In Defense of Putting Down a Book

In Defense of Putting Down a Book
By Foz Meadows
Left to my own devices, it’s rare for me to write criticism for books I haven’t finished. If I find a book boring or if it simply isn’t for me, there’s little motive to write a partial review to that effect, and so I don’t say anything; alternatively, if a work annoys me so much that I want to nitpick it in detail, I usually spite-read the entirety to be sure my facts are in order. In this instance, however, I feel justified in submitting criticism based on partial reads for two main reasons. Firstly, the Shadow Clarke jury is, by design and definition, reactive: we are here to pass judgement on award selections that have already been made by other people, and to do so in only 300-500 words per book. That being so, while we’ve certainly been given the scope and opportunity to write longer, more in-depth criticisms if we want, at base, we’ve been asked to provide a pass/fail grade on whether we feel a particular book merited its inclusion on the shortlist, with only a cursory explanation as to why.
Which leads to the second point: we are doing this on a fairly tight schedule which – for me, personally – overlaps with packing up my house and family in preparation for an international move. Work on the Shadow Clarke is unpaid, done as a labour of love for the genre; and while I’m happy to participate on those conditions, I am not a masochist. Personally, I would’ve much preferred to have read the full text of two books I enjoyed, or which I at least found engaging enough to merit persistence; instead, I’ve hit on two books in a row which irked me profoundly, albeit in very different ways, and which – had I picked them up outside the context of the Shadow Clarke – I would have either discarded without criticism or spite-read to justify writing a full analysis of their failings. But as I am reading them for the Shadow Clarke, this puts me in a bind: I can’t very well remain mute, but given the deadlines and my other commitments (to say nothing of the fact that, were I to continue reading either book, they’re the kind of thing I’d write cranky essays about, not quick summations) I don’t have the time or energy to waste on forcing myself to persist when the most salient question – do I, personally, think this book deserves to be on the Clarke Award shortlist? – has already been answered by how strongly I’ve wanted to throw them both at the wall.

Foz Meadows is a genderqueer fantasy author, essayist, reviewer, blogger and poet. She has most recently published An Accident of Stars, A Tyranny of Queens with Angry Robot, and Coral Bones with Rebellion. Foz is a reviewer for Strange Horizons, a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Black Gate, and a repeat contributor to the podcast Geek Girl Riot. Her essays have appeared in various venues online, including The Mary Sue, A Dribble Of Ink and The Book Smugglers. She is a two-time Hugo Award nominee for Best Fan Writer in 2014 and 2017, and won the 2017 Ditmar Award for Best Fan Writer, having also been nominated in 2014 and 2016. In 2017, An Accident of Stars was a finalist for the Bisexual Book Awards.

You can read her approach to the project here.


  1. Christopher Priest 6 years ago

    If a self-appointed critic, paid or unpaid, cannot get past 21% of a novel, and cannot even spell the author’s name correctly, yet is somehow capable on that tenuous basis of going on to dismiss almost everything about the book, then they should consider a career change.

    • Author
      admin 6 years ago

      Spelling of Charnock has been corrected — apologies!

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