best light possible, right?)
If anything, this only reaffirms my belief that writing is a craft that you work at. Practice is what makes a good writer, no matter what conventional wisdom tells us.