One of my duties as an author is to review the work of other writers. I’ve been writing reviews for more years than I can remember. It’s a job I enjoy, and it’s been immensely helpful in improving my own writing.
Being a reviewer means being required to study the writing of other authors I might otherwise have never encountered. Because of my background, I’m usually asked to review books on Vietnam and war. As a result, I’m rarely assigned fiction—novels and short story collections. Yet fiction is my medium.
Whether I am given works by first-class authors or inferior ones, I learn about writing from reading their work. From the unpolished, I discover what to avoid—long sentences, strings of sentences with lengthy present participial phrases tacked on the end, over dependence on complex vocabulary drawn mostly from Greek and Latin origins.
From excellent writers, I learn simplicity. I study their alteration between short and long sentences and their dependence on words with Anglo-Saxon roots. I come to understand their reliance on word choice, the exact right word to convey what they want to say.
Beyond writing skills, the books I review open my mind to new worlds of which I previously knew nothing. I came to understand the British and Irish time of trouble that lasted for many years. I arrived at a new appreciation of espionage. But mostly, I learned facts new to me about the Vietnam war and what it entailed.
I’m fortunate to be able to review books. I’m a better writer as a consequence. But mostly I am enriched with new knowledge. That’s the gift to the reviewer.