I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, kind of a discussion/explanation of my approach to reviewing books and in particular less favorable or negative reviews. Then last night I noticed an email in my junk box from an author, whose book I’d reviewed on Amazon and had mainly liked, but had a couple of issues stopping me from really loving it. Now, I’m not looking for some sort of shit storm here or a blogger v author battle. The author was very polite, kind and not at all aggressive – thanking me for my review (and I won’t be divulging who the author was). It did make me feel a bit uncomfortable though. I’ve been worrying since that I may have upset someone and that in turn makes me feel awful. However, that’s mixed with a conviction on my part that I also have to be honest and act with integrity. It’s what I respect and admire in others, but also what I expect from myself.
I’m a very emotional person, and that reflects in my opinions and feelings towards books. This is a personal thing, I cry at things that leaves others staring at me in disbelief (Kids singing is a big one – not even my own! Thank god mine are both out of primary now and neither myself or my child have to suffer the embarrassment of my uncontrollable sobby face in assemblies) or I feel ridiculously smiley and warm and exuberant where others may just raise a small smile. Ok, so my stability is probably a whole different post and I’m risking getting off track here, but my point is to say that how I react to a book emotionally is what drives my enjoyment of a book, whether it is sadness or joyfulness. I’m not a literary expert and I’m not critically analyzing every word when I read. I just want a story that captures me, that I can connect with, that takes me away for a while, that makes me feel something.
And this brings me onto negative reviews. If you regularly follow my reviews, here or goodreads or some other place, you may notice that I tend to only write positive reviews these days. I don’t rate books on the blog, because I kind of feel my opinion is enough to let people know if the book is for them or not and rating is so very, very subjective anyway. On sites where you have to leave a rating though, in 2017 and in 28 books read and rated I haven’t given less than three stars. And three stars is a GOOD rating in my eyes. It means I liked a book enough to read it and recommend it.
This hasn’t always been the case, and in the past I’ve written some fairly negative reviews. I’ve been blogging a long time on and off and in the early days I used to get a ridiculous amount of unsolicited book post, which I felt I HAD to read, even when I didn’t like a book or would never have chosen it myself. Yes, it meant I discovered some gems I wouldn’t have read otherwise, but often it meant I ploughed through books I didn’t really want to read or wasn’t enjoying. I don’t do that now. I’m pretty confident in choosing books I’m likely to enjoy – I know my tastes and stick to them. But I’m also not afraid to just say a book isn’t for me and not continue. So, yes, I’ve started books this year that I didn’t like, but I moved on and I won’t rate a book I didn’t finish – it’s unfair. I love reading, and to be honest, forcing my way through books I didn’t like was a big factor in my stopping both reading and reviewing for a while. This is what I do for fun and I intend to keep it that way. There’s not enough time to read all the books I will adore, let alone trudge through the ones I’m not.
So while I do tend to review books positively and mainly ones I’ve enjoyed nowadays, I also want to be honest. Not every single book can be amazing, faultless and a five star read, and there has to be some explanation and balance. I will point out anything I found problematic, but I will try my very best to do it as thoughtfully as possible. And it IS only my personal opinion. Something that mattered to me may not be an issue for others. I’ll justify why I felt that way, but ultimately leave a reader to decide if this is something they can live with or not. I think I achieve this, and I’ll continue to do so despite my slight discomfort when reading that email last night. Oh, and if I were to come across a book I felt was offensive in anyway, I would absolutely call it out. I’m not afraid to say when something’s bad or even to say I didn’t particularly like something. I’m just more adept at recognising when a book isn’t for me and calling time on it pretty early on these days.
So what about you? How do you approach reading and reviewing? Do you go into it with a critical eye? How do you feel about writing negative reviews and also, about those of us who mainly write positive reviews? I do wonder if the fact I appear to “love” every book makes my opinion less valid, but at the end of the day I’m not here for personal acclaim or to discover the next literary award winner. I’m here because I love books and love talking about books to others.