Why I’ll Never Write a One-Star Review

Happy September!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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5 thoughts on “Why I’ll Never Write a One-Star Review

  1. I think the lowest I’ve rated on Goodreads is a 3, which means there was something redeeming about the book if I finished it, but it never quite rounded out. Aspects of it were good, but not the cohesive whole of it. I agree on not leaving a review of a book I didn’t finish, so I too, have never left a one star review considering I gave up on any book I thought was that bad.

    1. Yes, I agree, three stars are my go-to rating for books I enjoyed enough to finish.

      Thank you for reading and for taking the time to leave a comment.

  2. This is a very well written and interesting discussion post! However, I find myself disagreeing on many aspects. I occassionally feel the need to give a book that I perceived as bad a one-star rating, and I feel like it is only fair to also write a review to explain what was wrong. I don’t do that for exposure or a dramatic effect – I simply aspire to write a review for all books I finish regardless of the rating (and I think I usually review DNFed books as well, I just don’t rate them). I perceive a one-star rating as any other rating, I don’t find it cruel or evil, it is just the lowest rating on the scale. And some books sometimes happen to hit this lowest level unfortunately.

    I think it is a fair point that if I find a book bad why would I finish it. However, I occassionally have little choice in the matter. I sometimes review arcs and free review copies, and with those I do my very best to read the entire thing to provide a fair review. But my reviews are still honest, so it is possible that an arc gets a one-star review from me. Also, I might be in the middle of a readathon, and as a competitive person, I rather spend an extra hour with a bad book to achieve a challenge than give up. Finally, it is possible that the book is an audiobook, which I have very limited access to and so I tend to hang on to the audiobooks that I have.

    Most of my one-star reviews are due to a book being majorly problematic. So problematic that I would never ever recommend it. While I usually DNF books that are problematic, sometimes the plot is actually interesting enough for me to finish reading it. But a good plot doesn’t out-do the hugely problematic aspects, and I can easily feel like there is no way I can give the book more than one-star.

    I also think that one-star reviews can be very valuable for other readers. For example, sometimes I read reviews from other bloggers that outline why they disliked a book so much, and those things might not be such a big deal for me. I then feel like I know all the negative aspects of a book before committing to reading it, and there is a good possibility that I’ll really enjoy it! So others outlining the negative things in a book is actually a better indicator for me of whether I’ll enjoy that book myself than reviews that just glorify everything that was great.

    But nevertheless, I really do respect and appreciate your view on one-star reviews and hope you don’t feel like you need to write them if you don’t want to. I think a major point is just that I don’t see one-star reviews as attention seeking. They are just reviews and sometimes negative reviews are popular because they make it easy to recognise books you might or might not like. Sorry about the long comment!!

    1. There’s no need to appologies for a long comment. A discussion post is there to encourage discussions and, generally, you need more than one or two sentences to achieve that. 🙂

      I don’t have a problem with one-star reviews, or people who give them, as long as they’re fair. Some books are simply bad. Really bad.

      If a one-star review is well-written, and the reason behind the low score is laid out and motivated in the text then I don’t see it as unfair or attention-seeking.

      However, I do think there is a culture among some reviewers and readers where being unnecessarily harsh is cheered-on and encouraged.

      There is a difference between calmly and methodically explaining why you think a book doesn’t work and, though profanity and a poor attitude, insulting, mocking or ridiculing an author and their work.

      I also think, today, when most of us who write reviews are none-professionals, many confuse their personal taste with a book being good or bad.

      For example, I don’t like Quintain Tarantino movies, but I would never claim his movies are bad. They’re well-written, well-acted, and I believe Tarantino is an excellent filmmaker, I just don’t find his stories or the genres he tends to favor interesting.

      I can understand feeling a need to finish a book, even if you don’t enjoy it. Many do. And, of course, if you’re actually contracted to review a book then you have to. For me, it’s ultimately a question of time. My time to read or listen to books is limited and I don’t want to wast the time I do have on stories I don’t enjoy.

      As for finding one-star reviews helpful, we’re all different. Personally, my experience is that just like when I’m over-sold on a book though enthusiastic recommendations, negative reviews taint my experience. I find myself becoming overly critical and looking for all those negative aspects the reviews mentioned, instead of just experiencing the book and forming my own opinion of what I’m reading, so I try to stay clear of them.

      But, I can certainly understand why others find them helpful; which is why I think it’s so important that, as reviewers, we are honest, fair, and transparent about our own personal leanings and taste. If that results in a one-star review well, it’s unfortunate for the author but if a book is bad, it is.

      1. Ah thank you so much for your elaborate response! Now I find myself totally agreeing with you – if a negative review is not hateful then it’s okay. I also dislike reviews that say that a book is bad without providing reasons why that is. I also feel like many reviewers don’t necessarily have the same view on all the books that they review – at least I tend to sometimes be a bit too harsh to very popular books for which the hype has made my expectations way too high!

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