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I love books. I’ve always loved books. I love reading them, I love writing them. I love the look of them, the smell of them. I love the way simple ink on paper turns into an incredible world in my mind to explore. To laugh over, cry over, be frightened by. I love how books educate, encourage, entertain. I love how each person sees something unique in their mind when they read a book, so each book is a truly personal experience.

This love of books is why I always refuse to become a professional book reviewer.

My Work Is Books

Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit by JJ Barnes

I’ve always written stories. I have a world of ideas in my head that is constantly clawing to get out, and the way they naturally do that is in the form of books. In 2016 my first book, Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, came out, and thus my career as an author began.

With Siren Stories I am not only releasing my own books, but working with other authors to release books they have written. I am involved in cover design, promotion, formatting. Putting stories out into the world is a truly magical experience, giving readers the chance to delve into these incredible worlds just as I love to myself.

I started writing a creative writing advice blog, that actually inhabited this very domain, a few years ago. I referenced books, both my own and the books of others, as a way of teaching aspiring writers how to construct their own stories. For two years I worked on releasing writing advice videos on YouTube, again referencing the writing of other authors to teach and inspire. Books were my teachers, and I wanted to guide others through how they too can learn their craft based on the work of those who came before them.

In June this year I started The Table Read. I incorporated my original writing advice posts, to give a base resource, but then I branched out. I run interviews with authors, both fiction and non fiction, as well as other creatives. I put out articles written by writers that go into their inspiration, their creative process, what their books mean to them. It gives me a chance to help other writers find an audience for their books, and to inspire writers to get their own stories out into the world.

I Need To Keep Something Just For Myself

I truly feel like in order to keep the joy I find in books, I have to keep the reading of them just for pleasure. My day to day working life is consumed by the writing, production, promotion and teaching of the world of books. If reading them becomes a professional experience as well, then I feel like I’ll be losing that last bit of my childhood joy.

Why I Don't Review Books JJ Barnes
Photo by Vincenzo Malagoli on

I’m regularly asked to review books. It makes sense, I’m featuring authors and books on The Table Read every day, and my love of books is something I’m very open about. But I always say no. I feel guilty about it because I want to offer as much support and as big a platform as possible to the writers I work with. But reviewing them in a professional capacity just takes that last bit of relaxation I find from books away.

At the end of the day I like to lie down in my bed, shut out the world, and read. I don’t pressure myself to read, it’s purely for pleasure. If I fall asleep on the pages, I’m not missing a deadline. I dog ear the corners, break the spines, bend the covers. My bedside table is piled high with books, all scattered and messy, plus two kindles. My reading is just for me. I’m not taking elegant photos of beautiful books and writing about my experiences. I’m reading through tatty piles of mess purely for the experience. Purely for me.

Platforming Reviewers

I have mad respect for book reviewers. I love their photos, love their work. I value it on a professional level because authors depend on reviews, and I enjoy it on a personal because I love to read about stories. One of my favourite people, Steph Warren, reviews books on Bookshine and Readbows, and is a brilliant example of the kind of brilliance professional book reviewers can achieve.

Because of this, whilst I choose not to review myself, I do platform reviewers on The Table Read. If I can help authors find the reviewers that will cherish their work, and help readers find bloggers who will recommend their next favourite book, then I feel like I’m easing my guilt. I’m not reviewing myself, but I am trying to platform the reviewers we all love and need.

My Reviews

All of this said, just because I don’t write professional book reviews, it doesn’t mean I don’t write any. I just don’t write PROPER book reviews My reviews come in the advice I glean and pass on, the links I share, and, most importantly perhaps, the reviews I write on Amazon or Goodreads.

But my reviews on those platforms are a messy and hotpotch as the books piled by my bed. They’re not the detailed and glorious paragraphs written by the people I work with. But they’re real and they’re heartfelt. Because I love the authors I read, I value the work their do, and I want to do what I can to support them. I just do it in a way that allows me to still rest in their words.

JJ x


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