Blogging Discussions Other

Can I Review Chocolate?

The title of this post may sound as though it has nothing to do with books, but bear with me, hopefully I’ll manage to get back to them by the end of this post!

A few weeks ago Lee from Chocolate Reviews sent out a message on twitter asking if anyone would like to review some chocolate. I loved the idea of doing this, but said I didn’t feel qualified to review chocolate as I haven’t reviewed any food before. Lee said this wasn’t a problem, as reviewing chocolate is just like reviewing a book:

The book cover makes you want to buy it, just like chocolate packaging; with chocolate its important to have a good beginning, middle and end and if its a good one then you don’t mind telling other people about it.

I’m willing to try anything once, so agreed to see what I could do. I received a beautiful bar of Charbonnel & Walker’s Pink Marc de Champagne chocolate in the post a few days later:

I was immediately impressed by the fancy box. The Royal Crest is like the chocolate equivalent of a book award to me – raising my expectations before I even try it! I have to admit that I’ve I’ve never eaten a bar like this  – I’m more normally found with something cheap from the corner shop!

I opened the box to review a slightly disappointing plastic wrapper, but inside that was the pinkest chocolate I’ve ever seen:

The pink chocolate was much softer than the bars I’m used to – I could easily cut it with a blunt knife. I wasn’t sure about the colour of it – the pink was too dark to appeal to me.

It almost melted in the mouth, having a rich creamy taste. The chocolate truffle centre had a slight alcoholic taste, but I wouldn’t associate it with champagne, as the flavour was too delicate for me to be able to pin-point it’s origin.

Overall, I found it to be a delicious treat, but I don’t think I’d buy a bar myself. I’d prefer to have 8 bars of cheap chocolate than 1 bar of this!

I don’t think I did the chocolate bar justice. I love chocolate, but I haven’t eaten enough bars of a similar standard to be able to compare them properly. I can tell you that I liked it, but not why. I have found a similar thing with reviewing books. Five years ago I’d have been able to tell you which books I loved and which I didn’t, but I wouldn’t have been able to give you any reasons for my choices.

The more books I read, the more fussy I become, but I also start to work out why certain books appeal and others don’t. I think this is a reason I struggle to review graphic novels – perhaps once I’ve read a few more I’ll be able to do a better job of it.

Do you think it is possible to review anything, or do you need to have experienced a large number of similar things to write a proper review?

How many graphic novels do you think I have to read before I can write a useful review for one?

Discussions Other

Does the age of the author matter?

I have heard lots of discussions recently about whether the race or gender of an author makes a book more appealing, but I feel both these factors are irrelevant. I have recently stumbled upon a more important factor: The Age of the Author.

I have discovered that I am far more likely to enjoy a book if the author is slightly older than me (I’m 31). If the author is younger than me then the book tends to lack depth and I find I have little to learn from reading it – I just don’t enjoy reading these simpler books.

If the author is significantly older than me then I struggle to connect with the themes in the book – older authors seem to produce more reflective and thoughtful works, lacking the complex plots and action I enjoy.

Connecting with authors who are of the same generation makes sense to me. In real life we tend to become friends with people who are of a similar age group as we have more in common with them. That doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally want to spend time with other generations, but that we share the majority of time with our own.

Catcher in the Rye was published when J.D. Salinger was just 32. It seems no coincidence that this book has huge appeal to teenagers, but fails to resonate with adults.

Stephanie  Meyer was exactly the same age when Twilight was published. This book is also a teen phenomenon, but seems to have a corresponding fall in popularity as the age of the reader increases.

Audrey Niffenegger was 40 when The Time Traveller’s Wife was published and Lionel Shriver was 45 when We Need to Talk about Kevin shot to fame. I loved both of these books, but have heard many older people (and younger in the case of We Need to Talk About Kevin) saying that they didn’t enjoy them.

At the older end of the spectrum, Marilynne Robinson was 65 when Home was published. I tried really hard to read this book, but it just bored me. It won the Orange prize, so some people clearly love it. I wonder if I am simply not old enough to appreciate the slow, reflective pace of this book.

Offshore wins the prize for the dullest book I’ve ever read, but with an author aged 63 my lack of passion for it can now be understood. Perhaps it will become one of my favourites in 30 years time?

All these numbers seem to support an optimal author age 10 years greater than the reader.

So I propose the formula:

For maximum reading pleasure:

Reader Age + 10 years = Author Age on Publication (+/- 5 years)


I’ve included this table of books, so you can see if my calculation works for you:

Book Author Author’s Age at Publication
The Solitude of Prime Numbers Paolo Giordano 26
Twilight Stephanie Meyer 32
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee 34
Cloud Atlas David Mitchell 35
Fingersmith Sarah Waters 36
Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell 36
Flowers for Algernon Daniel Keyes 39
Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides 42
A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry 43
Generation A Douglas Coupland 48
Possession A S Byatt 54
Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel 57
Offshore Penelope Fitzgerald 63
Home Marilynne Robinson 65

These findings could have big implications for the judging panels of major book prizes. If reading taste changes so drastically over a life-time then I think it is important to have representatives of each generation on any panel. Following this theory only those under the age of 30 should be able to spot books that will appeal to teenagers and should be the only ones allowed to judge YA book prizes.

If the big literary prizes, such as the Booker and Orange, want to appeal to a larger audience then they simply need to include a full spectrum of age ranges on their judging panels.

There are of course exceptions to every rule. Saramago was 73 when Blindness was first published in Portugal. I put this down to his genius, one rarely matched whatever the age of the author. Or perhaps he is just young at heart?

What do you think of my theory?

Highly flawed?

….or do authors slightly older than you have a special ability to connect with you?

Has your reading taste evolved with age?

Do you now love books that you once hated?

Should we all start checking the age of the author before deciding to read a book?

I’d love to know your thoughts!!

Discussions Other

Bad book group choices?

When I was researching titles to add to my recent 101 Book Group Choices post I was forced to think hard about which books created good discussions. I found this article about writing for book groups by Amanda Ross (famous for choosing books for Richard and Judy and now The TV Book Club) but am not sure that this advice is different from that given to any author.  It sounds as though she is just describing a good book; one which is original and has a great plot.

Is there any difference between a good book and a good book club choice? 

Are there any fantastic books which make terrible book club choices?

Photo by Horia Varlan, Flickr

When I was compiling my list of books I was trying to include books which contained moral issues which are often thought provoking and in theory promote discussion, but in my book group discussion of the moral issues hasn’t occurred and I have a feeling that it could create argument rather than discussion in a lot of groups. I find talking about the characters more interesting than discussing the pros/cons of abortion, euthanasia or other hotly debated topics.

Should book group choices contain moral issues?



Every single one of my book group’s discussions has been enjoyable. Some have been slightly more successful than others, but I sometimes wonder if it really matters what book is chosen – I think we could talk about any book. That may be because half of us are book bloggers with an extreme passion for books, or perhaps we just haven’t come across a bad book group choice yet.

Is it possible to chose a bad book, or can people who are passionate about books create a good discussion whatever is chosen?

Which books didn’t work for your book club? Why?