Finally, we’re moving into a time of year and temperatures more suited to me, and with that a more regular posting schedule.
This summer, as I’ve switched between too much work and a hermit-like existence trying to escape the heat (to me, anything above 68°F is too hot), I noticed a sharp increase of posts on my twitter feed discussing the subject of book reviews.
The overall theme of these discussions was about how today—when anyone can be a critic—many use bad reviews to get exposure, using salty or hurtful language for a more dramatic effect.
These discussions made me think about my own point of view, what I believe a review should and should not be. I think it’s an interesting discussion, and if nothing else, it’s an excellent opportunity for me to explain how I approach my reviews and why you’ll never see a one-star review from me.
WHY WRITE BOOK REVIEWS?
I enjoy writing and reading; combine those two, and you get book reviews. As a textbook introvert, I have a small but wonderful circle of friends and family; people who smile without judgment when I give away a paperback, only to buy that exact book again in a different edition because it was prettier.
They listen patiently when I go into a tirade about why I’m so afraid Netflix is going to ruin The Witcher, and bite their tongue when I explain that the new “doll” in my bookcase is not an action figure, it’s a statue (and fifty dollars was a bargain).
As supportive as they are, they’ll never be as interested or invested in the things I love as I am; they’re too busy extroverting. This blog is a way for me to process stories I’ve read or experienced; stories that leave me with opinions or feelings that I want to express.
Stories I want to recommend to others.
I do this for fun. I like books, and I enjoy trying to improve my ability to craft an engaging, informative piece of writing.
I have no aspirations to become a professional blogger; there’s no agenda in what books I review. I don’t care about bestseller lists, hyped big-name authors, or if a book is thirty years old or newly released. I decide what I read based on a desire to read that particular book; out of those, I only review a handful.
I’ll never claim to be impartial; my personal preference will always shine through. But, I always strive to write a review that will help you make an informed choice based on your own literary inclinations and desires.
BAD VS. NOT TO MY TASTE
“I hate fantasy, this was just as bad as I thought it would be.“
Every time I read a line like that in a review, I stop taking it seriously. I can’t help but think: then why did you choose that book in the first place? If you know you don’t like fantasy, why read a fantasy book?
I don’t like crime novels, I don’t read them. I don’t like thrillers, YA romance, or chick-lit. I could go on for quite some time about authors, genres, and styles I don’t appreciate and therefore choose not to read.
That doesn’t mean they’re bad books: they’re just not to my taste.
When I look at my personal history as a reader, the impact of taste on what I like is evident. I recently did a massive purge of my book collection. One of the first to go was my box set of The Sookie Stackhouse Novels: ten years ago, I loved those books.
I never saw them as literary masterpieces, but they were comfortable, entertaining reads I could get though in a few hours. I thought they were funny. At the time, sassy blond vampires with attitude problems were kind of my thing.
Now, ten years later, many of the tropes, characters, and storylines annoy the hell out of me. However, the quality of those books hasn’t changed: I’m the one that’s changed. The Sookie Stackhouse novels have always been books I would rate as mediocre; entertaining but not particularly well-written. That was true ten years ago when I loved them, and it is true today when I don’t.
Just because you don’t like a book, doesn’t mean it deserves a one-star review.
A bad book is poorly written. Not as in, written in a style I don’t appreciate, but where the quality of the writing is subpar. For me, that includes the language or “voice” of the author being awful. Where you wonder how this person though it was a good idea for them to try to put words together into something cohesive.
It’s where the plot is so thin the reader, being forced to fill in potholes the size of Marianas trench, should get a cut of the royalties since they’re writing half the book themselves.
It’s books where the author could not be bothered to do any research and you as a reader notice. You don’t have to be a surgeon to have a protagonist doctor, but at least get the basic anatomy of the human body right.
Also, in general, women are not as fascinated by their breast as many male authors seem to think we are. They’re just there. We don’t admire them, and they seldom bounce and brush seductively against our cashmere sweaters as we walk down the stairs; that’s why we wear bras.
It’s books filled with stereotypical characters that are offensive.
There are tons of other examples, but I think you get my point. Here’s the thing though, I’ve read quite a few books in my thirty-something years as a reader, and I’ve encountered maybe a handful of novels where the writing was that awful.
Many have been mediocre: I’ve rolled my eyes at clichés, one-dimensional characters, and unoriginal plots. But they’re rarely so bad they deserved a one-star review. Most ordinary books, even though they’re not memorable, can still entertain you for a few hours.
If a book entertained you, it doesn’t deserve a one-star review. If a book is well-written, but not to your taste, it doesn’t deserve a one-star review.
WHY YOU’LL NEVER SEE A ONE-STAR REVIEW FROM ME
Despite having a pretty good idea about what kind of books I gravitate to, occasionally, I come across books that I think I’ll enjoy but don’t. Other times I tell myself I’m missing out on great books because I’m so set in my ways with what genres I like, and I should try something new; sometimes it works other times it doesn’t.
Regardless of the reason, my reaction when I come across a book I don’t enjoy is always the same: I don’t finish it. It’s that simple. If I pick up a book, and after the first fifty pages I’m not enjoying it, I put it aside, donate it to my local charity shop and forget all about it. I don’t force myself to finish reading books I dislike just so I can write a review about how much I didn’t enjoy it.
I prefer promoting the books I like, to criticizing those I didn’t.
That’s why you’ll never see a one-star review on this blog. I can’t rate or review books I don’t finish, and I never finish books I don’t enjoy.
That doesn’t mean every book I review is the most fantastic read of my life; my expectations or demands as a reader are not that high.
I can enjoy a book enough to finish it and still have issues with it, aspects of the writing, plot, or characters that I want to critique. Not even the books I love so much I feel like they’re a part of me are flawless, none are.
WHAT I THINK A BOOK REVIEW SHOULD BE
In my opinion, the point of a book review, or any type of review, is to provide a potential reader with enough information to decide if this particular book is a good fit for them; if it will be to their taste.
Apart from an introduction to the story, discussions regarding plot and characterization, as well as positive and negative aspects of the writing, this includes providing information like:
- Is the book written in an unusual style, tone or use of language;
- How is the pacing;
- Is it a character or plot-driven story;
- Are there specific cliche’s or tropes that might be off-putting to some readers;
- Is it explicit or heavy on violence;
- Are there issues in the portrayal of POC, LGBTQI, or female characters?
Or other specific subjects applicable to one particular book.
This post turned out much longer than I thought. I could write twice as much on this subject, but I’ll try to contain myself. If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a fan of “salty” reviews.
Sometimes I feel this puts me in the minority. Scrolling though Goodreads or casually viewing “Booktube” videos, I occasionally feel like I’ve stumbled into a violent mob observing commenters cheer as big-name reviewers teardown book after book.
There’s nothing wrong with constructively criticizing a book or an author. There’s nothing wrong with giving a book a one-star review: if it deserves it. But, if you’re mean to “spice things up” you’re not honest, or fair.
To me, the purpose of a review isn’t to dump my personal feelings over your head and call it the truth. The point of my reviews is to discuss books that have left an impression on me while, hopefully, giving you enough information to decide if it will be a good fit for your personal taste as a reader.
Do you agree, or disagree? What are you looking for when you read a book review?
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