Notes on Book Reviews


I first started writing reviews in August of 2003, after seeing several book reviews on the web that I enjoyed reading and after some encouragement from friends. This was only a little bit after I decided to significantly increase the number of books I was reading, so the two efforts have ended up going hand in hand.

I used to read voraciously, going through often a dozen books a week when I was a kid. I started out reading a wide variety of children's literature, mostly classics, or at least older books, checked out of various libraries. When I discovered science fiction and moved up into the adult section, I went through pretty much everything good in the small SF section of the Grass Valley library. I kept this up for a while after going to college, but then during some particularly high-stress times in my life, I lost the habit, and ended up only reading a small handful of novels a year, spending all of my time on-line instead.

That wasn't good for me in many ways, and after thinking about it for a while, I started making a concerted effort in 2003 to read more, deciding that I should be reading at least a book a week. It turned out that writing reviews for each book I read was a great incentive — I love writing the reviews, love seeing them accumulate on my web site, and get a more tangible sense of accomplishment from reading each book. The reviews also give me an incentive to finish borderline books, rather than getting stalled and drifting away from reading again. (I normally only read one book at a time.)

In June of 2004, a couple of months ahead of schedule, I reviewed my 52nd book, and my reading rate had been accelerating over the course of the year. Experience since then has only reinforced the effectiveness of writing reviews at getting me to read more, and I hope to add hundreds more reviews.

Book Information

I try to collect some information about each book I review, although for older reviews of books that were loaned to me, I may not have all of it. The meaning of most of that information should be pretty obvious.

The copyright is the first publication date of that particular book (in other words, not counting separate publication of pieces of the book earlier). The printing is the date of the specific publication of the book that I read, in case it had been edited or modified in different publications (if not given, it's the same as the copyright date, meaning I read the first printing). The ISBN corresponds to the version that I read, meaning that it's the ISBN for the omnibus collection if that's how I read the book.

The page count I try to make the count of actual story pages, not counting advertisements, previews of other novels, and the like. It's still rough, though, since usually I just take the page number of the last story page in the book (including appendices by the author and author notes).

For those who aren't familiar with the standard industry terms for book formats, a "mass market" book is the paperback that you're used to, the kind that's pocket-sized. "Paperback" more often refers to trade paperbacks, soft-cover books that are hardcover-sized. I always refer to those as "trade paperbacks" (except for graphic novels).

Cover Images

The cover images on the reviews that have them are mostly courtesy of Powell's, although if Powell's doesn't have one I do a general Google image search, and if that fails, I take a picture of the cover with a digital camera. My understanding is that including a cover image in a review falls under the fair use provisions of copyright law, although I don't have a complete understanding of the legalities. It also seems that most publishers at the least don't mind and often are appreciative of it.

Apparently making available cover images has a lot of complicated legal issues surrounding it, which weren't much of a problem for my low-volume, non-automated use of them.

For other review sites that want to offer cover images, my recommendation would be to investigate becoming an affiliate of one of the on-line book stores and then contacting them and seeing if you can use their cover image data as part of a page that links to them for book sales. It looks like that's the easiest route to take for the majority of covers. (I suppose you could just grab the cover images regardless, and I doubt the site cares, but I felt a bit better about going that route.)

Kindle and eBook Information

I mostly read books on paper, but I do have a Kindle and occasionally read books in that format. Electronic publishing is also growing, and I expect to read more ebooks in the future. This poses some additional challenges for the metadata I record about each book.

Cover images are a bit random for ebooks. Sometimes the ebook doesn't even include a traditional cover. For Kindle books, I generally use whatever cover is shown on Amazon or Powell's for that book, even if that differs from what's inside the ebook file and shown on the Kindle, since people who want to buy the book will locate it by the image shown on on-line booksellers.

Page numbers are a fairly artificial concept for ebooks, but I think they're still useful to provide a rough idea of the length of a book. If the ebook displays page numbers, as a lot of Kindle books do, I'll report the length of the book based on that. Otherwise, the page number count will be from the Amazon product listing or the page count for the nearest similar paper book that I can find, if I can find one.

Finally, the Kindle makes available a lot of public domain books for free download. The metadata for these books is particularly bad. Amazon doesn't say where the books came from, even though a lot of them are probably from Project Gutenberg with the project statements stripped off. They don't have any record of who was responsible for the conversion, usually don't have page numbers, and usually don't have ISBNs. For these books, I list the publisher as Amazon (since they don't provide any alternative), try to find page numbers from paper publications, and list the ASIN (the Amazon internal tracking number) instead of an ISBN.

Review Dates

The reviewed date on each page and in the various indices is the date on which I first posted the review, This did not used to be the case; for some older reviews, the review date on the review page is the date of the first draft and will vary from the date in the index by review date. This was confusing, so I stopped doing that.

I don't update the review date for later changes unless I substantially rewrite the review. I normally write a first draft, save it, and then come back to it a few days or weeks later to edit and actually post, and I will later fix typos, spelling errors, and similar problems. The review date is that date of the final posting, but is not updated for any further fixes or clarifications to the review. Below the footer of each page is the date anything about the review was last modified.


I found the following sites useful as a reference or as examples when figuring out how I wanted to present my reviews:

Susan Stepney's SF Reviews

One of the first review sites where I went through and read every review available. I've gotten a lot of excellent book recommendations from here, and took some ideas about organization and navigation from it. The navigation that I'm currently using for all of my web pages was directly inspired by the nagivation bar at the top of these pages.

I'm still considering whether (and how) to present some of the nice author information that Susan Stepney has on her site. The list of books by an author, particularly subdivided by series, is incredibly useful. On the other hand, there are other sites that have this, so maybe duplicating it on my web pages wouldn't be worthwhile.

Christina Schulman's SF Reviews

Found through Susan Stepney's site, I've also read every review here and taken some book recommendations from here. I love the index page; my index has been partly inspired by it, but isn't quite the same. I think Christina's looks better than mine, but I also like having the breakdown by author more explicit. Still pondering this.

The sidebar design of my individual review pages owes a lot to the design of the individual reviews here.

Fantastic Fiction

It looks horribly garish, and I was inclined to dismiss it the first couple of times I stumbled across it because of that, but this is one of the best on-line reference sites for publication dates and series details that I've found. All of an author's published works are listed, and even more usefully are broken down by series, novel, and short story collections, and the publication history of each book is listed with ISBNs. I used this to track down the ISBNs of some books I read but don't own and to get some cover images that Powell's didn't have.

Powell's Books

In addition to being the source of cover images, as mentioned above, and the source of many of the books that I read (I buy more from Powell's than any other on-line bookseller), Powell's also served as my primary research source. I tracked down ISBNs, publication dates, page counts, and the like through their database for books I read but didn't own.

Last spun 2022-02-06 from thread modified 2021-01-30