a woman with a question for Mal

OK, so nobody asked. But I’ll bet you were thinking it, right? I’m going to answer, anyway. Yes, I’m calling these FAQs, which means of course that lots of people asked. But it’s my site, right? So, I can do what I want here.

Wondering who I am? Click here.

For additional information: I’ve posted some cool stuff you might find interesting:

And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.

Do you really read all those books?

Yes, Virginia, I do. I review only books I’ve read. Beginning to end. I may sometimes be tempted to review some awful book I’ve thrown down in disgust after reading only a chapter or two, but that hasn’t happened yet. (Well, it did once, but my review was so intemperate that I deleted it.)

So, how can you post reviews three times a week, or even more? Don’t you work, too?

Well, the question of whether I work is a matter of opinion. There are those who aren’t so sure, and I’m sometimes among their number. However, it is true that I read a lot—not a book every day, for sure, but an average of three or four per week.

“What does ★★★ mean?”

For the record, I don’t recall awarding anything lower than ★★★, or 3 out of 5, more than once or twice. Not that I haven’t encountered books that would deserve it—it’s just that I don’t finish reading those books. I only review books I’ve read from start to finish. And here is what I mean by the ratings:

★ = This book should never have been published.

★★ = Not the worst book in the world, but I couldn’t get through it.

★★★ = Reasonably well written, enjoyable in some ways, but not a candidate for a National Book Award.

★★★★ = I really liked this book. It may have fallen short of greatness, but it’s a terrific read. Definitely worth checking out.

★★★★★ = This book is either extraordinarily well conceived and well executed, or it makes an important contribution to our understanding of ourselves or the world we live in, or both. A must read. If you like that sort of thing.

Why do practically all your reviews carry 4- or 5-star ratings?

I was afraid you’d ask that. But here’s the deal. I read books very selectively, picking out only those I think I’ll find rewarding. For example, in the New York Times Book Review on the day I wrote this answer, there was a total of 110 titles listed in the paper’s several categories of bestsellers. Of those, I’d read 14 (and reviewed most of them in this blog). I had three or four other listed titles on tap to read soon. If I don’t enjoy reading a book, I tend to figure that out once I’ve read a few chapters. I put it down and forget it as quickly as possible. So, you can bet that I judge a book worthwhile if I’ve reviewed it at all, and outstanding if I give it five stars.

What sorts of books do you read and review?

The topics I tend to focus on are as follows:

  • Popular nonfiction, particularly books about history, science, biography, espionage, politics, and business. In fact, I publish a weekly newsletter, Nonfiction Wednesday, which features my most recent reviews in this category.
  • Mysteries and thrillers, especially detective novels, spy stories, courtroom dramas, police procedurals, and psychological thrillers. I also publish a weekly newsletter, Mystery Tuesday, featuring my most recent mystery and thriller reviews.
  • Science fiction, including hard SF, dystopian novels, alternate history, and space opera. And, yes, I also publish Science Fiction Monday, which includes my most recent SF reviews.
  • Recent bestselling novels, especially historical fiction and humor. Believe it or not, I publish a fourth weekly newsletter, too. It’s cleverly entitled The Weekly, and it includes my most recent reviews in this category as well as everything else I’ve posted in the preceding week. Which means it includes material that doesn’t appear in any of the other three newsletters.

Incidentally, I’m particularly interested in China, India, Russia, and Africa, and I love to read both fiction and nonfiction about World War II. You’ll find a fair number of reviews about books on those topics here.

OK, so what don’t you read?

Hold your breath. Here goes. These are the categories of books I ALMOST NEVER read or review:

sports • poetry • food • diet • health • fitness • romance • horror • fantasy • whodunits • cozy mysteries • self-help • art • literary criticism • literary memoirs • graphic novels • collections of essays • short story collections

But I thought you read just about everything!

Guess again. In fact, do you know how many books were published last year? You’d be surprised. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) keeps track of books published by country. It estimates that 2.2 million new titles are published worldwide each year. (Other estimates I’ve seen range as high as 3 million.) UNESCO’s data covers the period up to 2019 but is mainly from 2013. That year, according to the agency, the U.S. trailed China, 304,000 vs. 440,000 in new titles published. And even those huge numbers don’t include the fast-growing output of short-run and on-demand books, often self-published, now numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
Once upon a time, an educated person could actually read every book in print—and there weren’t very many educated people. Those were the days long before the United States had yet to be born. Most books available to Westerners were published in Latin, and every book was a rare book. That was a very long time ago. What we today call the information glut began no later than the nineteenth century. So, any conscientious reader has long had to be very selective.

What makes you want to keep reading a book to the end?

What I most want from any book I read is to feel I’m not wasting my time. I want to learn something, whether it’s how a detective solves a murder case, or an ingenious idea plays itself out in a science fiction novel, or how a nonfiction account casts light on some subject that intrigues me. If I find that the style or structure gets in the way of that, or if I’m simply not learning enough, I’ll set the book aside and turn to something more rewarding.

Are you one of those self-righteous people who failed as a writer and turned to reviewing books to get even?

Well, my success or failure is in the eye of the beholder (me), but I have written—and, yes, published—a slew of books. Twenty, actually. Through a total of seven publishers as well as, in one case, on my own. If you don’t believe me, go to My Books. Just don’t expect to find the Great American Novel there. What you will find, for the most part, are books about fundraising for nonprofit organizations. I’ve been involved in that work since 1979, when I founded a consulting agency with my name on the door. You’ll also find two books about business, and one about dystopian novels, of which I’ve read an ungodly number. (Well, more than sixty, anyway.) Oh, and it’s all nonfiction. I did write science fiction short stories once upon a time. But that time was long, long ago and best forgotten.

Now, whether I’ve failed as a writer is a matter of perspective. One of my fundraising books (How to Write Successful Fundraising Appeals) has sold upwards of 50,000 copies—and probably 100,000 by now. It’s also been ripped off online by more criminals than I can possibly count and made the rounds across the world in various editions for many years now, so I imagine the number of readers is well into six figures. None of my other books have come close to those numbers. But several have sold reasonably well. So, for what it’s worth, I’m content.

What does it take for you to review my book?

So, you’re an author, agent, or publisher, and you want me to review your book? Well, for starters, I should tell you that I very rarely read books suggested to me by anyone of your ilk. For one thing, I’ve found that a great many of the books proposed for review here fall into one of the categories that I just don’t read. (See above in these FAQs: “OK, so what don’t you read?”)

If you haven’t browsed through this site, please go to the Home Page. There, you’ll find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site. Even a couple of minutes will give you a fair sense of whether the book you want me to review comes anywhere close to the sort of thing I like to read.

However, let’s assume you’re familiar with this blog and you still think your book fits in one of the categories I’ve listed above. (See above in these FAQs: “What sorts of books do you read and review?”) But even if by some miracle I agree to buy your book—yes, I almost always buy the ones I think I’ll read—don’t think I’m likely to jump at the chance to read, much less review it. I have a VERY long queue of books to read. Hundreds of books, believe it or not. I know that’s nutty, but so what?

Still want to take a chance? Go ahead. Contact me. I’ll read your message and respond if I can. And, who knows? Maybe lightning will strike. Just don’t hold your breath.