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Book-Talk Monday: Do You Review?

Monday, February 20, 2012

When I was in graduate school, each semester we chose five books to read—some could be novels, some could be writing-craft books, some could be critical books on the genre. But no matter which books I chose, be they fiction or nonfiction, I had to write up a response paper on each to turn in at the end of the semester delving into the reasons why I’d chosen the book, what my learning goals were before I started reading, what I got out of reading it, what I learned, and if my goals were met. (Obviously, there’s a lot more that goes into it—you can see some of how detailed it was by reviewing the Critical Reading series, linked on the Writing Series Index page.)

Because of that experience—and then because of becoming a professional editor immediately upon graduation—I had a hard time for the next five years picking up a book and reading it for pleasure. As I’ve mentioned a few times, it’s only been in the last year that I’ve been able to start enjoying reading again. What I haven’t been able to do, though, is bring myself to write reviews.

Let me explain. I can bring myself to write brief recaps of my reaction and general thoughts on a book (such as for the two books I just finished last week, A Tailor-Made Bride and A Kiss at Midnight, which you can see on my Books Read in 2012 Pinterest board).

Because I’m reading for pleasure, I really don’t want to have to stop an analyze a book when I’ve finished reading it. I want to be able to simply decide if I liked it or not, with maybe one or two main reasons why, not have to write a pithy recap of the story followed by a deep, thoughtful dive into the themes and morals and mores.

Also, because I want to be honest with my reactions to what I read—and because I’m very picky with what I like and don’t like and because I’m a published author and I don’t want to unduly influence anyone with my own personal opinions and reactions to what I read—I’m leery of posting anything publicly on Christian books I read which I don’t like. (That, plus the fact that I know too many of these authors personally and if I don’t like their books, I don’t want to hurt them by posting anything negative about their books.)

What about you? Do you review? How in-depth do you go with your analysis of what you read?

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Monday, February 20, 2012 12:33 am

    I review books I read but they are not in-depth reviews they are more how I liked the book. I find I want to often say way more but I dont like to give away storylines or surprises in books. If its not mentioned in the first chapter or on the back of the book I want readers to be like me and find these gems themselves. So my reviews are more about my reaction to the book and why. Trying to say what themes the book may deal with, but not giving the story away. Recently a couple have been based on true events and the books have had me googling about the hero or the time or the events and I have mentioned the book had me doing research of my own on the events.

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  2. Monday, February 20, 2012 12:57 am

    I couldn’t agree more; you do have to walk a fine line when you yourself are known in the industry.

    I was blown away by an in-depth critique I received for one of my works and it got me thinking about how I review other books. I, too, read for pleasure and often give a ranking based on my emotional fall out. Which means I might have more criticisms after that cools. I don’t consider myself a good reviewer, nor do I care enough to change that. I’d rather spend the time improving my own writing instead of working up an amazing review of a book that I only gave 3 stars. I’m a perfectionist and don’t need any more reasons to stress.

    Since I’m merely posting my response and not trying influence an author’s rank or help a sale, I usually keep my ratings to Shelfari as opposed to posting on Amazon (although you can access Shelfari reviews through product pages on the Kindle). I’ve seen several reviewers attacked with comments like “I see this is your only review and you chose to attack this author…” It makes me leery of opening myself to that kind of criticism. I think people forget that reviewers (generally) are posting their opinions and are entitled to share them. Commenters then passionately defend a favorite author to the credit of no one.

    That said, I usually look at low reviews if the description doesn’t immediately draw me in. If they are intelligent and point out things I know I won’t like (ie copious grammar mistakes) then I’ll steer clear.

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  3. Audry permalink
    Monday, February 20, 2012 9:34 am

    There are a few reasons I don’t typically review books. One is that I find it easier to complain about all the things I didn’t like about a book than to write constructive criticism or positive reviews that are more than just “I loved this book.”

    That brings me to the second reason, which is that I have no use for reviews that basically summarize the back cover copy and then say “I loved this book.” That doesn’t help me decide whether I want to put the effort into obtaining and reading the book, and I’m not interested in flooding review sites with more of the same useless stuff.

    Finally, there are books I would review – the ones I find myself thinking about long after I’ve read them – books I’d like to go back and analyze and identify the reasons they worked (or didn’t work) for me; what it was about the story, the writing, the characters, that made the book special, thought provoking, or even disturbing. Unfortunately, I’m kind of lazy and am much better at thinking about this kind of thing while driving in the car or lying in bed at night than actually sitting down and writing a review. I have a mental list of books I’d like to re-read for this very reason, but it’s one of those to-dos that I just don’t know if I’ll ever get to. ::sigh::

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  4. Monday, February 20, 2012 10:29 am

    I have reviewed, but not often. When I do, it’s pretty short and sweet. I, personally, skip over the long-winded reviews that delve too deeply in a book that I simply want to read for pleasure. Therefore, I try to write reviews that I would read, and I don’t tend to review books that I didn’t like – which is very seldom since I, too, am very picky about what I choose to read.

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  5. Oh Foolish One permalink
    Monday, February 20, 2012 12:09 pm

    I don’t review for publication. I do keep a journal of all the books I read and make notes of theme, characters, and anything I want to remember about the book. For some books I do a very intense study and sometimes read critiques for clarification or comparison with what I think. When I recommend books to friends I give them a reason I think they will enjoy the book.
    I do read book reviews to see if i would be interested in reading the book.

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  6. Sarah Richmond permalink
    Monday, February 20, 2012 12:41 pm

    I like reading books and my sisters like reading to.

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  7. Abigail Richmond permalink
    Monday, February 20, 2012 12:47 pm

    Near the end of last year I pulled out a notebook and have been writing details of books that I am reading, such as The Title, Author, Series Name, Date when started, Date when ended, Whether I liked the book or not, (what I thought of it.) and The main Characters names.
    You might call it a review.
    I just like writing things down it seems like when I am done writing something down I want to continue writing something. I have always wanted to become an Author.

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  8. Monday, February 20, 2012 1:53 pm

    I think I’ve always had book reviewing in my blood, since friends and family have always looked to me for book recommendations since before I knew what a proper book review actually was. I was bitten by the blogging bug in college, which coincided with actually reviewing texts on a regular basis, and blogging my own book reviews seemed to be the perfect outlet for keeping track of what I read, and an easy way to give recommendations to others.

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  9. Monday, February 20, 2012 2:23 pm

    I hadn’t reviewed a book since school until Amazon came along. I posted some reviews on Amazon because I found the other reviews very helpful and I guess I just liked having the chance to have my say.

    About six months ago, I won an ebook which was delivered to me via NetGalley. I was interested in the concept of free ebooks in exchange for reviewing on a personal blog, Amazon and other sites, so I signed up (which is how I got introduced to Kaye Dacus, through the excellent Turnabout’s Fair Play). A bit of exploration found that Booksneeze and Bookbloggers also provide free books for bloggers.

    I’ve since reviewed almost 60 more books, with more on the way. I lost my job a couple of years ago, so reviewing is a way for me to access new and upcoming Christian fiction without the financial outlay (and paperbacks cost twice as much in New Zealand as they do in the US).

    Most of my reviews are positive (4 stars on Amazon, with an occasional 5 star). I do wonder sometimes about whether I should review a book if its going to be a critical review, but I think (hope) that as long as I am fair, I should still review it. After all, if I’m getting annoyed by the author’s patronising attitude or their complete lack of understanding of the basic facts about the time period in a historical, won’t other readers be annoyed too?

    My reviews are not the in-depth critique that Kaye describes above, because they are meant for readers. As a reader, when I am reading a review, I want to know the plot, and whether there was anything I will particularly like or dislike about the plot, characters or writing. This is often where the more negative reviews come in useful – if the worst thing a reviewer can say about a novel is that it is “too Christian”, then I will probably like it. If they are commenting about factual errors, I probably won’t like it.

    But should authors review? This could be aligned to the question of whether or not authors should comment on reviews (positive or otherwise). The general consensus on Amazon is that authors should not comment on reviews, not even to say ‘thank you’. The only exceptions might be where they are correcting a factual error in the review or if they are going to offer the dissatisfied reviewer their money back…

    But I think there is a difference between commenting on Amazon, which has millions of visitors each day, and commenting on a blog, which has a lot lower reach. So, yes, I don’t have a problem with authors commenting on blogs, as long as they are only making positive comments – the internet has a way of finding author meltdowns over critical reviews, and they will come back to bite. Google “authors big mistake” for examples.

    Kaye makes a good point about how, as an author, she now knows a lot of the other authors and wouldn’t want to hurt them. If there is something really wrong with the book, a regular reviewer will probably pick up on it (and, as an author, she may also have access to the editor or agent, so could drop a word in their ear).

    So authors can (and probably should) support fellow authors by reviewing on their blogs. What I don’t like seeing is ‘author review clubs’ on Amazon, where a group of books (e.g. from the same publisher) have all been reviewed by the same group of people – who turn out to be authors. Especially when all the reviews are 5 stars.

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  10. Monday, February 20, 2012 4:00 pm

    Most of the books I review I actually influence for. Meaning the author or publisher has given me a copy for the express purpose of reading and saying nice things about it :). If I don’t like it, I don’t review it but pass it on to someone I think might like it. I’m also pretty picky about which books I offer to influence for [I influenced for… Art of Romance, I think it was… One of the Matchmaker books anyway ;)].

    I do belong to a couple of review programs, though I don’t get a ton of books from them and I’m picky about which ones I volunteer for there, too.

    So it’s rare that I’ll review a book on my blog [and Amazon etc.] that I would give less than a 7.5 [or 4] stars.

    Then I’m like AusJenny – I would LOVE to delve deep into some of the stuff I liked/loved about it, but I also don’t want to spoil either. I wouldn’t like that as a reader or as an author so…

    I’ll also review a few books here and there that I read ‘for fun’ and not ‘for influence’ but most of the books I review fall under the influencer category…

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  11. Rachel Wilder permalink
    Monday, February 20, 2012 4:30 pm

    I don’t usually review books. I also don’t usually read reviews, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense in my brain to write things I don’t bother to read.

    I do give reviews when I’m influencing for someone. I never give a story recap or my own version of the back cover blurb. I focus entirely on what I liked in the book, what I found unique, what aspects of the plot resonated with me. But I’ve never written a review for any reason other than influencing.

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  12. Sherrinda permalink
    Monday, February 20, 2012 7:09 pm

    I have reviewed books, but don’t feel like I am good at it. I don’t like to read indepth reviews. I like them short and to the point, so that is what I tend to do. And I have found that I really don’t like to say anything bad about a book I am reviewing. Usually I can find something good to write about though.

    Yours were easy to review! 🙂

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  13. Monday, February 20, 2012 7:32 pm

    I almost always read reviews when buying a book, especially on amazon.com. I read all types of reviews, both good and bad, when deciding if I am going to buy a book. On the other hand, I am not very good about writing reviews. I usually can’t think of more to say, than I loved the book or didn’t care for it, so I usually just keep my thoughts to myself.

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  14. Wednesday, February 22, 2012 2:59 pm

    I think there’s a big difference between a review and a critique. In a review, I’m coming from the POV of a reader. As a reader, what is the story about? What worked for me or didn’t? What did I like? What will other readers enjoy?

    A critique calls for a more nuanced and thorough analysis. Writers asking for reviews are not asking for critiques so I try hard not to give one. If a review starts getting too technical in terms of craft and is over the heads of most readers, who don’t know head hopping from POV from layering, it’s a critique. Stop, take a breath and start again…from a reading pleasure point of view.

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  15. Friday, February 24, 2012 12:40 pm

    I have reviewed a few books… but haven’t gotten the hang of being really “in-depth” just yet. =)

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