I’m going to start posting short reviews of books I have read recently. I may not review everything I read, but I’ll review a lot of it, anyway.
The metaphorical pocket pistol in my review series will be a small automatic with a five round magazine. The more bullets in the magazine, the better. It’s always nice to have more ammo for when the fit hits the shan, as they say. I call them “Pocket Pistol Reviews” for four reasons:
They’ll be relatively compact reviews.
They won’t pull any punches, but they may not do much damage either.
I want to use a standard five-point rating system, and a pocket pistol doesn’t carry much ammo, so it seems to fit.
I like the idea of using bullets instead of stars to indicate how well I rate the book. Thanks to Sterling for the idea.
I’ll start each review with the title, the author, and a rough page count. I’ll round the page count to the nearest multiple of 25, with the format “Roughly 200 Pages”, to avoid confusion. After all, page counts differ in different editions, and even between paperback and hardcover versions of the same edition sometimes, to say nothing of the fact that the story usually doesn’t start on page one. Rather than do arithmetic or give the exact number on the last page of the story, I’ll just round to something that sounds good. The point is to give you a time investment estimate to weigh against the review I provide to decide whether you want to read the thing.
My bullet rating will be the end of each review. The meaning of the various bullet ratings follows:
No bullets at all means it is so bad that reading it would, at best, be a complete waste of your time, guaranteed (unless, for some reason, you just feel a desperate need to read a really atrocious book just for the sake of reading a really atrocious book). Avoid these books at all reasonable costs.
A single bullet means there’s some minor excuse for reading it under rare circumstances, perhaps, or it at least isn’t an actively painful read even if there aren’t any redeeming qualities to it at all. An example might be Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, easily one of the worst books I’ve ever read — but one might have reason to read it, if only to be able to say “Yes, I read it, and it sucks; here’s how it sucks, in excruciating detail.” That’s the only reason I bothered to finish reading it, myself.
Two bullets means it’s not very good. It may just be superficial fluff without any particularly redeeming qualities at all, but without any real value to reading it at all. It may also be a book with some good qualities, but also some qualities bad enough to effectively counteract whatever good there is in reading the book. A lot of so-called “classics” fall into this category, alas. Bram Stoker’s Dracula comes to mind, notable only for its historical relevance and how thoroughly dull a read it is.
Three bullets means it’s a good book, but not remarkable, per se. It might be a really good read, but with only a modicum of deeper value. It might be a merely above-average read, but predicated upon fascinating principles. It might be a very important work, but uninspired in its presentation. If a book gets three bullets, though, it is definitely worth reading, as long as it doesn’t displace anything higher up the priority list. Most reviewers would probably give a book in this category four stars out of five, but I’m a picky bastard.
Four bullets means it’s an incredibly good book; you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it. To qualify for four bullets, it needs to be at least engrossing, understandable, intellectually stimulating, and relevant to some important (in my opinion, at least) topic. These are the “must read” books.
Five bullets means “Drop everything and read this book right now!” Put these books at the top of your reading list. They impress the pants off of me. They’re books everyone (or at least everyone with good taste and a free mind) should read.
That should about cover it. The following are Book Reviews from the Pocket Pistol.
Diamond Age, or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter and the . . . by J. K. Rowling
Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross
The Prestige by Christopher Priest
The Revolution: A Manifesto by Ron Paul
Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow
Whitechapel Gods by S. M. Peters