How To Write A Book Review

I recently finished reading 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Petersen. If you’re not familiar with the man, his book does provide a little history of his rise to recent prominence. I only found out about him in the last 6 months, from seeing some YouTube lectures on the nature of humanity, psychology, and various other subjects. Millions of others are like me in that they didn’t know about this former Harvard professor and clinical psychologist until he garnered quite a bit of attention for a political position about compelled speech, for the fact that the alt-right has commandeered some of his arguments to bolster their position, and for the fact that he’s quite solidly against some of the feel-good trends of the day.

Not getting into those here.

Instead, I’m going to write a little rant about book reviews.

It’s weird. Many book reviews are often not reviews, but summaries. I blame 11th Grade English teachers.

In their insistence that we answer exactly the question they’ve asked, with exactly the facts they wish to hear, but written “in your own words”, they’ve trained us less to think critically and more to paraphrase. This comes out when you look at the multitude of reviews on Amazon.com (or any other review platform). Most of the time, these are simply restatements of fact about the book, rather than their own impressions of the book’s content, how it made them feel, or what they take away from it.

And let’s not confuse a “rating” (1 star, 2 stars, etc.) with a “review”. A rating is an objective ranking. This is better than that. Those over there are worse than these here. A review is a subjective evaluation. This spoke to me. I appreciated parts here and there. Generally they’re correlated, but not equal. That is, most of the time you have a positive rating you also have a positive review. But sometimes not. I think it is entirely possible to have a 1-star rating with a “positive” review. That is, someone could find the format absolutely terrible (1-star) and disagree with the conclusions, yet still respect the arguments laid out within(“positive” review).

Which is why we need to have more critical reviews out in the public sector. But, ironically, not too many. Currently, Amazon.com has 4,878 reviews of 12 Rules for Life. I imagine B&N.com has thousands more, not to mention Goodreads and an uncountable number of independent opinions hosted on blogs or other smaller sites. If I read even a small fraction of all of those, I would easily spend longer on that task than the 15 or 16 hours I spent reading the text. Would that be worth my time? Probably not. I’d do much better to read a few and make a decision based on that information and spend the majority of my time with the actual book.

But where to start?

I’m sure that’s why Amazon introduce the [HELPFUL] button. This allows me to see whether other readers of this review have found value from the review. A meta-review, as it were. But doesn’t this also contribute to the problem of social conditioning and trending and social signaling? As more people find a particular review “helpful”, Amazon drives that review upward in the feed, creating a feedback loop in which I as a user don’t get the chance to experience the whole range of reviews, only the lucky leaders which came in to the process early, and have been promoted not necessarily because of quality, but simply because of quantity (of “helpful” ratings earlier than those which came later and are, unfortunately, buried too far back in the queue to ever get a chance at visibility).

Back to the review vs. summary discussion, what ends up happening is that many of those summaries are not helpful. They are not rated as such by readers. Good reviews, though, as actual reviews which provide insights, now take prominence because we, as readers, don’t want to waste our time reading unhelpful summaries. So we want to read the most helpful reviews, often of the value which we believe we’ll end up holding after we read the text! That is, if I think I’ll like it, I’m mostly going to spend time reading 5-star reviews. If I think I’ll hate it, I’m probably going to be waist-deep in 1-stars.

Ironically, and unfortunately, this confirmation bias problem drives a narrowing of the perspectives we are likely to see when considering a book. How many people read the 5 “most helpful” of each of the 5-star reviews, 4-star reviews, 3-star reviews, 2-star reviews, and 1-star reviews? Not many. We often read a couple of 5-stars, and validate our own internal prejudiced decisions we’ve already emotionally made with reference to these “independent” observers.

I think that’s a bad way to go about it. I don’t think this gives us a broad base of knowledge on which to base a conclusion. Instead, it feeds the brain’s energy-saving decision shortcuts

So. I there a way to fix this? I don’t know. Limit the # of reviews? Create an algorithm within Amazon’s display that forces a random review to be shown, rather than the “most helpful”? Cycle through on a first-written-first-shown basis so that each has a chance to be seen in equal measure? I don’t know the right answer.

Right now we’re getting the same sort of ineffective (destructive?) virtue-signaling and trend-whoring that we all complain about in social media. For the information industry (book publishing, lectures, blogging, etc.), which is so critical to the healthy function of a society, we may be running dangerously low on healthy debate, dissent, and critical thinking. Because we all want “the best” (again for a multitude of reasons), yet we’re not willing to go through the difficult process of evaluating for ourselves what the best might be.

Perhaps having a conversation around what it is we seek to accomplish through reviews, ratings, and the entire feedback process is warranted. I’ll leave that to someone else to organize.

SJ

P.S. I realize this essay doesn’t make much sense. Probably because I’m thinking as I write. I reserve the right to review and revise later.

P.P.S. I guess the least I could do is give you my review. Link here:

See below for text. You’re welcome.

P.P.P.S. I gave the book a 5-star rating and a positive review. It’s unlikely anyone will ever see that review and make a decision because of it, because now this review is buried a hundred pages back.

I don’t write many reviews on Amazon. They’re often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of everything else, so it feels as if I’m simply shouting into the void. Because…

This book needs no additional 5-star review. There are plenty of them already. This book needs no additional commentary – there is plenty of that already. This book, this author, needs no additional puffing up of his reputation – there’s plenty of that done by the Patreon subscribers and the purchasers of his other books. And yet…

In keeping with the rules that say “Tell the truth – or at least, don’t lie” and “Be precise in your speech,” I offer this rating and review in order to be consistent with the pull in my innermost Being, to respond to what I have just read and to share my thoughts, regardless of their receipt.

Thank you, Mr. Peterson. Thank you for saying, eloquently, what many of us have felt within our own spirit for years now. That this life is not easy. That there are hard things to do, and hard ways of doing them. That we’re not all badasses, that we’re not all going to win. That we must work, because of reasons outside our control, but despite that work and those obstacles we can still create within ourselves a life that is meaningful, that reaches for higher values. A life that represents better, a better Being, and strives agains the Chaos around us.

All should read this book. Not all will. And even of those who do, some shall be put off by the many references to God and Christianity and the Bible as authoritative. That’s a disappointment. For, even if one does not hold that same philosophy (as I do not), one should admit that, in accord with one of the rules, that this other person, this author (who has striven to bring your life additional Order) has something to say. Not just something for the sake of saying something, just to be heard and followed mindlessly in order to inflate an ego out of selfish desires, but something important and, ultimately, valuable as you strive to create a life you can be proud to leave behind.

Writing Practice – 2/8/2019

One of your eyes, hands, or feet will be taken as payment to vote in the next election. Do you vote? If so, which do you give up?

Of course I vote. It is not only a civic duty, but there are real consequences for the fact that I have to get out of power whoever it is that has put this policy in place. At this rate, I can only vote 6 times unless something changes, and that’s not a lot. So I’m going to create the “One-Eyed, One-Armed, One-Legged” coalition, and we’re all going to band together and vote for politicians who don’t want that policy to continue.

As for me, first I’d choose to lose my left hand. I write with my right, so I need that. Second preference, 4 years down the road, is that I lose my right leg. I guess maybe I could go left. But that would seem unbalanced, like all my RoboCop is only on one side of me. Because let’s be real, I”m gonna get prosthetics or artificial limbs or something. I could do a lot with that pinch-grabby thing on my non-writing hand, and when it comes down to it, those dudes who run on those fake blade-legs look pretty damn cool.

So – if we don’t get the policy changed after 2 election cycles, I have a big decision to make – Lose an eye, and therefor binocular vision, or one of my remaining really popular appendages? Because, face it, in a market with just one hand, that one becomes much more than twice the value of one in a market where there’s two. I really need hand for doing the stuff I do – putting DVD’s into the player, jerking off, turning down the lights – so I guess I”ll give up a foot before the other hand.

Why, though? Why wouldn’t it be better to lose an eye, and learn to compensate as a full half-a-man, rather than lose the foot and have to either wobble on two blades or get crutches or a wheelchair or something? Maybe because if I lose the other foot, but I can still see really well, I’ll be competent enough to drive a wheelchair, and then I can enter wheelchair runs. I bet I couldn’t do that with only 1 eye and 1 leg. Poor depth perception, I’d probably run off the road into the ditch too many times.

Do kids these day even know what ditches are? Should they? Well, yes, they should, because it’s a thing around them. But do they really understand wha goes on in them? Hell, do I?

How did I get on this topic? Don’t think, don’t get logical. That’s how.

Would I survive the loss of a 4th element of my body just to vote? I’m guessing that by that time, if we haven’t had a large enough groundswell of voting and turnout and momentum to swing the legislature towards the “vote without blood” side, we probably won’t ever win, because by the fourth or fifth time, we’ll have enough people who’ll be like, “damn it, I lost both my eyes voting, I don’t want to let youngsters vote for free,” and so they’ll vote, but they’ll vote for the “pay to vote” candidates. Kind of like a fraternity – once you pay your dues, you don’t want to let freeloaders in. Does this develop a sort of social signaling system, whereby only those who have “sacrificed” in order to vote are viewed as committed enough to the cause to get the good-paying jobs, the management positions, the raises and bonuses? Man, that’s a weird world I have in my head. Hope nobody ever goes in there. They’d come out screaming in terror.

Writing Practice 2/4/2019

A lady in the streets, but a freak in the bed.

Miss Madame Margaret Marybelle Morton walked the thick-choked streets of London with her parasol in one hand, the other clutching her new purchase tightly beneath her elbow. The box wiggled occasionally, and with the jostling of the crowd she wished not to lose her grip and expose the contents to the onlookers, for the benefit of herself and them. That had happened before, and the terrified gasps that inevitably resulted not only pained her delicate ears, they also led to public shaming, ridicule, and required Miss Morton to leave the city. It had happened twice before, in both Admonton-on-Leeds and Shirshey, and now that she had established herself here in London, she hoped to avoid yet another uprooting.

Miss Morton threaded her way carefully, through the crowds, her parasol not only intended to keep the sun off her neck but also to ensure she fit in with this society. It sometimes bothered her that she was so different in so many ways, and yet such a feeling could be mollified by the appearance, such as now, in that group in public in which she simply looked like everyone else, and it was easy to believe that none of them were any the wiser.

She reacher he building after only about ten minutes’ walk from where she procured her purchase, and it had settled. Good. Perhaps the shock of uprooting and dumping into the box had worn off; that would make the next few minutes easier. Lady Morton had tried to teach her daughter other ways, but the younger had never really took to those, so… she must live like this.

In through the door with her key, up the three flights of stairs, inside the flat’s single locked door once again, and Miss Morton could finally drop the parasol and the accompanying charade. Off went the overcoat, off went the petticoat, and out came the fangs.

Miss Morton carried the box, with the squirming, living, breathing, now suddenly squealing rat into her bedroom. She had taken each and every stitch of clothing from her body and dropped them in the living room entryway, forgotten for the moment as her hungry mind lusted for its soon-to-be-feast. She gently closed the bedroom door and set the small box upon the duvet cover.

She knelt before it, feeling the softness of the sheets on her knees. With trembling hand she reach out and lifted the lid. The breath caught in her throat as she felt her stomach clench in wondrous anticipation. There it was – thick, brown, beady-eyed, a fine specimen.

She lifted the rat from the box and it squirmed, slightly, wrapping its tail around her wrist. It squealed, and she felt a smile creep across her face. The miniature claws scratched at thin air, and she placed her other hand near them, to let it rake against her palm. Would it draw blood? No, not this time. Just as well. She tightened her grip on the animal and brought it towards her face. She could smell its musk, dank, like the sewers, dark like the night. She inspected its back. The bite mark she’d left there in the shopkeep’s presence an hour earlier, her teeth-marks as she tested the goods, were still visible, the blood having dried in the two opposing crescents. She felt her smile widen even more. Miss Morton opened wide, turned to expose the soft underbelly, and began to get her freak on.

Disgusted By Modern Life

A few weeks ago I saw a beautiful picture in the local weekly paper. A happy couple, dressed up in their finest attire, kissing with passion. I’m pretty sure it was these people:

2018-04-07
http://nostalgiaphotographystl.com/weddings

Now, I don’t have anything against weddings. Hell, I had one myself. Flowers, pretty dress, booze, rain, fraternity brothers hitting on sorority sisters, pictures in a book, tears, dancing, falling asleep before you could consummate, the whole works.

Weddings are fine things. They’re fun, they’re exciting, they’re a momentous occasion. I think they should be special.

I also think they should be reasonable. And what’s unreasonable about the picture I saw, in that newspaper, was that it was a full-page advertisement. For a bank.

Your Perfect Day

We’ll help you pay for it.

Wedding Loans as low as 4.99% APR

Special Rate through March 31

Ugh. Disgusting. We have now sunk so low as a society where this is acceptable. Where going into debt for an experience is considered reasonable. Where people who don’t have enough money to support themselves somehow think borrowing money is going to solve that problem.

Where bank executives, driven by profit targets, see an untapped opportunity and instead of counseling people to, perhaps, I don’t know, LIVE WITHIN THEIR MEANS!, reach out and collect interest from those who would likely be better off delaying the party for a year in order to save for it properly.

Where “investors”, a.k.a. you and me in our 401(k)s, seek ever higher and higher returns, driving bank executives to predatory practices, driving advertisement that indebtedness is a good thing to people who really shouldn’t be borrowing and are too naive to know better, driving dissatisfaction with life and the marriage, driving, ultimately, a negative cycle of emotion and action.

Don’t get me wrong – borrowing can have its good uses. Mortgage on a house, college loans, even auto loans are all using money to create more value for those who borrow. But borrowing to have a party? Putting yourself even further behind as you start your relationship? Seems ridiculous and short-sighted on the part of those who are taking out the loans, seems predatory for those who are making them, and seems negligent for those friends and family members who are sitting around and encouraging it.

Please stop this modern merry-go-round. I’m sick, and I want to get off.