Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The W's of Reading: What Goes Into An Honest Review?

I'm getting ready to head off to Hawaii to visit my mother (Yipee!!!), and in thinking about books and reviews, I started thinking a lot about what I've read so far this year. I have to say, that I can't think of many books I haven't genuinely liked, which leads me to wonder about the range of my own reviews. Do I write negative reviews?

This question popped up after I read Pam's blog entry "How to Write a Negative Review," over at Bookalicious, and I've seen it discussed on Twitter a time or two. It really got me to thinking about my own "trustworthiness" as a book reviewer. Am I honest with my readers? Do I tell it like it is?

Here are some of my own concerns & thoughts:
  • I know that I sometimes sugar-coat my negative feelings. I don't necessarily come right out and say, "Wow! I hated that book." I'm always concerned that an emotional reaction is coming from one of my own life experiences that shouldn't predicate another person's own thoughts. One example of this was in my review for The Actor and the Housewife. I was so concerned that my reaction came about because I wasn't married, that I tried to explain away my own doubts about the outcome of the novel. (Also, I didn't want to give away the ending!)
  • I tend to only be extremely negative about a book when I feel that it is grossly ignorant, erroneous, or hurtful in some way. While some liked the book, I despised the motives and delivery of Skinny Bitch, a diet book, and for once didn't mince my words.
  • Many times, I question whether I disliked a book, based on my own prejudices and tastes. For instance, when I read books that include educators or counselors, I can be a bit more critical than I normally would, and can be thrown off by behaviors I find in opposition to what I have know to be true. I struggled with this when I read Lockdown, even though there was much more to the story than the behavior of the professionals to consider. We can all get hung up on small details that then cause us to dislike a book, and I for one know I've done it many times.
  • Playing off of the previous bullet point, I know that there are types of books, that when well delivered, I love...regardless. For instance, I really enjoy "chick lit" and have for many years. They tend to deliver an escape factor that I enjoy, as well as seem to connect to my "dating" life in many ways. We all like what we like, and often seek ourselves in the text. I really enjoyed Rumor Has It and didn't hesitate to say so. Because I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, it was easy to wax poetic, and I hoped my readers would understand my enthusiasm!
  • The hardest question to answer is whether, when you review for a publisher or author, you are scared to give an honest opinion for fear of damaging a repartee with them. I know I have felt that way before, maybe not liking a book as much I had hoped. In those cases, I've had to take a step back and really consider what I liked or didn't like about those books, and be professional about my review. This could even be the case when a good friend praises a book to the skies, and then you dislike it. I'm not as nervous to tell a friend why I did or did not enjoy the book, but it can still be uncomfortable.
  • The last question I've asked myself is what do I do with the books that I disliked so much that I quit reading them? I should be reviewing them enough to say, "Hey, I just couldn't continue on with this book, and here's why!" I've seen many other great, well-respected bloggers do this, and need to start doing that. Because books I don't enjoy often get returned, it looks like I'm mainly reading books that I DO enjoy. That's really not the case.
In the end, here's what you CAN expect from me. I will most likely continue to read books that I like. You will very rarely see me rip a book to shreds, because ultimately, I really respect what authors have done to put a book in front of me, and want to give it my honest consideration. That doesn't mean I think all books are great. Sometimes I just didn't like a storyline, because I didn't care much for the topic; I won't dog it for my own tastes, but I will be honest about not being as "into it" as I am with others. I don't "rate" books on my blog, but will always try to give a little good and bad behind a book, because don't they all have some of both?

I would definitely check out Pam's post on this subject to learn more about how to write that negative review! I agree with her that a well-written negative review can really give you a greater sense of trust in the reviewer.

What do you think? What holds you back from writing a negative review? What has led you to your most negative reviews?


  1. I think you are doing absolutely fine! I have only ripped one book a new one and that was a race issue. I trust your reviews completely!

  2. Now I feel bad for ripping that Chris Hedges book a new one.

  3. I've been careful about writing extremely negative reviews ever since an author left a comment on one I only semi liked. It was an ok review, but not one of my best. I felt bad about noticing that the word lame was used in the book I was reading about the Tudors and picking on the author for that.
    We can't love every book we read, but I guess we can say it gently that we didn't like it. I think you're doing a good job of being honest.

  4. This post made think back to a couple recent reviews of books I didn't like...I guess I should follow my own advice and be a bit gentler when saying I didn't like something. Sometimes, though, it's hard to find something good out of a book you really didn't like.

  5. I believe to be true to yourself is always best. It is why I love blogs like yours and Pam's. That honesty always shines through.

    For myself, even in negativity, I try to be kind. It all comes down to the Golden Rule.

    However, there are exceptions and Pam touched on one of them in her comment. Luckily, I have not had to cross that bridge yet. And when I do, I hope to do it with as much class as I can muster.

    Although secretly (shhhh), I do wish I could pull off being snarky. Just once. But alas, that side of me seems to be in a permanent dormancy.

  6. I try to be gentle with books I didn't like, but at the same time I want to be honest that I really disliked them. I cringe when I read some of my earlier reviews of books I didn't like. But then, they were really bad. I am considering removing them from my list of reviewed books though.

    I'm clicking over to your skinny bitch review right now because I'm curious to find out your thoughts.

    Btw, I would appreciate you posting about your unfinished books. It is a great way of finding out what people disliked about certain books.

  7. Like Iris I cringe at my archives, but I cringe at all the posts, not just the negative one! I love your points though and think they are all completely valid. I also try to be honest about what didn't work for me, knowing that it may very well work for someone else.

  8. A good thoughtful post. I'll refer to it if I read a book I don't know how to review negatively. Honestly, I review what I like to read usually so it doesn't come up very often. I think I've only DNF maybe twice in the few years I've been blogging. I don't worry about a negative review impacting a publisher or author/reviewer relationship. And I think most bloggers cringe while reading their early reviews :)

  9. Very thoughtful, thank you so much for posting this. Thinking about it, I don't really do negative reviews - If I really hate a book, I don't usually finish it or if I do, i don't want to waste further time writing about it. I guess that an exception would be if it is a read along and I have committed to blogging. I try to be honest - but I guess that we all try to be polite and sometimes that gets in the way of a really candid review...

    Enjoy your holiday!


  10. I don't think I've ever felt like I couldn't write a negative review, but I have written reviews that, upon reflection, I thought were a little harsh. But oh well-truth hurts. :P

  11. Very thoughtfully written. I really struggle sometimes to write a negative post especially when it is a review copy. For the most part, I try to be really selective when I accept books for review.

    Sometimes I feel I am a bit too harsh when a book does not meet my expectations, and I am really trying to temper that a bit without being totally dishonest about my feelings regarding the book.

  12. I write negative reviews when I didn't like a book, but I keep my sarcasm in check and try for the most part of quote bits of the book and let it speak for itself. ;)

    I just recently started tracking DNFs, and I kind of got out of the habit in May (since I didn't have internet access & I keep info in a draft post): I need to get back into it!

  13. Sometimes I tend to just state things impersonally and let the reader judge for themselves. For example I may say it is a "light" book. To me this means frivolous and stupid, but some readers like that type of thing. But once I had a comment about one of my reviews asking what I thought about the book because they couldn't tell from my review what my own opinion was. So the readers often like a strong personal opinion.