Monday, May 18, 2009

What Is That Thing You Do?

Or, are blog posts "reviews"?

The lawyer in me says, it's all how we define the words we use. We just have to make sure that we define them the same way. When you say "review" does it mean the same thing as when I say "review"?

So, randomly and in no particular order, the various ways that a blog post can talk about a book. Please note (at least in terms of myself!) that one blog can incorporate all of these; heck, one blog post about a book can be a little of everything.

-- Opinions. Usually highly personal.

-- Discussions. Invites feedback from other readers.

-- Recommendations for readers. Usually avoids spoilers. Usually aimed at those who haven't read the book.

-- Recommendations for "gatekeepers" -- usually librarians, booksellers, teachers, parents. Gatekeepers can work in two ways: as the buyers of the book or the recommenders of the books to teens. And, often, they won't read the book themselves. So, these tend to highly spoilerific.

-- Analysis. Due to analyzing the book, tends to be spoilerific. Audience is usually people who have read the book.

-- Snark. Fun when done well, boring and strident went done poorly. I think snark works best with an audience who has read the book. But, not always. I've only read the first Twilight book, but greatly enjoy all the snark about the books.

Then there is the "personal" versus "objective", also known as, "when I say it, it's objective; when you do, it's personal." Seriously, though, to me this is the difference between saying "this book isn't good because the teen was a goody two shoes who skipped class, as a (former/current) goody two shoes I never would have skipped class" (personal: about the reviewer's personality, not the book) and "I didn't find it believable when the teen in the book skipped class, because she was described as a goody two shoes and the author didn't sufficiently explain why suddenly on this day she had to skip class" (objective, arguing the author didn't convince for plot and/or character).

Is personal bad? Hell to the no, especially for "what to read next". If I can find a blogger/reviewer who I know has "my taste", then I know I'll agree with their recommendations. The opposite can be true; if someone doesn't have my reading tastes, and they don't like a book, I may be inspired to read it myself or check out other reviews. A good example of this is genre fiction, such as science fiction/ fantasy. Someone may review The Hunger Games negatively because they don't think all the world-building issues were addressed. They then review Flora Segunda with the same complaint. I liked Hunger Games and liked the world building; chances are, I know enough, due to knowing that bloggers's personality, to decide I wouldn't agree with them about Flora. (For the record? Love Flora.)

I like personality with a review. Which brings me to another question: the content of what is written. Sometimes, I'm sold on a one-line description -- "High schooler Mia discovers she is actually a princess." On the other hand, I get a bit bored when I see over and over again things that are just a plot synopsis. That tells me exactly what I'd get from the publisher or the jacket copy of the book. So why do I need to read it elsewhere? Instead, tell me something the publisher won't tell me, about style or structure or characters.

Why does any of this matter? Especially when, if you're like me, a person may do a bit of everything? I'm sure you can search my blog and find postings that contain all these things.

It matters to the intended reader, mainly. A parent looking for books to recommend to kids is going to be looking to read different 'reviews' than the reader looking for 'what to read next.' And since personal can vary ("hey, I was also a goody two shoes and I always skipped class!"), that can be good or bad for the new blog reader. So who is your intended reader? Speaking personally -- my intended reader varies. Sometimes I want to be "wowza" about a book (drop everything and read this NOW.) Other times, I may know this book would fit a particular reader and write that way.

So what about you? How do you write posts? Who is your audience? What kinds of things do you see and don't see on blog posts about books? What would you like to see more or less of? In terms of your writing, what did you read about writing reviews that helped you? The two things I recommend are From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books (which was written in 1997, and is excellent but I would love if it were updated to include blogs and online reviewing); and Anne Boles Levy on the different types of reviews.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Mary Ann Scheuer said...

Liz - You raise interesting points. I like blogs for the personal take they give to books - they're different than reading published reviews. I want to get a feel for why someone liked or didn't like a book, what it felt like to read it, why they would enthuse about it to a friend.

Thanks for recommending From Cover to Cover - it sounds interesting.

Rawley said...

After constantly being asked to pick out "good books" for my students during silent reading or media center time, I took to the blogging world. With their technology background and love of literature it was a no-brainer. My only problem now is finding the time to read all of the books piled up on my nightstand and write about them! (Honestly, how DO you do it???) I don't write a heady review--as most children aren't inclined to read long posts for enjoyment--but I do like to keep my posts light and appeal to a ten-year-old's sense of humor. Although my intended audience is geared toward upper-elementary kids, I hope the parents of my students are interested enough to read alongside their children (and bake the recipes, too!) .

Fiona said...

I'm just embarking on including book "reviews" on my blog. I'll be sure to post a link to your post as you have a lot of great stuff to say.

Robin Gaphni said...

Great post. As someone who is new to the kid lit blogging world, you ask some really good questions. Since my blog is geared towards parents (and others) who are seeking out good book recommendations for kids, I try to make my posts personal and informative. I also try and give out some ideas for activities tied to the book (doesn't work in every case).

Anonymous said...

I try to include the following elements in all my "reviews":
- a quick synopsis (not very spoilery, just enough so readers have a frame of reference)
- analysis of the book's strengths and weaknesses
- a personal response
- recommendations for the kind of person I think would enjoy the book (and sometimes the kind of person who should avoid it)

I make no bones about my blog being essentially a publicly visible personal reading journal.