Backlogs, review copies and catching up

I’ve just got back from a very welcome, and very overdue, two week holiday. I’ve not been doing any blogging while away (or much in the weeks prior due to pressure of work), but it gave me the chance to think about my review backlog.


My review policy, as per my About page, is generally not to accept books for review. Mostly I stick to that, but not always. Sometimes I get offered something that tempts, sometimes I just get sent something without asking. The result is that over the years I’ve built up a fairly sizable number of books which I do feel obliged to review (and which in pretty much every case I do actually want to read), but which don’t necessarily fit my current mood or reading plan.

At a rough and probably incomplete estimate, I have the following review copies waiting to be read (in no particular order, but the most recent arrived sometime in 2013, most are quite a bit older):

Spurious, Lars Iyer;
Exodus, Lars Iyer;
Tan Twan Eng, Garden of Evening Mists;
Antal Szerb, Love in a Bottle and Other Stories;
Ellen Ullmann, By Blood;
Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, Home;
Jim Murdoch, Milligan and Murphy;
Lorinda J Taylor, Monster is in the Eye of the Beholder;
Lochlan Bloom, Trade;
Andrew Lovett, Everlasting Lane;
Jonathan Gibbs, Randall (though I paid for a copy too so not sure this still counts, still want to read it though either way);
Eimear McBride, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (but again I’ve bought my own copy since, phew!)
Wu Ming, Manituana (I suspect I’ve had this several years now, and it’s by my favourite Italian Communist writing collective…);
Alvaro Bisima, Dead Stars;
Elisa Ruotolo, I Stole the Rain;
Adrian N. Bravi, The Combover;
and finally, every one of the Richard Stark Parker novels.

If you’ve sent me a book and it’s not on the list, please feel free to remind me in the comments.

At the same time I’ve been sufficiently busy at work of late that I’ve built up a review backlog of books that I actually have been reading. Currently it stands as follows:

Thursday Night Widows, by Claudia Pineiro;
Play it Where it Lays, by Joan Didion;
Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald;
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton;
Francis Plug: How to be a Public Author, by Paul Ewen;
Europeana, by Patrik Ouředník; and
The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes.

That doesn’t include several kindle singles and Galley Beggar shorts I’ve read and intend to review, nor some comics I’d hoped to cover.

The thing is, after a while a backlog becomes a burden. It’s something that looks awfully close to work, unpaid work. It’s not fun, and what’s the point of blogging if it isn’t fun?

So, I do still intend to review everything in my current backlog, not least because several of them are very good and even the ones I didn’t take to are still interesting and would work well for other readers. I still intend to read every book that’s been sent to me for review, though I make no promises at all as to when. What I also intend though is to be even more careful what I take on going forward. If I accept a book for review it means adding it to a pile that’s already years old and yards long, which is silly and only worth doing if I’ll be prioritising it ahead of all the existing books in the review pipeline.

Otherwise, going forward I’m going to go back to reviewing the last book I read, and the books on the review backlog will get fitted in when I get a spare moment to do so and in whatever order I happen to feel like. That’s not ideal as it means some of them may end up unreviewed for quite a while, but I don’t want to go on being permanently months in arrears – I don’t enjoy it as much as I do blogging as I go along.

Anyway, that’s it by way of update. Any thoughts you might have on how you deal with reading or reviewing backlogs (including the dread TBR pile which every reader has whether they blog or not) will of course be very welcome in the comments, as they always are.

On a final note, some of you may wonder why I have the Japanese poster for Alphaville, a film I haven’t even watched yet, as the image for this post. Actually, there is no good reason. I just like the poster.


Filed under Administrative posts, Personal posts

22 responses to “Backlogs, review copies and catching up

  1. Hi Max, it’s nice to hear from you.

    I’m still on a book buying ban to decrease the TBR, so I fully sympathise.
    I find it hard to write about a book I’ve finished a long time ago, it’s not as fun as writing your thoughts à chaud, like we say in French. (literally, “when it’s hot”) So I sympathise again.

    Please don’t give up on reviewing the Didion, I’m looking forward to this review since I’ve just read Run River and I’m now curious about Play It Where It Lays.
    I’m also curious about your thoughts on Europeana, I’ve read one of his books and I thought it was really funny.

    I hope your workload in the office will decrease enough for you to have time to read & blog.

  2. Hi, thanks.

    The Didion is a good candidate for my end of year list, so I’ll definitely be writing that up (I’ll write all of them up, but the Didion is perhaps more a priority for that reason). Europeana I wasn’t quite so keen on, it’s very funny but I had some hesitations regarding some of his choices of focus. I’d probably recommend it to others as at least worth trying though.

    Work is still intense, but I’m hoping now I’ve had a chance to get a bit of a break I’ll have a bit more energy which will make it easier to juggle things again. I went a bit too long without a holiday really, you just start running out of steam after a while.

  3. I’ve only ever been sent a handful of review copies in my four and a half years as a blogger, and I gotta admit they kind of freak me out. I feel undue pressure to read them quickly, and then to review them, and then to review them positively.
    So, as a rule, I generally say “NO I CAN’T TAKE THE PRESSURE” when offered a review copy (not that it ever really happens, coupla times a year at most).
    Good to see you bloggin’ again 🙂

  4. Some bloggers seem to live for the freebies, but I don’t really get why. It’s giving up your own reading plans to follow what someone else has sent you. Where’s the fun in that?

    Did you review The Shining Girls? I wasn’t wholly taken and if you did I’d like to link to your review when I do mine.

  5. I think Run River will make my year end list too, and I’ve heard it’s not her best. Lucky me, I’ll read even better ones in the future.

  6. Yes, it’s always a bit of a downer to finish a great book and then hear that you just read the author’s best.

  7. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Play it Where it Lays.

  8. Very pleased to hear you’ve managed to take a holiday, Max. We all need to take some time out to recharge.

    I’ve received a few review copies, but I’m starting to feel guilty (and a a little constrained) by this, especially as I want to read and blog about books from my own collection. I’m more inclined to accept review copies from small independent presses, but I do need to think about a review policy.

    Like Emma, I’m looking forward to your Didion review. Pleased to hear that it’s likely to make your end-of-year list as I bought a copy off the back of a previous conversation with you!

  9. It’s brilliant. I’ll try to give a bit more detail in the actual review though. Have you reviewed it?

  10. Oh, in a comedy addendum to this post, it turns out I’d missed at least one book (a Jean-Claude Izzo) from my backlog list which I guess rather underlines the point that it had got out of hand.

  11. I was happy to see my book is above the halfway mark on your to-read list! Actually, I didn’t give it to you specifically for a review – I gave it to you because I really thought you might enjoy it, or at least find it a worthwhile read! And it’s short – only a novella – 19,000 words. And I have lots of patience! I rarely take on review copies myself – I already have lots of books from years back on my shelves that I’ll probably never read, and many others on my mental list. And lately I keep getting caught up in other self-published works, some of which are not up to my standards.

  12. Jacqui, phew! Glad I liked it then. Almost everything I’ve taken is from a small press, but then that just makes me feel all the guiltier…

    Lorinda, I know, but I didn’t pay for it so that puts it in the review pile. That’s basically my metric. I actually considered including books people had given me as gifts after they’d finished them or which I’d been lent, but I don’t keep track (except the lent ones obviously) and besides that would just be depressing.

    Best not to reflect on the hundreds of books sitting on my shelves, and the others on my own mental list.

  13. Well, I appreciate that it’s in the review pile! Thanks ahead of time!

  14. I didn’t review the Shining Girls, but I quite liked it. I liked Kirby. I liked the refusal to explain the history/reasoning behind the Time Travelling House.

    Very much looking forward to reading your own thoughts, though 🙂

  15. I liked both those elements. I struggled though with yet another book which features young women being horribly killed essentially for my entertainment as a reader. I know it’s in large part about how society crushes women’s potential, that it subverts the genre by focusing on the wider effects of the deaths including how they devastate the lives of the families, but for all that it was still young women getting killed. Maybe I was just in the wrong place for it, or maybe Lauren Beukes is too good a writer for a book with that subject matter to be comfortable.

    Loved the house actually, I thought that was one of the cleverest bits.

    It won’t be getting a negative review because ultimately I think it’s very good, I just didn’t entirely like it which isn’t the same thing at all. It’ll be a tricky one to write up in fact. I noted almost no quotes, which is interesting because Beukes can write.

  16. Review copies can so quickly back up I only accept books that are actual tranalstions these days so I can mix some of my own books into what I read seems to be working so far

  17. leroyhunter

    Welcome back Max, sounds like a good (needed) break. You’d be perfectly right to just throw out the backlog if it suited you – making the rules is part of the fun of a blog, surely – but like others I would regret not reading your thoughts on Didion and Ourednik. You’ve tipped your hand on these both but the discussions should be good. I agree with the emerging consensus about Didion: since reading this myself I’ve read another of hers and bought two more. .

  18. Stu, glad it’s working for you. Your reading rate is way above mine which I imagine must make it more manageable.

    Leroy, thanks, and it was. I don’t want to throw out the backlog, there’s some seriously good books on it, but my next review will probably be the Izzo which is the last one I read (essays, not bad but not nearly as good as his fiction).

  19. Max: I’ve had to become pickier about review copies. I don’t feel obligated to read books sent unsolicited, But if I requested something, I will read it. If I don’t like it, then I give it a pass. I won’t finish it as time is limited and there are so many other books out there. I try to review copies of books that aren’t going to get hundreds of reviews (and I’m talking about copies from publishers). I like review copies as I tend to end up reading a few books I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
    I think with your schedule, it’s hard to commit to X books by a deadline. I never go on holiday, so my reading and blogging habits tend to be very regular.
    I’ve dumped backlog books off the schedule before now. Sometimes you just have to.

  20. I used to have a huge to-be-read pile—it was actually a shelf—and it depressed me. I tried not to take on too many books but hated to say no. Nowadays I hardly get asked. Not sure why that is. Canongate still sends me stuff but they’re the only publisher. I get press releases all the time but couldn’t tell you the last time I responded to one. And I do feel better because for a long while I was reading books because I could get them for nothing and simply couldn’t turn down a free book and ended up reading books I really had no interest in and didn’t think that much of. To use a phrase my mother was very fond of using: My eyes were bigger than my belly. Of course every book’s a gamble and I’ve discovered some gems by accepting books that, on the surface, didn’t appeal but I think what did it for me was sitting down one day and calculating how many books I expected to get through by the time I’m seventy-five and it wasn’t such a huge sum. I’ve enough shelf space in my house—assuming I chucked out every book I currently own—to accommodate them. That’s a sobering thought. This year I set myself two reading goals, to read more than a hundred books and to read more books by women. Getting though a hundred books wasn’t such a big challenge as long as I didn’t read many epics but picking books by women proved harder. So I trawled the web for must-read lists and started from there. I only ever read one book at a time. I can cope watching several TV series at a time but I’ve never tried—never wanted to try—to keep two books’ storylines in my head; that’s not how I see books. Reading books is a holy pursuit—and I mean ‘holy’ in the most secular sense possible—they demand time and concentration and I suppose respect is where I’m coming from when I toss a word like ‘holy’ into the mix. And my undivided attention.

    Glad to see you’ve not forgotten about Milligan and Murphy.

  21. I thought it was about time I pop in to see you Max, and saw this post which spoke straight to me heart! I don’t live for review copies and most publishers know to ask me first. If I say yes, I feel obliged to read it but I usually warn them that it may be months – and mostly I manage to read them within 3 months. They usually don’t mind (so they say anyhow) because reviews over a period of time keep the book alive. Very occasionally I request one, from publisher e-mail promotions. I rarely do this however, because of my backlog! (I think I’ve only requested one this year and it’s hanging over me right now!) Unsolicited books I try to turn off but they occasionally come in when a publisher forgets our agreement. I don’t feel obliged to read them and I do have some that are well over a year old.

    I keep track of all these books an old-fashioned way: they are in two big piles on the floor next to a bookcase, and on top of one of the piles is a little notebook in which I write the date I got them, the author, title and publisher (and an annotation “not req” if it’s one that’s unsolicited). As I read a book I tick it off. Most of my records are electronic but for some reason I find that the notebook on the pile works best for this group. I also put in this pile books I’m planning to read in the near future but they aren’t listed in the notebook.

    These days, I seem to find it hard to read much besides my monthly reading group reads (which are pretty much always books I want to read anyhow because I have a great reading group) and the review copies, but I do try to fit in a few other books of MY personal choice. It’s a real balancing act and, as you say, sometimes it gets on top of me and starts to spoil my enjoyment of the whole business.

    I never have a review backlog. I couldn’t cope if I didn’t write my reviews as soon as I finish the book. Sometimes drafting takes me a few days, because I may need to sit on some ideas, but it is always done before I finish the next book.

    Can’t wait to see your review of The luminaries!

  22. Sorry for the late response here.

    Guy, you simply read faster than I do I think, or certainly you get through many more books. If I could maintain that kind of pace I might well take a different approach, and you definitely have a good track record of making fresh discoveries so it pays off (for me anyway since I often follow your recommendations).

    I think the right not to finish is on Emma’s list of reader’s inalienable rights, and I quite agree that it should be. Life’s too short. Frankly, if we lived a 1,000 years it would still be too short for mediocre books.

    Jim, I used to have a physical TBR pile too, about a shelf’s worth. I found it oppressive and depressing, and it made me resent the books oddly enough. I don’t do that anymore.

    Your calculation regarding how many you’ll read by 75 is interesting (though retirement could increase it I imagine, but then who knows?). Sobering.

    I find the same with tv and books. I follow two or three series at a time, but never more than one book.

    Did you see my readwomen2014 post? I’m going to put a follow-up to that probably in December. It’s been interesting trying to focus particularly on women writers. It’s led me to view our literary culture somewhat differently, I now see it as more institutionally sexist frankly than I did before.

    WG, you’re always welcome 🙂

    If I say yes I feel obliged too, which is why I tend not to say yes (I’ve sometimes bought books I’ve been offered free, it means I can read them without any sense of obligation).

    I plan to go back to reviewing as I finish, so once I finish the Illiad I’ll promptly review that. In the meantime I can write backlog reviews as and when the opportunity strikes. They’re already so delayed at this point another week or month’s delay doesn’t make much odds to them.

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