On Negative “Reviews”, Bookmark Ripping and Nick Hornby

In German a slating review is called a “Verriss” which comes from the word “verreissen” – pull to pieces. When I discovered yesterday what the kitty had done to one of the free bookmarks I got in the bookshop, I thought it was somehow apt to use a picture of it for this post.

I’m not the first nor the last who will mention the debate that was raging on Goodreads, Twitter, a few blogs and even in the newspapers last week. Some of the discussions, although heated, were interesting, while others were alienating or downright offensive. In any case they got me thinking about “reviews” in general and “negative reviews” in particular.

The first incident started on Goodreads where a reader posted a negative review of a YA novel (see here). For reasons I do not understand this triggered a massive response from YA novelists who slagged her off collectively. More and more people entered the debate and in the end it looked like some sort of author versus reader war. I have read her review and while it was easy to see that she didn’t like the book, I didn’t think she was offensive. A lot of these debates were going on on blogs and twitter and were picked up by mainstream media like the guardian here. The guardian article then triggered further responses, one from the YA novelist Maggie Stiefvater (here) which annoyed many bloggers but which I personally find very interesting and balanced.

The next incident happened on the page of the speculative fiction magazine Strange Horizons where a reviewer posted a very negative review (you can find it here) of a Fantasy novel that many like. This has created a response and an intensity of response I found amazing in itself. I was so captivated I could hardly stop reading. At some point a lot was censored.

Sure, the question comes up whether such heated debates only happen when it comes to genre but I do not think so. When you write literary books you even may end up being torn apart by professional critics which may prove to be more fatal. In the cases mentioned above, there were at least people supporting the author.

Much of the debate was circling around the notion of “proper review” and taking into account what a “proper review” is or should be. It was said that a review can be negative or positive but it shouldn’t manipulate the reader or be guided by intense emotions. With this interpretation of review in mind, it was stated that one shouldn’t write an emotionally charged negative review. If you do so, it’s rather an attack than a review.

I for one do not enjoy writing too negative or snarky book reviews. I have seen too many positive reviews of books I didn’t like on other blogs to find it appropriate to be snarky. Why would I want to ridicule a book? That’s like ridiculing someone’s taste in books. Very often I find that negative reviews are not balanced and are used to make the reviewer look good. They often work along the same lines and are aggressive and offensive. They also often rely on saying negative things about the author and ultimately about his readers.

Still this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say what we like or don’t like but there is always so much that works in a book anyway or that we know will work for others that we should try to emphasize it. I have found wonderful books through someone else’s careful and thoughtful negative review.

Last week, instead of reading The Savage Detectives, I spent a lot of time with Nick Hornby’s wonderful essay collection Housekeeping vs The Dirt which he wrote for the magazine Believer. One of their mottos, as he writes is Thou Shalt Not Slag Anyone Of. As he explains further

As I understand it, the founders of the magazine wanted one place, one tiny corner of the world, in which writers could be sure that they weren’t going to get a kicking; predictably and depressingly, this ambition was mocked mercilessly, mostly by those critics whose children would go hungry if their parent’s weren’t able to abuse authors whose books they didn’t like much.

When I visit a new blog I read a few posts here and there and I’m very glad if I see the writer has written about books he/she likes and about some he/she doesn’t like and I will pay extra attention when reading negative reviews. Not too long ago I was on a blog who reviewed a book that another blogger had recommended as being particularly great. Said blogger not only hated the book but found it to be insulting his/her intelligence. The blogger went on and on how weird it was that another person did recommend this. He/she took it apart in minute detail, making herself/himself look good and witty in the process and of course that person got a lot of applause. People loved the snark, couldn’t get enough of it. I wonder if anyone else felt as bad as I did. What about the person who did recommend the book (mercifully the name wasn’t given)? Funnily it is a book that I have read and think in its genre it is a very good book. If said blogger only reads romance or even only literary fiction he/she wouldn’t get it and shouldn’t even bother reading it. Reading it and then emphasizing that this isn’t what we would normally read because it is beyond us, is a bit shameful. Maybe the person did sound intelligent, she certainly didn’t sound kind.

There is an instance in which I find a negative review acceptable and that is when the book is morally unacceptable. When it glorifies oppression, racism, sexism, or is a vehicle of harmful propaganda. In that case the negative review could serve as a warning for the reader and is even necessary.

Another instance in which I find it acceptable is when a literary writer who is extremely smug in his utterances about others and dismissive of other’s craft writes something that is bad. In that case you can say, he or she had it coming.

How about you? Do you like to read snarky reviews? Do you write them?

To end on a positive note, here is a picture of  the bookmark ripper and, no, that’s not my bed, excuse me, that’s one of his own. Fluffy and comfy, original Icelandic eider-down.

106 thoughts on “On Negative “Reviews”, Bookmark Ripping and Nick Hornby

  1. Sometimes it’s good to just turn the computer off and ignore what’s happening out there – that stuff is just too stupid to even get involved with.

    Then again, I’m just glad that Kleist has been dead for 200 years…

    • You didn’t like him that was quite alright to say, you did neither slag him nor his readers off, that’ quite diferent.
      I do not follow all this but it is still interesting to watch occasionally. I found it a bit shocking how all those authors attacked that one reader.

  2. Guilty! I write negative reviews, and nasty ones sometimes. There are several reasons for this:

    1) Reviewing everything I read is the purpose of my blog. I didn’t start a blog to be known as a literary critic (how pretentious that would be, btw) but to keep a journal of my reading and force myself to pause and think about what I’d just read. So it’s important to me to understand why I didn’t like such book –and if possible avoid buying one of the same kind– or why I abandoned a book.

    2) Now that I’m lucky enough to have readers, I find it slightly dishonest to review only the books I enjoy, making of myself a sort of fantastic machine at finding great books when I actually live more a trial-and-error experience. That said, I totally understand that one disagrees with me on that point and of course, there’s the time factor, ie “I don’t want to waste my time reviewing a book I didn’t like”. True, but, according the point 1) before, I do think it’s equally important to investigate why one didn’t like a book.

    3) I don’t feel guilty to write negative reviews and they are most of the time, emotionally driven. The most frequent emotions are boredom and irritation. I hope I don’t make other readers who have liked the book uncomfortable. When I find positive reviews, I usually add a link. However, I don’t think I attack the writer as a person, but the work or I try to understand why it didn’t work for me. (Tell me if I’m wrong Caroline, you’ve read almost all the posts I wrote.) OK, I admit, it’s easier to be nasty when the author is dead.

    4) I haven’t heard of the debates you mention and I haven’t read all the material you included in your post but I did read what Maggie Stiefvater says and I totally agree with her. I AM NOT a professional reviewer. As the term mentions it, it is a profession. I don’t even have a degree in literature!! What I write has no other value that being my thoughts. Now I’ll have to find another word than “review” for what I write because she’s right, my “reviews” can’t be put in the same bag and thus under the same name as proper literary critics. After all, the French word is “billet” and in “billet”, there is the idea that it isn’t objective. That brings me back to point 1) again: if what I write isn’t an objective review (and I don’t intend to write objective reviews), then why do I have readers? Why do I read blogs? It’s because I’m sick of smooth literary critics and their limited choice of books and because I have discovered like-minded readers at the other side of the world. Why are literary blogs such a success? Probably also because professional reviews sometimes sound more like gently patting a friend’s shoulder than in depth analysis of the book. Well, that’s what I see in the French reviews included in the mainstream press I read.

    PS: Beautiful cat. And sorry for your bookmark. I take the opportunity to thank Book Depository for sending me a bookmark with correspondences between degrees C and degrees F. It’s so handy. Now I’ve made my own bookmark with heights in metric system and feet/inches. You can’t imagine how irritating it is to search on the internet how tall a character is.

    PPS: Looking forward to the discussion.

    • My post was even longer in the beginning and then I removed a lot of my own opinion. The first thing I left out is the one about my realization that I do not write “proper reviews” as they are defined by the professionals. I could but I don’t want to. That’s why I said I want to move away from reviews as what I do is a hybrid anyway and why not go even more into the direction of perosnal opinion. Like Hornby says in his book, write more about the experience of reading than books as such.
      I was also slightly exaggerating my opinion on negative reviews. Richard for one has a knack for them and I love it. And you wrote a few that I found very funny too. But – and that is the big difference, be it yours or Richard’s or Tony’s negative reviews, they didn’t make another reader look bad. They were also short and to the point, not analyzing over 1000 words why anyone who likes this book must be lacking something, intelligence or…
      I would never say “I loved a book” if I didn’t and I want to review books I didn’t like anyway but not in a way that insults.
      Tony’s point is a very good one. I must admit I have a hard time writing a negative review of a book that is loved at the moment and/or a book that just came out.
      I have no problem writing a negative Josipovici review (and still will).
      I was fascinated by the response that review on Strange Horizons got and often am. Some genres, I think do after all trigger stronger responses. Whatever the reason. Readers identify strongly with them. Saying something against the book seems to feel like a personal attack.
      I found that post of Maggie Stiefvater excellent and was suprised that I saw a few blogs mentioning it as very aggressive and condescending.
      Thanks, yes, kitty is a cutie and loves to rip paper. I let him have the bookmark, I wasn’t to keen on it but I really also like the ones from the Book Depository. Next week there will be a photo of Mrs Cat.

      • I don’t think Maggie Stiefvater was aggressive or condescending.

        Honestly, I had a lot of fun when I wrote the negative recipe-review of Michael Chabon’s book and I don’t think it was offensive for him or his readers. Same way, I can’t imagine that my negative review of The Passport could shatter the self-confidence of the Nobel Prize Winner Herta Müller.

        Btw, would the word ‘column’ be more appropriate than ‘review’?

        PS: Un bonjour affectueux à mes compatriotes les chats. Impatiente et curieuse de voir la photo du second 🙂

        • That recipe-review was very funny and, no, I didn’t feel it was offensive and the Herta Müller one most certainly wasn’t. Maybe Fitzek a bit?
          Merci, Emma, la pauvre, elle n’est pas photogénique. On dirait toujours qu’elle fait la gueule. Ce qu’elle fait souvent d’ailleurs. Mais j’en ai une qui est chouette et qui va illustrer pourquoi je n’ai pas fini The Savage Detectives…

          • The Fitzek was offensive only in the way that I always say I review everything I read and said this one was so bad it didn’t deserve a review. I didn’t review it.
            Plus it would have required a lot of time in the dictionary as I didn’t know the necessary psychiatric words to write a blog post in English while I read the novel in French.

        • I’m not sure about column instead but, yes, maybe. i still try to figure out what op-ed piece means. Maybe that’s it?
          Hello – native English speakers, what’s an op-ed piece exactly?

            • Caroline, Emma – op-ed is short for “opinion-editorial” so yes, it’s a column that a paper runs to provide analysis, comment etc as opposed to the straight news reporting. It’s specific to newspapers & magazines though. I always kind of equate “blog” with “column” anyway, a place for thoughts to ramble.

          • An op-ed piece, sometimes believed to mean an opinion-editorial piece but actually abbreviated from “opposite the editorial page” according to Wikipedia, is just an opinion or editorial article usually written by somebody who doesn’t belong to the newspaper’s permanent editorial staff. It’s a guest editorial in other words. The term column isn’t really the same thing that you and Emma are talking about in my opinion if I understand you two correctly. A columnist might write a weekly column on any number of subjects, for example, but it doesn’t really speak to the idea of presenting a lone review. Emma might write a weekly column on book news in France (that includes or doesn’t include book reviews), but a book review by itself would still be called a book review (or a post about a book in blogging) and not a column. This is a little difficult to explain, I’m afraid!

            • Thanks for the clarifications, Richard.
              In German a Kolumne is something very different indeed and hardly ever about a “product” of any kind. Mostly witty.
              I understand better waht op-ed is now. i see that mentioned often by journalist who say they have written op-ed pieces for a newspaper.
              Theoretically an op-ed piece and a column could be similar content wise. the biggest difference would be that the op-ed writer isn’t a regular contributor? Or so.

              • No problem, Caroline, but I could have saved you some space on your blog if I’d only seen Leroy’s reply earlier! An op-ed piece and a column could be similar content-wise, yes; however, columns are usually written on any number of different topics (sports, travel, politics, etc.) or defined by columnists who choose to write on whatever grabs their attention (much like bloggers might–say travel and leisure one day and faith and spirituality another day) and often without a specific point of view to promote. The op-ed writer usually isn’t a regular contributor, but the other main difference between an op-ed piece and a column is that the op-ed piece is written with a specific topic in mind as a one-time attempt to comment on or persuade the reader about the perceived value of that thing (i.e. whether the EU should bail out Greece). Columns, even if written with a specific topic in mind, tend to be recurring either because of their subject matter (i.e. European financial matters) or the popularity of the columnist in question. Does this help or did I just muddy things up some more? Cheers!

                • Thanks, that was great, it’s one of those mysterious expressions for which I wouldn’t know a French or a German expression.
                  But maybe Emma would now know the French, I can’t find it.

                  • I can’t find another French word than ‘billet’. That’s our word for ‘column’. But I’m not good at journalistic vocabulary.

                    I’m still trying to find a word in replacement of review (if possible funny) but I haven’t found it yet, neither in French nor in English.

                    I keep on thinking.

                    As my profession doesn’t require more writing than bullet points and smileys on a powerpoint, I really can’t pretend I ever learnt how to write a piece properly. I write as I feel it which isn’t the best method to organize one’s thoughts and arguments. I think it would be more honest to give up the word ‘review’.

                    • I took courses in journalism and am aware of what a classic review is but I consider a blog to be something different. If I was that interested in journalism, I’d write for the mainstream media… magazines and what not.
                      I like the liberties I can take.
                      I read a few journalists take on book blogger’s reviews and what they criticized was the fact that they added personal anecdotes and “I love this”…
                      You have to introduce the author, summarize the book and say what worked and what not. That’s more or less what we do but we add a bit of personal flavour, still we write rather reviews, we write far less about our reading experiences than books but that is precisely what i want to move away from. I find it boring to write the same way all the time.

  3. I don’t mind reading negative thoughts on books as long as they are not insulting or offensive. I think Maggie Stiefvater got it right when she said that most bloggers do not write “reviews” but rather about their reactions to a book. That is what I do. I don’t see the point in only posting positive things, as long as one is fair and nice about being negative.

    • I totally agree with you and personally I’m glad if someone writes a negative review saying he/she didn’t like the book and why.
      I do write negative reviews as well and there are a few bloggers who write short and snarky revews without being offensive.
      That one incident I saw on someone’s blog was really a shocker because the bottom line was A) You recommended this trash whcih means you are stupid. B) I’m intelligent, I got it you didn’t. I put myself into the position of the one who recommended it and found it painful and hurtful.

      • Oh, yes, I can relate. If I recommend a book and then the other person hates it in this offensive way, I feel offended. The other day I bought a book because of the very positive post about it at another blog and I didn’t even finish it. Another one of my readers also loved it, but I would never have concluded that those have bad taste in books. The book just wasn’t for me.

        • I was quite hurt once when I wrote a review of a book I absolutely loved and someone did not only say she hated it but that is was total crap and badly written… It really wasn’t it just wasn’t her thing for various reasons.

  4. Well, the only negative reviews I’ve written on my blog thus far were to do with my many issues with Charles Dickens and he is, thankfully (in this context), dead, so he can’t tell me off. I think that everyone is allowed an opinion – positive or negative – and shouldn’t have the writer forming an offensive. If anything, it puts me off the writer and just makes the writer look petty and, somehow, too busy looking at reviews of their own books – which just sounds lame. Not everyone is going to like the same books and that’s fact. It’s a shame that there should be a public all-out about it. It completely deflects from the real purpose – which is reading and books. Not writers and readers.

    • What I found interesting last week is how many different angles the whole review topic had all of a sudden. Writers slagging off readers other readers attacking reviewers because they felt attacked…
      I think you can be as negative as you want as long as you give a reason and are not talking about value. I think that’s a slippery slope. Who are we to say something is worthless? On the other hand that authors attack a reviewer like this is in poor taste as well and just shows what dynamics there are in this.

  5. argh fluffy is lovely ,I don’t write negative reviews I m not a negative person and always something good in a book ,I feel some people are just negative to get a reaction ,all the best stu

  6. I love negative reviews, as long as they’re amusingly written (and I’m looking forward to your Josipovici very much). I guess it’s just as well though I never reviewed The Savage Detectives – everyone does seem to like it so. Here’s one of my favourites:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/10/smaller-than-life/8212/

    I like this review because, unlike all the others for this book and even though I’ve never read a single word of Frantzen, this precisely expresses what my opinion of the work would be if I’d read it.

    Cats secretly don’t like books, do they? Whenever I have a pile of books on the floor, for instance, the cat – under the guise of finding pleasure rubbing himself up against – always has to go and knock it over. It’s the very first thing he does when he enters the room.

    • I have read negative reviews, and snarky ones at that, that made me laugh out loud and it is occasionally really deserved.
      Some so-called literary masterpieces might dserve it while I find it silly to write a 1000 word review and ripping apart a thriller or historical romance and belittling those who enjoy it. Reading a parody of the genre would be something I’d like though.
      I had to give up on The Savage Detectives as I found it a tad boring. I rather read the Surrealists or Artaud, yes, why does noboday review Artaud. i will have to organize an Artuad week. I decided to read Party Going instead of The Savage Detctives and thanks a lot for that suggestion. I would have read Loving otherwise ( I still will but not next week). I should have posted a picture of the back of my Savage Detective book … It has tooth marks… He chews every book he can get and wipes them off tables while it’s her specialty to knock them over and kick them. Yeah, they don’t approve.
      I need to read the review you added

    • I just read the review and yes, that is a negative review but it’s more than that, it’s social criticism which I find quite funny.
      I particularly like this this paragraph ” When Joey and a girl fly to Argentina, Pirates of the Caribbean is playing on the seat backs in front of them. Facile, yes, but Franzen knows his market. Many people who eschew great books for the latest novels do so because they want precisely this kind of thing. (Every new book we read in our brief and busy lives means that a classic is left unread.) These readers want a world that is recognizably their own in every trivial particular, right down to Twitter, even if the book says less of real relevance to their lives than one written a century ago. The critics do their bit by acting as though name-checks constituted themes and issues. I can hear the prize laudation for Freedom now: “It is a novel about commercialism, about the war in Iraq, about the pervasiveness of Hollywood culture …””

  7. Brilliant. One of your best posts. Much food for thought and I will think on your points when I do future reviews. I resolve to be more careful with the snark.

    • Thanks, Kevin. On the other hand I was wondering why I have less of a problem with snarky movie reviews and think I have been guilty in that department quite often. Maybe because I far more often watch something that turns out to be really bad and for specific reasons than I pick up a book I find really bad.

  8. I don’t see a problem with negative reviews, because one can simply not read that blog if one doesn’t like it. I also think overly positive reviews (e.g., nothing more analytical to say than “squeeeeeee”) are just as lacking in useful information. But why would anyone continue to follow either type of blog? Sure, people who accuse Maggie Stiefvater of mating with wolves are just stupid and gratuitously insulting, but what about the people who continue to read those blogs?

    • That’s true as well, you can simply not read them.
      I think it goes both ways, indeed. Balance is the key and how you write the negative or positive review. I don’t think I’d like to read posts that go on and on about somethig being “oh so good” without telling why.
      Still I think many very negative reviews – and I mean the aggressive ones – are more about the perosn writing them than the book.

  9. Have you ever found my review too snarky?
    you know I sometimes write negative reviews on book or movie…not many because I am too lazy to review one I don’t like. But there are some.

    I think calling a book as insulting someone’s intellegent is really harsh.

    I consider myself as an ignorant person when it comes to negative reviews. Someone reviewed Battle ROYALE as terrible book, a lot of fan contradict her…I jurt walk away. She can despise the book as she like but I still love it nevertheless.

    great post Caroline

    • Thanks, Novia.
      No I never thought you were too snarky. It depends what you say about a book if it bores you it bores you. That’s not saying “hey you people must be really stupid to like this book”.
      It really seems that when it comes to genre people take it too personally sometimes, still, I think, before posting someone one could occasionally just think about those who will read it and those about whose book we write. Some negative reviews can be very helpful. But being mean rarely is.

  10. I was unaware of these various battles, so I went and had a look. Too much there to wade through in its entirety–esp when the book originally under debate at Goodreads isn’t anything I’d read in the first place.

    If I stick with a book until the end and then review it, that means it–at worst–has some good and some bad to it–enough to keep me interested at least. If I don’t finish a particularly awful book, then chances are I won’t review it as I don’t want to spend time on it (usually have a back log).

    • There is quite a lot of material in these posts and both books are not books I would pick although I do like the genres. I just found it fascinating.
      The one on Strnage Horizins even more because a lot of the discussion was well articluated although it did get very perosnal after a while.
      I was amazed that the reviewer bothered to answer most of the comments apart from the insulting f*** word ones that got censored.
      I found Maggie Stiefvater’s post very interesting and the guardian piece was interesting too, although they blew it out of proportions.
      I finish almost all the books but sometimes something I think bad isn’t necessarily bad but I bought it with the wrong expectations. That’s then entirely my problem. There is trashy literature out there but I wouldn’t really feel superior if I was going to rip it apart, I would feel a bit stupid for reading it.

  11. I usually won’t write at all about a book or film which I didn’t care for. I will give up on a bad book long before I would finish it, and there are usually numerous book reviews about any new book or film to give me an idea of what it is like before I read or see it. I find that I am much harder on plays- and that might be due to the fact that there is so little valid theatrical criticism. I’ve been stuck sitting through several really awful productions which were praised by critics. That may also be due to the insular nature of the theater world- sometimes it seems to exist in a separate reality. I do enjoy reading the occasional “snarky” review- if it is really smart or funny- it has to be written better than the work which it is covering.

    • I should follow your example more often and abandon books I don’t like. It’s not very frequent as i find I have source that will tell me beforehand what to expect. I can imagine it’s hard to read a good theater review but that’s the same with very literary books. there is often unjustified praise that should be rectified as well. I really like your last point, that the critical review should be better than the work it covers. On the other hand I wonder whether on the one thread I added that wasn’t the point, that the reviewer wrote so much better than the writer. It seemed unfair, like having a light weigth fight a heavy weigth…. Ponder…

      • Good comparison of theater reviews to reviews of “very literary” books. While pop culture can be shallow, it allows for a very democratic (and often ruthless) assessment. When a discipline becomes too esoteric, it can get distorted and lose perspective. Shakespeare wrote for a popular audience. Tony Kushner, for one modern example, doesn’t.

        • Interestingly moview reviews are comparably unreliable as it seesm people are not aware that there is the same distinction like in books where we have literary vs genre.

  12. I have to admit I have been trying to ignore the drama… I only even noticed because people have been posting about it and I have been skimming through their posts, but not really getting involved.

    My kitty loves to destroy paper. I try to keep my bookmarks away from her… My worry is paperback books. I will not be happy if she starts eating them! Cute picture of yours, though. 🙂

    • Thanks, Kailana, he rips every paper he finds. Bills as well! And paperbacks.
      This type of drama isn’t something I woold follow usually but all in one week and so many angles was quite interesting.

  13. This is such a difficult subject. On the one hand, I can see why people are drawn to snarky bloggers. But on the other hand, there’s often an element of cruelty to snark that really doesn’t sit well with me. My own preference is for a more measured approach. Even when I don’t like a book, my inner librarian can’t help but ask, “what kind of reader would enjoy this?” I want that kind of reader to be able to look at a negative review of mine and still recognise a book that is for them.

    I guess I draw the time at attacking or shaming readers, rather than the text itself. I don’t mind people explaining in detail why they think a book didn’t work. I don’t at all mind it if they don’t counterbalance that with positive aspects. But I DO mind it if they outright, or implicitly by their one, condescend to readers who do enjoy it. “Anyone who enjoys this must be a___” is beyond the pale for me. Unfortunately I’ve also seen this happen on more than one occasion.

    • It is a difficult subject and for me clashes with two of my main convictions. To speak the truth and not to be condescending.
      I wanted to illustrate both aspects of negative reviews in my post. The one attacking books and the other attacking readers. Some books can be read in a very critical manner and we can say openly why we didn’t like them but the second part you refer to was the one I find worse. That’s exactly what I saw done and it upset me that somebody is so condescending about another reader.

  14. I think you know my feelings already. I don’t on the whole write negative reviews because I think I am more interested (and more interesting!) when I’m considering how books work. I also think there is an important distinction to be made between a negative review, which is a perfectly reasonable exploration of why a book might not have worked for one reader, and a hatchet job. Sadly, we have just had a new competition launched in the UK for the best ‘Hatchet job’ (our equivalent of the German torn-to-pieces) review. The organisers want the reviews ‘angry and funny’ and claim it’s because too often junior reviewers lack the confidence to express negative feelings. I think that’s a lot of bull. The competition will attract more attention this way, than if it rewarded calm, sensible, balanced reviews.

    I do remember that once, when I wrote a negative review, I didn’t add the author’s name, and in your comment you asked me why. And I said that I didn’t want to influence other readers in any way. I don’t know why we write reviews if not in some degree to influence others – either to read or not to read. I always want to take responsibility for that – if books don’t work, it’s because they didn’t work for me. That doesn’t mean they won’t work for others. I think it’s egotistic in the extreme to stand up and say, this is a bad book because I think so, and I’m a standard of judgement.

    Oh and one thing I’ve been turning over in my mind for ages. Your Josipovici review of In A Hotel Garden. I remember you saying that you felt he had misused the Holocaust. But that particular novel is more autobiographical than any of his other books. It’s his mother’s story that is being told. He comes from a family of Egyptian jews and he and his mother had to hide in France during WW2, only just escaping with their lives. His mother lost the child she was carrying, due to stress and malnutrition. She would have committed suicide if it were not for Gabriel’s presence in her life. He knew that, and he writes as a sort of tribute to his mother, for getting them through that experience and for staying alive. He has a fair amount of survivor guilt, I think. Anyway, I feel a bit uncomfortable at the thought of you attacking the book and not knowing this. If you still need to attack it, fine. But I think it would be a bit of an injustice to say that he misuses the Holocaust (I’m sure there are plenty of other criticisms you want to make!). I can tell you more about this if you want to know (I wrote an article, rather a long, academic one, about this in part).

    • I know you use a balance approach in your reviews which doesn’t mean we do not know whether the book worked for you or not. That’s what I like, also because that gives me the opportunity to have my own opinion which may differ.
      I haven’t heard of this competition in the UK. That’s funny really. I thought that especially young critics often rely on sarcasm. At least they do in German newspapers where I feel ngeative reviews are seen as more intelligent. Sad.
      You will be surprised that I know this about Josipovici’s story ans still feel like that about the book. Because when I read it I didn’t know and had to do all that research to find out. It’s the part in my “attack” that bothers me the most that’s why I haven’t read it yet, still.
      Imagine I write a long novella and one person is mentioned who died in Algeria. No matter how long my father fought in that war, how much he suffered and how much I suffered from his PTSD… that’s not a novella about the war in Algeria.

      • For me, the issue here is survivor guilt, which is often cited as a particular issue with the Holocaust. Perec’s novels deal with the same thing (I seem to remember that you don’t like Perec, am I confusing you with someone else here?), which is how to express the loss and suffering one feels despite not having been in the death camps or taken part in the war.

        Both Perec and Josipovici were children, and both were hidden in France. Understanding what happened to them, and their families, must have been a very strange and estranged process, as neither actually experienced the conflict, but they did suffer from the fallout. That’s what they write about. In a Hotel Garden, for me, was about struggling to integrate history that seems utterly unreal, and yet has had a big impact on one’s own life.

        I suppose there are many ways of writing about the traumas of the twentieth century, because there are so many different relations to them (Duras got into trouble for writing La Douleur, about waiting for Robert Antelme to get back from the camps – this was considered not a ‘proper’ trauma to write about, although it was undoubtedly a hugely upsetting experience that many women lived through). It sort of boils down to saying that some experiences count and some don’t, and that’s a bit of an awkward argument to make, or at least a value judgement that I would be uncertain about myself. But by that same token, I could not – and wouldn’t! – tell anyone else what made up a ‘proper’ criticism and what didn’t.

        • No, I’m not someone who doesn’t like Perec. I have read Les choses and found it boring other than that I’m not too familiar with him. If anything I only mentioned that he is less widely read in France than he seems to be in the English speaking world. I’m still interested in “La vie mode d’emploi”, I’m less fascinated by the idea to leave out a letter.
          I don’t think I would have had an issue with Josipovici’s novel being or not being about the Holocaust if I didn’t find it so flawed. I think it’s a grand theme and the vehicle isn’t and all this put together annoyed me greatly. Anyone can choose to write about their traumas the way they want and what is traumatizing for one person may be a walk in the park for another one.
          The problem seems to be that you have to do research into Josipovici’s life in order to fully grasp what he may have wanted to say and this is for me a failure.
          I do not feel that it is, as the book cover says “A novel about the Holocaust”. I feel also that whenever someone’s horrible Holocaust past is known we are unnecessarily cautious to criticize their work. I have encountered this too often in German literature. Any time a German author writes about the Holocaust, no matter how bad the book is, there will be people who think it is fantastic. And if you dare criticizing that work you are very well in danger of being called antisemitic. With all this in mind and my reservations about his writing, I may have felt stronger than without that.
          But – it is a book with passages that are well worth reading.

  15. Beauty is a sleeping cat…not a teething one? Your bookmark resembles one of our houseplants. Torn to bits.

    An interesting, well thought out review here, which prompts me to leave only two brief thoughts of mine in summations:
    1.) It’s my blog, I can certainly say if I like or book or not
    2.) as long as I am respectful of both the author and other reviewers.

    Basically, one must be truthful but not rude, n’est ce pas?

    • I absolutely agree. I’m the last perosn who would rave about a book I didn’t like but that’s it truthful but not rude or as we say “C’est le ton qui fait la musique”.
      Yeah, teething… but no plant chewing or anything else, it’s the paper. She never does.

  16. Like Emma I blog everything I read, so some reviews can’t escape being negative. I do though try to spend longer on negative reviews. If I think a book poor I have to say so, but in the remote chance the author does encounter my review I can at least say why I thought so which may move it into the constructive criticism territory. That means really thinking about what I write. I won’t slam someone’s work casually.

    Here’s one example: http://pechorinsjournal.wordpress.com/2009/05/17/microgenres-and-new-publishing-models/ The first half of that entry is about how the author published the book, the second is about the book itself which was in a genre I don’t normally read (zombie horror) but which I am familiar with. I tried to make specific criticisms about how I thought the book hadn’t quite come off in its own terms, recognising that even if it had I probably still wouldn’t actually have enjoyed it.

    Only once since I started my blog has a book genuinely made me angry. Here’s that review: http://pechorinsjournal.wordpress.com/2008/07/17/hes-not-the-messiah-hes-just-a-very-naughty-boy/ It’s one of the earlier reviews on my blog, and thankfully I’ve been more fortunate in my choices since. I thought that a mendacious book and still do.

    Tomorrow I’ll be posting my review of Stefan Zweig’s Chess. Coincidentally that too will be negative. I try to be fair. I think Zweig is (was) a talented writer and that this time he just doesn’t quite get there. I’m fairly harsh on the book, but I do actually like Zweig and the book’s not wholly without merit. Still, I have to be harsh. That’s what I thought, I blog what I read and there’d be no point in having a blog if I wasn’t then honest in it about what I thought.

    So, I do write negative reviews, just not often. I choose what I read carefully and it’s rare I choose so poorly that I can’t say anything good. I will sometimes note that a book, while enjoyable, isn’t of the first rank or that it’s not one of the author’s best but that’s not a negative review. It’s a positive review with caveats.

    Right, I’ve not read all the comments yet, so I’ll be interested to see what everyone else had to say to this. Interesting question.

    • But no matter how negative you write, I cannot imagine you being snarky or writing it the way as to make people see you’re more intelligent than the author or other potential readers.
      I like a well worded negative review and rely on them since I read blogs. I know for one that I have liked a few books you liked and will of course rely on a negative review as well.
      I also read in of theraging debates that a well balanced negative review is apprecaited by authors. Unfortunately people seem to get really angry about a book they find bad.
      Thank you for attacking the links, I’m very intersted and will read them later.
      Honesty in any case is important but it all depends on how you say it.

  17. Having now read all the comments.

    I’m indifferent as to whether what I write are proper reviews or something else. They are what they are. Words on a screen. People like them or not, find them useful or not. Labels seem slightly redundant and at worst a way of disparaging without engaging.

    Criticising another reader feels hubristic to me. I may think a book terrible, but if my view is not universally held then clearly others don’t share that view. I’m generally confident of my opinions, but that doesn’t mean they’re not open to question and if I criticise another blogger without extremely good cause I’m failing to question if they could be right and me wrong. Also it’s rude.

    The other thing is that disagreement often leads to a better appreciation of a book. I’m really looking forward to your Josipovici review. I like Josipovici’s work and I plan to read that book, and I suspect I’ll probably like it (though possibly not). You write good reviews so a good bad review will really help test my own thoughts on it if they’re positive. How can that be a bad thing?

    It’s not a bad thing because both our reviews will be written honestly and in your case (and hopefully mine) without hubris. As such it’s at worst mere disagreement, and at best an opportunity to think more about a book’s successes and failures.

    The example I tend to use is the book My Revolution by Hari Kunzru. I wrote a glowing review of it. I went to John Self’s blog The Asylum and found that my view was not widely shared. I hadn’t realised how much my personal connection to the book’s subject matter made it more relevant to me, but perhaps others without that connection hadn’t realised how true the book was. Learning stuff like that is kind of cool.

    With which, I’m tired and probably rambling. Goodnight.

    • It’s not concidence that I have still not written my Josipovici review or let’s say am re-writing it as the first draft was extremely negative but purely for formal reasons. There were very good moments in that book and not much would need to be changed to make it a good book in my opinion. What made me angry is his status as a critic. Mistakes like that shouldn’t happen to him, I feel.
      I’m looking forward to your “Chess” review. I read that at school so my memory is blurred. Looking back it’s different from others of his books.
      I left a comment on Sarah’s blog a few days ago. She has reviewed Zennor in Darkness that I’m reading for the readalong and it didn’t work for her. I like it but I think, we both agreed that maybe I was overreading while she was underreading it. A concept I’ve been introduced to recently (on a blog I can’t remember) and that I find highly interesting. We can read a better book tan someone else because we add more to the rading than the other person. And the contrary happens as well.

  18. Politeness is for losers, Caroline! Ha ha, just kidding. However, having read all these wonderful comments, I have to say that I myself am much more drawn to a blogger based on whether or not he/she has anything interesting to say about books than on whether or not he/she emphasizes “positive” or “snarky” elements in their reviews. Also, I don’t think it’s any more egotistical to criticize a book than to praise it; our reactions are all matters of taste anyway and shouldn’t be regarded as anything more or less just because we speak out pro or con about a particular work. In any event, fascinating discussion, my friend!

    • You’ve been mentioned in the thread as a person whose every negative review I loved!
      But – your negative reviews were short and to the point and I noticed that there were people telling you “Oh but that book worked for me, I liked it” which is a clear indication that no matter how snarky you were, it didn’t make another reader feel stupid for liking it.
      Keep on writing your little meanish pearls of negative reviews. Let there be snow! (Not sure all that many will get this final part. Lol)

      • I’m the king of negativity, woohoo! Seriously, this reverse praise of yours almost makes me wish I had a blogging résumé so I could add a bullet point about my ability to craft “little meanish pearls of negative reviews.” That sounds so cool almost! Cheers! 😀

  19. I’ve only written two negative reviews and at the end I give links to positive ones, because I feel like maybe it was just me. Unfortunately the two books I disliked are hugely popular and I got a lot of dislikes on Amazon and mean comments. I was only being honest though. I had some people like the reviews cause they said they felt similar and that made me feel better.

    There was a review on The Book Lantern on City of Fallen Angels that I thought was particularly harsh though. It was called, “City of Fallen Angels: Everything that is Wrong with YA Today!” I felt it picked apart the author. I don’t mind negative reviews, but at least say something nice to counterbalance the harshness of what one says.

    • That’s what shocked me in the Strange Horizon thread, the mean comments she received. Her review was harsh indeed but well written and I felt she had a point and, if it was abook I wanted to read I wouldn’t have minded that criticicsm so much. Some people cannot make the difference between criticism of a book they like and crticism of their person, especially in fantasy and YA.
      Maggie Stiefvater, if I rememebr correctly mentions how much it beotherrs her when authors are torn to pieces.
      It happens to critics as well. The reviewer on Stranger Horizons was called psyochlogically imbalanced and in need of professional help.

  20. Wonderful post, Caroline! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on positive and negative reviews. I like reading both positive and negative reviews – because both of them are interesting. However I take reviews which say too many glowing things about a book with a pinch of salt and reviews which personally attack an author with a pinch of salt. Of course, what I mean an ‘attack on an author’ might be different from what other bloggers or reviewers mean. However, I also feel that many authors are touchy about negative reviews. I feel that this is because they have put in their heart and soul into their book and it is like their own baby and when someone rips it apart, they feel like their heart is being ripped apart. I have had the experience of others ripping apart my work and I can identify with an author’s sentiments on this. However, I also feel that when one puts one’s work in the public domain, one shouldn’t be fazed with criticism. One of my friends wrote a short story and she wanted me to review it comprehensively. I asked her whether she wanted gentle comments or she wanted tough comments. She said that when she decided to send a work she has created to someone, she should be ready to take what comes back. I was impressed by her maturity. For the record, I told her about the nice things that were there in the story, the things which she could think about and a thorough line editor’s review of it – including changes in spelling, grammar and punctuation marks. She was happy with what she got.

    I read Maggie Stiefvater’s essay for which you have given the link. I liked the essay and found Stiefvater’s point of view interesting and could empathize with her. However, I didn’t agree with some of the things she says in her essay. For example, she says that a review comes out only in journals and these reviews are prized by writers and a blog post is not a review. I find that writers court bloggers and despise journal reviewers on one hand and on the other hand when they don’t get positive reviews from bloggers, they make comments like this. Maggie also says that a blog post is different from a book review. She implies that a post is subjective and a review is objective. Though I agree with her that a blog post is subjective (for the record, I will say that all my book reviews are subjective and passionate and they express my opinion on a book and they are all biased and they reflect the way I have grown up and the way I have been culturally conditioned), I don’t agree with her that a journal or a magazine review is objective. I have seen book reviews in ‘The New York Times’ or in other leading papers, magazines and journals which are extremely biased and which merely reflect the reviewer’s opinion on things. (For example, British historian Norman Davies wrote a masterful history of Europe called ‘Europe : A History’. It is one of the best history books I have ever read and one of the best books on the subject, in my opinion. His book was totally ripped apart by Theodore Rabb in the New York Times. The review was totally biased and just reflected the reviewer’s opinions on things. A more objective review of the book by Anne Applebaum appeared in the New Criterion, which less people read.)

    So, my own take is that reviews give an idea of what a book is about. But reviews are always passionate, biased and subjective and reflect the reviewer’s point of view. I feel that authors should take reviews with a pinch of salt and with a sense of humour.

    One of my friends has published a book which I haven’t read yet. I get a feeling that I might give it three stars out of five. Another of my friends who has read it has given it five stars out of five. When I asked this friend whether this book was so good, he said that he couldn’t give a lesser rating because of obvious reasons – that is because the writer was our friend. I am thinking of what I am going to do, whenever I get around to reading this book. Should I give a five star review just to encourage my friend? Should I call a spade a spade and tell what I think about the book, without worrying about what my friend will think? What will my friend feel if she sees only three stars or she sees some negative points brought out in my review? All tough questions which are difficult to answer! Life is so hard!!

          • It’s unfortunate. They fight less than they used to but still do. They are both dominant cats and jealous but otherwise so different. It’s the risk when you have two cats who are not brother and sister.
            The good thing is they do not avoid each other. It’s often also play that goes to far. At least they work out. Stairs up and down, up and down…:)

            • Glad to know that they are getting used to each other. Hope you can take a video of the ‘stairs up and down’ game that they play and post it one of these days 🙂

              • I find talking down very annoying and often think that some critics do not get some genres. Some books are excellent in their genre but measured the wrong way or compared to other genres they will come across as bad writing. On the other hand I think that some genre writers, especially those who produce a lot, could write more carefully.
                Thanks for the recommendation. It sounds like an interesting book.

    • You made some very interesting points.
      I’m sure this type discussion matters even more to those who write. I was lucky so far, I’ve never encountered major criticism but I’m sure I wouldn’t find it easy unless I see the point. Then it would be an enlightening moment and help me.
      I think Maggie’s definition of a review is a very purist one and everything outside or surpassing this would rather be a personal essay or literay criticism. In so far I agree with her , most bloggers do not write reviews or not always but some do. And a lot what is called a review in newspapers isn’t either.
      I should maybe read one of her own reviews to see whether she sticks to her own definition. 🙂
      Objectivity is praised a lot but very seldom found, in reviews or criticism alike.
      It is a horrible moment when you read something coming from someone you know. The “What if…?” question overshadows the reading process. I’ve been shocked a few times. Once when I was maybe 21 and an elderly man showed me his novel. He had received awful letters from editors, very direct and mean. Unfortunately after having read the book I understood them. It was so poorly written, it made one angry to think he didn’t see it. Unfortunately that is quite frequent. Fortunately this type of book will hardly ever be published.
      I always find that whenever I have a very strong reaction, whether positive or negative, it may say a lot more about myself than about the book and I try to think about this first before writing the review.

      • I hope Maggie’s review passes the ‘Maggie Test’ 🙂

        I liked very much your observation that objectivity is praised a lot and very seldom found. It is very true. Made me remember Mark Twain’s observation that classics are books that are always recommended but never read 🙂

        Sorry to know about that gentleman who showed you his work. When I was young I thought about it differently – I was quite ruthless when I felt that something was not up to the standard – but these days I feel sympathetic for the person who has created a work of art because the person has poured his / her heart and soul into it. Maybe writers should take satisfaction in the fact that they enjoyed the process of creating something new which made them happy and not worry about rewards and recognition.

        When I read my comment above again, I realized that I didn’t write about one more thing. I don’t like it when reviewers talk down on the reading taste of others. There is a feeling among some readers that reading romance novels or comics or thrillers or murder mysteries or YA literature is not sophisticated, and is something to be looked down upon, but reading literary fiction and avant garde novels is the thing. I don’t have any problems with literary fiction and avant garde novels – I love them myself – but I also love reading thrillers, murder mysteries, YA literature and other forms of popular fiction. I also think that there is nothing called a ‘high literary taste’ and ‘low literary taste’ because it is impossible to define these terms objectively and the subjective definitions keep changing across time. Shakespeare’s plays were regarded as ‘low literary taste’ when he wrote them and when they were performed during Elizabethan times. There was a time when horror novels were regarded as ‘pulp fiction’ or ‘popular fiction’ but these days literary magazines are publishing ‘horror anthologies’ 🙂 For example, ‘The Granta anthology on Horror’. If you are interested in this topic, I would recommend ‘What Good Are the Arts?’ by John Carey. It is one of my alltime favourite books and is a wonderful exploration into this topic.

  21. Great photos of the bookmark and your cat, Caroline!

    I seldom review books, but when I do, it’s only those I really love. If a book doesn’t interest me by page 100, I’m done with it.

    But I’m one of those odd readers who likes great literature AND what others might consider schlock. I can’t take a steady diet of Dostoyevsky et al, so I balance it with bestsellers and even some chick lit. The latter aren’t life-changing works, but they are entertaining, and sometimes that’s what I want.

    I don’t read negative book reviews, but I have been known to laugh at negative movie reviews. They are often very cleverly written and much deserved. The thing about bad movies is that everyone pretty much agrees that they’re terrible. And a film is a joint collaboration, so it’s not one person like an author is taking all the hits.

    • Thanks, Carole.
      I find I’m good at chosing books i will like theses days, it’s rare I pick duds. And I also read a wide range. I’ve read, reviewed and loved books that some readers would call trashy. Sometimes a biased view because in every genre there are well written books. Bad craftsmanship is something that would drive me up the wall and I would give up on books like that after a few pages.
      I feel very different about negative movie reviews and was actually wondering whether it is because we rarely criticize one person. Although I have criticized actors but I think for their acting in one specific movie and because I had seen them do better before and was disappointed.

  22. I missed the whole drama. Personally I don’t like to rip people’s work apart. Just because I didn’t like it, doesn’t mean that others won’t. I try to state what I didn’t like but I don’t want to come across as shredding the work. And if someone suggested a book to me and I didn’t like it I wouldn’t post a review at all out of respect for the blogger. Or if I did post a review I wouldn’t insult the other blogger. There is just no reason to do that. Diplomacy is useful in every day life. This post was very useful and it has made me think about how to write reviews. Thanks for the insight.

    Also, I can’t believe how much your cat looks like my cat. Atticus has longer hair, but the color is the same. Very beautiful.

    • As much as I value honesty, there is a limit. The worst incident of all of these, for me personally, was one blogger ridiculing another one. I can’t imagine he/she never saw that and find it cruel.
      I have seen another example meanwhile where an author took it very badly when she got one negative review out hundreds of positive ones and completely overreacted. One shouldn’t be as thin-skinned as that.
      I’m glad you liked the post.
      Did I never mention that the two cats look alike? Odd, I thought so when I saw a photo, only with longer hair. The other photos you have seen must have shown him when he was still a kitten. Now he is fully grown. Atticus is maybe a little bit smaller.

      • I think you have mentioned that the two cats looks alike. However, when I scrolled down and saw the photo my first reaction was, I don’t remember that photo of Atticus. And yours is an artist. I loved what he did with the bookmark.

        I agree…making fun of another blogger is just mean and uncalled for.

  23. Lots of food for thought, Caroline. Interesting to see the mix of views in the comments as well.

    The “hatchet job” is a staple of professional reviewing, and can be great fun for those not directly involved or invested in the book being savaged. For those who have put time and effort into a publication: not so much. The problem is that writing is such a public exercise, so while you might prefer all reviews to be polite and positive, that’s just not going to happen. I do think though that to have any credibility even a negative review needs to be well-thought through and properly argued – just ranting or saying “This is crap!” is no use to anyone.

    The other point of course is authors responding. The rule seems to be never, never reply to a bad review, but it must be awfully hard to keep silent sometimes.

    • Yes, I think it is interesting and not everyone feels the same.
      I know critics who do hardyl anything else than writing slanting reviews and in a way it’s an art form almost. On the other hand they are mostly not writers and if not even good ones…
      I think it’s a wise advice for authors to not reply and certainly not strike back.
      I think if I was really totally misguided about something I would want to know it, I wouldn’t want to go on believing I produced a masterpiece while I really didn’t but not everyone would be able to stomach that.
      The readers are another story. Not everyone has the same background and that should be taken into consideration.

  24. Naughty kitty (and he doesn’t look in the least guilty, does he?). I’ve lost more than one bookmark and book actually due to kitty teeth or claws! Very interesting post. I have missed all this drama (have been spending less time online lately), so I’ll have to catch up with those links. The question of whether to write negative reviews has come up before and it is always interesting to hear others’ responses. I don’t mind a negative review if it is done fairly–an honest response to a book–what worked or didn’t for a reader–as long as it isn’t snarky. I hate it when I read a review (and I see this primarily on Amazon) where someone will completely write off a book and tell others not to bother. Really? And usually they won’t even back up their claims. Often times I think it is a matter of the wrong book for the wrong reader. When I pick up a book I really want to love it, but that doesn’t always happen. If I’m not enjoying a book I will often set it aside. If I do finish and didn’t like it I will be honest about it, but I try and also share the things about it that I liked–it’s rare that I will outright dislike a book. And I never tell others not to try a book–maybe they’ll love it. It’s all in the tone I think. I have noticed that when someone will pan a book it is like giving leave for everyone else to say how much they dislike an author or a book, and that sometimes will leave a bad taste in my mouth–especially if I really like whoever they are writing about. Then again, I think I am overly sensitive about books, so maybe I’m not the right person to ask! 🙂

    • It all depends for me. I have felt hurt when I liked something and someone else didn’t and at other times I didn’t care. There are different kinds of liking really but if something speaks to me emotionally and I’m very moved I might be hurt but not when someone just doesn’t get along with a book.
      I have seen snarky reviews about genre novels coming from readers who don’t read genre at all and I find that in bad taste. I ten get the feeling the only reason why they read it is to rip it apart.
      I must say the reviews on amazon Germany do not seem so negative, some are very well written, very thoughtful.

      • I know what you mean–sometimes if I read a negative review of a book I’ve read and enjoyed it may not bother me–depends on how it is written, but yes, when I’ve really loved a book and someone trashes it, I feel like it’s a snipe at me (which of course is irrational–but you know what I mean). And thanks for the comment below–sometimes I feel pretty good about what I might write about a book and other times I feel like I can’t really explain why a book is so good!

  25. Should also mention that I am not in any way a ‘reviewer’, I have never studied literature, so my blog is more of a reading diary for me and for perhaps a little conversation with other readers. I think professional reviews are looking at books in a different way than I am, though we may have similar responses.

  26. I always feel bad when I write a negative review, but part of the reason why I started my blog was to keep track of what I’ve read and what I thought about those books. Most of my reviews are positive, because I tend to buy books that I think that I’m going to enjoy. I think there’s a big difference between bashing a book without giving any reasons versus explaining the books weaknesses, because different readers like different books for different reasons. Something that bothers me (for instance, sloppy editing) doesn’t bother many of my friends, who have the ability to get caught up in a good story immediately. I try to take things like that into consideration while reviewing.

    • There is a huge difference between writing about the weakness of a book and bashing it.
      I just like an approach that makes it clear, I didn’t like a book but someone else may. That’s a reason why I don’t rate them with a star system. That feels too strict for me and I have realized that looking at someone’s stars will influence me greatly when I read that review. I think I saw that you wrote in your review policy that you have a similar approach, right?
      Yes, sloppy editing is something that drives me up the wall but I must admit, I’m less aware of it when I read in English.
      I still think it’s fair to say something would have needed some re-writing.

      • I don’t use stars either, because I think that the reasons for liking/disliking a book are more important than a rating. Ratings are distracting. As far as editing, I’m generally willing to excuse a few errors, but sometimes it’s so sloppy that I get the impression that a publisher/author didn’t have much regard for the readers–especially if the book has already been printed multiple times.

        • Yes, I wonder sometimes why this happens. I can’t really understand star rating. There are so many different ways of appreciating a book and I hope what I write about them makes it sufficiently clear how I felt.

  27. I think snarky reviews can be quite fun and funny to read, but I think it takes a particular kind of snark to be good. Some snarky reviews I’ve seen have felt a little pointless and immature. I’m not saying they all did, just a few. But that’s ok – I just don’t follow those kinds of review.

    I have written some negative reviews on my blog, but to tell the truth I usually dump a book before I get to the stage where I can review it if I don’t like it. However, there are a few I have read for various reasons (friend recommendations etc) and ended up not liking. And I really feel bad if I don’t like the book if someone recommended it to me so much. I feel a bit bad too if I recommend a book and they end up hating it for whatever reason. But that’s life… we can’t all like every book out there.

    Sometimes it does get complicated I think, reviewing a book if you know a friend loved it and yet still wanting to be truthful in your review – even though you know you’re saying you hated exactly what your friend loved. Reading is so personal sometimes. I love the euphoria of getting a recommendation right, or loving the same book as a friend. I hate that opposite feeling.

    I personally don’t agree with Maggie Stiefvater on what reviews are, or non-reviews – it’s just semantics. I do agree on her point about snarky reviewers in a way. However – bad reviews are like bad books – if you don’t like them, don’t read them.

    Do I write reviews? Yes, I am REVIEWING what I have read. I put some more effort into my blog reviews then I did when writing them on Goodreads. I wouldn’t say they are really on the level of being academic or anything because well… I’m not trying to be.

    To me, there are just different kinds of reviews. It’s still a piece of writing written with the intention of being read by other people perhaps to inform them about the book you have just read, or to discuss it with them. I personally read blogger’s reviews, or my friends’ reviews on Goodreads because I find them more useful.

    • Your last point is really valuable and just makes a lot of things clearer in my head. Yes, I think a lot of this review vs non-review is semantics but, as you write, information could be the key notion here. Is what we write informing someone about a book and does it give them a good impression of the book and whether they would or wouldn’t not like to read it – and – voilà – that’s a review. Since I started blogging I’ve read far less books I didn’t like because I know who will give me an idea of what I might like. amazon hardly ever did. Most of them times I read a 5star amazon book I was bored witless while books they called bad were great.
      I have not had the misfortune to not like what was recoomended by another blogger but I feel I would say it wasn’t for me and keep the review very short.
      I would be a hypocrite if I stated I never enjoyed a snarky review. There are a few books which deserve that. Sometimes it’s good to clarify that a bestseller is really only that and not a potential Nobel Prize winner.

      • It is satisfying having read a book that you absolutely hated, to find a snarky review saying exactly what you felt. I think snarky reviews to me, are much more entertaining after I’ve read the book (and hated it) and just want to let off steam. I love reading reviews of books I have read just to see if I agree with them. Sometimes I find it more enjoyable to read reviews after having read the book than before.

        Personally, I don’t really like writing negative reviews especially when someone recommended it to me (worse still if they gave you the book) but in the end I think – I can’t avoid writing a negative review of every book you didn’t like just because someone else loved it or recommended it. I do try to be careful in what I say. Usually with books I do not like I recognise it is a personal thing – most often I just do not connect. Rarely is it that I think the book is bad. I would not, as I have seen in some reviews go around saying “you must be stupid to have enjoyed this/a complete idiot” because that’s just rude. Sometimes I might privately wonder how anyone could but I keep that to myself because often people with otherwise similar taste can surprise you!

        Nowadays, though I have not always acted gracefully, if I make a dud recommendation you know what, it stinks but I move on and find another one I think they’ll like better. And friends have made me some dud recommendations but they still recommend me books and I still listen. I’d rather feel that between people who are friends enough to recommend a book personally to each other – that we can deal with negative reviews and move on then feel constrained by each other’s potential hurt feelings.

        • I agree with the final part about friends recommending duds but on blogs, depite the fact that we can become friends with bloggers, it’s still different when you dislike a recommendation. If you post about it everyone will be able to read it and if on top of that you ridicule the reader like I’ve seen it done, then that’s very rude and cruel.
          I’m glad as well if I really hate something and someone else will too.
          I have recommended books others loved but it has happend that they didn’t and said so but in a kind way.
          What I cannot stand is when people make condescending remarks about the intelligence of a reader just based on his/her taste. I can’t help but wonder if they are not lacking a bit.
          There are so many degrees and differences of liking a book, if really someone loved a book and I hated it, I think I wouldn’t review it. I couldn’t. If it just didn’t work for me, then, yes, why not.
          “Liking” is a difficult concept, it can mean so many things.
          I’m always wary when I see someone has read and reviewed a book that is dear to me.

  28. P.S. Your beautiful little kitty reminds me so much of the cat who adopted us a few years ago (sadly passed). Charlie was a great mouser but with everything and everyone else as gentle as a lamb and the most adoring gentleman cat I have ever met. He loved having his cheeks rubbed and I would so love to give your little horror a cuddle even if he shreds bookmarks.

    • Thanks, Fiona. I’m sorry to hear yours passed. It’s always so sad. He is a very gentle cat, very sweet, despite the bookmark ripping. I have another one a female. She is more of a handful.

  29. I try to have several points about why I dislike a book when I post a negative review. Luckily I haven’t come across too many since starting my blog. There’s been books I’ve seen people hail as an exemplary work of literature, but I myself can’t quite share their enthusiasm. I can see reasons why they enjoyed it, but I myself cannot feel such attachment for those points.

    • I don’t find a balanced negative review that gives points problematic but I noticed that some reviewers – be this a blogger or a professional critic -just love to say bad things abot books in order to make themselves look good. I have a problem with that. I think there is a huge difference between saying “I didn’t like this” or “This isn’t good.”

  30. Pingback: 7 X 7 Link Award « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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