Saturday, October 07, 2006

Book Reviews

I tried to post to the comments over at Fuse #8, but darn blogger wouldn't let me.

The discussion thus far: Chasing Ray, Blog From A Windowsill and Fuse #8, along with those posting in comments, are discussing reviews: negative, positive, it is a disservice to only do one.

I'm interested in this for two reasons: first, I only do positive reviews; second, I love to rant about books I don't like. So why, with a few exceptions, do I not include negative reviews?

First, time. I don't blog on work time; and as it is, I have about 20 books that I liked that I want to post about and those posts are sitting in my drafts pile. With limited time, I'd rather post about what I like than what I didn't.

Second, I tend to be a book-liker. The bell curve for me would show a vast number that I liked, a small number that I adored, and a small number that I hated. (The curve would omit the ones where I never got beyond the first two chapters and the last chapter.) (Upon occasion, a last chapter has motivated me to finish the book and find out that it got better.)

Third, I'm fairly clear concerning the books that are sent to me as review copies that my getting a copy does not guarantee a review.

Fourth, I technically don't see myself as reviewing books so much as discussing them. It's a bit self-centered, I know; but I write not thinking, "does this help someone with purchasing/reading/recommending a book," but rather, "here's what I want to say about a book."

Fifth, I am honest about the reviews I do. I have never said I liked a book that I didn't like.

But, there is a good point raised about negative reviews also being of value. Personally, I find it such a relief to read that someone else disliked a book I disliked. So why not share my dislikes? Wouldn't that be of value to readers?

Let me know what you think. Feedback is cool. My own temptation is to keep reviewing what I like (because of the time factor!) with two exceptions: prize winners (much like I did last year with the easy readers) or books with buzz (i.e., there is an ongoing online discussion about the book, and instead of just saying on a comment that I didn't like Minister's Daughter or Criss Cross or The Loud Silence of Francine Green, I'd do my own post.)


Little Willow said...

Cheers. I have been commenting in a variety of blogs re: this topic, and I see a lot of similarities in what you said here to what I said there. Honesty is key.

Susan Taylor Brown said...

As a writer, I appreciate the honesty in reviews even when they (ouch) sting. There are some people seem to enjoy being out and out mean about books and I know, should I end up on the receiving end of some of those I will likely collapse in a fit of tears and hide in a corner for the next dozen years or so.

As a reader, I too like to hear that someone else didn't like a that I didn't like but it isn't something I am likely to talk a lot about. If I felt strongly about something in the book, perhaps it went against a very strong belief of mine, I might speak out against it but I dunno. I guess my hope (silly as it is, I know) is that bad books will sink and good books will float to the top with enough champions.

Which nows makes me feel guilty for not championing more books. Sigh.

Thanks for making me think on a Saturday.

Anonymous said...

Oy, it's early here in Shanghai, and I haven't yet had my coffee, but I feel the need to comment. I, too, only share my raves when I read a book - but I don't consider myself a reviewer. As a children's writer who isn't yet published and as one who is active in the community, I don't feel right criticizing others' hard work in public. I'll discuss books I didn't love (or the very few I've hated) with friends. I'm one of those ppl who hates conflict and hates hurting other people's feelings. But, I do feel a huge sense of relief when I find a friend who didn't like the same book as I did for similar reasons.

UGH - I sound totally wishy-washy here. (Can we blame the lack of coffee?) I appreciate an honest negative review that doesn't skewer the writer. I just don't believe I'm the one who should be that person in a public forum.

Finally, one of my favorite things to do is share the love and help get the word out on books/writers I love. That's my focus and that's what makes me feel good. Blogging, to me, is fun - and if I spend my time posting about things that make me feel bad, then I have much better things to do with my time. (Then again, I should be working on my writing right now instead of blogging....)

Thanks for a great post and something to ponder! :)
debbi michiko florence

Anonymous said...

I know I'm more prone to negative reviews than a lot of bloggers. The thing is, I don't consider what I write as being for readers, or for writers, but just for myself, to have an honest record of what I thought. This is good for two reasons: first of all, my long-term memory for books is terrible, and it's a good reference to look back to months later. Secondly, it makes me think harder about what didn't work for me, so that I don't just say "Meh" and leave it at that. As to the usefulness of doing this in public, well, I'm not so sure about that.

Anonymous said...

I think that it's an interesting question. Like you, Liz, I have limited time for writing my reviews, and I tend to prefer to focus on the positive. Also, I read pretty quickly, and I sometime feel that it's not fair to share my negative thoughts about a book, because I may not necessarily have given said book a fair shake. But I do feel validated when I read someone's negative comments on a book that I didn't like either, and that does make me wonder if I should take more time to write about the books that I didn't like, and why. I thought that Wendy made excellent points on this topic at Blog from the Windowsill. But then, I also think that authors work hard to write their books, and publishers work hard to publish them, and who am I to trash those books??

Overall, though, like you, Liz, I'm a lover of books. There really aren't so many that I read that I dislike, and if I have trouble getting into a book, then I stop and don't finish it.

Thanks for the food for thought.

Anonymous said...

I'm also a book lover and rarely dislike a book so much that I can't finish it. Before I began receiving books to review from publishers et. al., I wouldn't bother writing a review of a book I didn't like or couldn't finish. Now, however, although there is no obligation from Orbit/Atom to read and review every book I receive, I'm more inclined to write a review of a book that I didn't enjoy - and to explain why I didn't enjoy it. Stephen R Lawhead's Hood is the most recent example of this; if I hadn't promised a review of it to Kelly for The Edge of the Forest, I wouldn't even have bothered to finish reading it. As it happened, the book did improve - but it took half the length of the book to get better (which is pretty dire, given Lawhead's not a new/inexperienced author). Since books these days are so expensive, I have begun to feel that I ought to say something if I don't feel a book is worth spending money (in particular) in buying or time in reading. With the proviso, always, that one person's meat is another person's poison.

Yes, authors do work hard to produce their books, but that doesn't mean I can't say that I don't think a book is as good as it could be. And to be honest, if I read a book I hated and I later found out others had read and disliked, I'd be miffed at the lack of a warning ! Given how many thousands of books are published each year, and given how many of them I read, I'd rather not waste my precious reading time on books that are poor...

Having said all that, I would never, ever attack an author directly. That is just unfair and (I feel) rather unprofessional.