I am a writer. I write books, newspaper articles and an opinion column. I am also a reader. I love to read. I must admit I like fiction better than history. I like romance better than war. I like Cozy Mysteries better than gore and violence.
I also feel as a writer and a reader it is important to leave reviews of those books and articles I have read. As a writer I also receive reviews on what I have written. As I was reading those reviews some great, some good and some not to good I started thinking about my responsibility as a reader when leaving those reviews. How can I give a review that describes my feelings about a book, especially if it is one I am not fond of, without being destructive and brutal.
We’ve all had those destructive and brutal reviews. It could be our writing is not up to snuff but as I investigated my reviews and the reviews of other authors, I found that many of the brutal reviews, even for best selling books have a piece of the story about the person doing the reviewing that is not being told.
When Oprah had her book club, this was before the Kindle, I would buy some of the books Oprah recommended. She loved the books and her fans did too. Without mentioning any of the names of the books, I will tell you that more times than not I did not like the books. They were best sellers but I would read them and they left me flat. This was before it was so easy online to review books. If I had been reviewing them on Amazon I would have had to look hard and long for honesty in my review. Did I not like the books because they weren’t any good or they weren’t well written? No, I did not like the books because they weren’t the type of book I usually would read. It would not have been fair of me to trash the book and give it a bad rating. The fault was not in the book but in the choice of a book for me to read.
I recently ordered some tea for a gift for a person. I didn’t take the time to look at the description of the tea. I, who know nothing about tea, thought the name sounded cool so I ordered it. It turned out it was tea smoked with Pine Tar and we thought we could actually smoke ribs with this tea. Other people raved about the tea. It was not the right type of tea for the person that was receiving it. Was it the fault of it being bad tea, no. It was the fault of the person that ordered it and that happened to be me. I did not pay attention when looking for a tea. I got excited about name and not a description.
I have learned, when ordering tea and when ordering a book on Amazon or downloading a free book, I need to check the description, length of the read or flavor of the product and then make a choice. I still read some books I normally would not read. Occasionally I will pick up a history or geography or something very out of my realm. Recently I downloaded a book from Amazon. It cost me $4.99. It was the work of an author I had previously read. I absolutely did not like the book because of the content. Did I ask for my money back? No. I made the choice. Did I leave a bad review. No. I felt I had to be fair. I gave it a three and explained it probably deserved better but it was not the type of book I normally read or liked and if someone liked that genre of book it probably deserved a better rating.
Then there are the books that I start reading but do not finish. If that happens I usually do not leave a review at all. However if I see it as a book problem I will find the author and email them and discuss it with them. Maybe I am wrong. If I can’t reach the author and I do leave a review I usually explain gently my feelings about the book.
When buying a book online I would offer this advice to readers. Check out the book details, check out the reviews. If you see a bad review, check out the reviewer. This has to do with the there is more to the story that I mentioned above. It has been my experience that the bad review has more to do with the fact the reader doesn’t like that type of book. If you look at the readers reviews check out the books they gave high reviews vs the ones that got low reviews. You may find there is a pattern. There are also the reviewers that trash every book they read. Before you exclude a book that you had previously been excited about owning, look into the entire story behind the reviewer.
I have asked myself at times when looking at someone’s reviews when they had trashed a book, why they had even chosen that book to read because it was clear it wasn’t what they liked. I might add if you are one of those that leaves a scathing review with no tact, think about the person on the other end of the review. What if it were you and it were your book? Does it may you feel good to make someone feel bad? Authors have pretty thick skins but it doesn’t mean once in a while that the barb hits. There are times criticism in a review as long as it is tactful and constructive is a good thing.
Just a little musing as I was leaving a review. The next time you choose a book, check out the details. Is a mystery? Is for kids or adults? Does it have enough pages for you? Does it contain any type of material that you would not like? Know the facts before your buy.
The next time you read a book and you leave a review I challenge you to ask yourself what your responsibility is as a reader. Is it to bash and trash, fling and sting or heighten and enlighten? Only you know for sure.
Well thought out post, Julie. Especially for we who take our review writing seriously.
Thanks Julie, this is a nice post.