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Sunday, August 30, 2009

On reviewing books (TSS)

The Sunday

Do you have a harder time writing reviews of non-fiction than of fiction books? I'm sitting here next to a small stack of three books that are waiting for a review. One of them is fiction and two are non-fiction. Despite having loved one of them and recommended it to everyone I know, I still haven't sat down to review it. It's been months now and the details are getting fuzzy so every day that passes the review gets worse and worse.

Reviewing fiction seems so much easier, because I don't have to get "real" facts right. I can talk about the plot and how I felt about the characters and if I thought it all worked. I don't have to worry about being accurate. The only real worry is spoilers which are pretty easy to avoid, if it isn't a book in a series. Series book present their own challenges, in how to write a nice review but not give away details of previous books. Somehow, I muddle through on those.

Recently I've read a couple of blog posts by popular authors that talk about if blog reviews are real reviews. (The posts also address non-blog reviews, but I don't read many of those so I am not.) In this post by author Shannon Hale, she addresses the issue of "is 'did I like it?' a real review?" Many bloggers (according to her) post reviews that consist of if they liked it, and then have a rating. This is certainly how *I* review books. Does that make it less of a review? Does it have less value if I don't talk about things like technique and motivation? Does applying a rating to the book make the review less legit? Hale asks some great discussion questions at the end of her post, and you really should pop over there and join that discussion as well.

The other post, which directly refers to Hale's, is on John Green's blog. He asks if there are any reviews that you just got wrong. Where you didn't understand the book, but didn't clearly see that the problem was you and not the book. His example was about technology and age, which is a great example. I've been thinking about my own reviews and can't think of an obvious example of one of my own. After looking over my list of reviews, I've come to decide that this is because my reviews tend to be pretty safe. I don't review a lot of things that I dislike because I don't finish books that don't work for me. There are a few that I wish I'd done a better job of linking up to author sites or other reviews of my own, but I'm too lazy to go back and do it. So what about you, are there any reviews that you'd like to do over? Do you ever want to change a rating, if you give ratings?

Another reason that reviews are hard to write, is that I find I get fewer comments on my book reviews than on any other of my posts. I know that comments aren't everything, but it does feel good to get a little feedback on what you write, ya know? I don't know, but I do think that it makes a difference on how much effort I want to put into them. What type of posts do you get the most comments on?

Quick reminder: If you want to enter my TBR day contest you have one more day to do so! I'll accept entries until midnight tomorrow (oh, ok, until I wake up the morning of the 1st.) Head over to this post to enter.


  1. I get the most comments on posts where I am just blowing off steam or talking about my personal life. The "other stuff" of Book Chatter and Other Stuff.

    As far as the reviews go, I read them when they pertain to books that have caught my eye. I'm sure others are the same way. It's hit or miss situation but I think an "I like it" review is a review for those that are looking for that type of feedback.

  2. You have a lot of interesting questions there! I get the most comments on give aways (surprise surprise), and posts in which I pose questions for readers that they can relate to I guess. Or if we link up with a meme somewhere. I agree that most people don't comment on straight book reviews, but I keep posting them! We only post children's books, but I have similar issues when I know my son doesn't like something, but I think it's a great book. I feel strongly about his reaction being an integral part of the review, because he's the intended audience. But when he hates books that are very popular or that I like for one reason or another (just an example off the top of my head, he doesn't really like Todd Parr books at all), then it feels unfair to give them a bad review. I usually just say something like, "hopefully he'll grow into it." I guess sometimes a reader might not "get" a book, but isn't that a failure on the author's part to communicate the message effectively? I guess I'll go read the post you linked to before I critique it any further. ;)

  3. I read Shannon Hale's post and the discussion but didn't comment. Certainly she would have agreed with me deciding to drop the number ratings on my reviews this year but I'm not sure she would like my reviews. Personally I think the "professionals" view many book bloggers as amateurs - we annoy them with our little one paragraph reviews (in my case) and our sometimes breezy little comments. BUT that doesn't make our reviews should be taken any less seriously.

    Actually we represent the consumers. We are often the ones buying books, spreading the word about great books, always coveting more books. Even though bloggers may not mention it (because, hey most of us are doing this for fun not profit), many of us probably notice technique and motivation while reading. I'm not paid to blog, therefore any time I spend in writing a review is all on my dime, so to speak. If I only have time for a little quick review, then that's the way it is.

    Do overs? Hmmm... I sometimes think about rewriting a certain scathingly bad review I wrote early on when blogging but keep deciding not to in order to hopefully steer other unsuspecting readers away from a certain bad book. Other than that, no, I don't have any desire to rewrite any review or change any former evaluation. The reviews reflect a natural progression of my thoughts about blogging book reviews, so I want to keep the older posts as they were written.

    I don't get a lot of comments on any post, but then I'm almost all book reviews. I think my comment record holding post is a book review. I actually don't worry about comments. If I get too many it makes me feel anxious about acknowledging them, LOL!

  4. I do find reviewing nonfiction to be more difficult. Memoirs, not so much (because they are so much like fiction anyway), but other types of nonfiction--yes. I always struggle with how much is too much. That can be true for fiction, too, but it's different, you know?

    The whole "review versus non-review" debate is so silly. I think that professional reviews and blog reviews both have a place in our society and provide their own sort of value. In regards to my own reviews, they really are just my thoughts about a book. I use the term "review" very loosely. When I sit down to write a "review", I focus more on the personal impact a book had on me than I do anything else. And for me, that's what is important. I read for myself--not on a professional level. That's probably why I am drawn to others who do the same--which equals most bloggers. I like the personal touch and find more value in that than a professional critique of a book, which often doesn't speak to me on my level. Others feel differently and that's okay. It's a matter of preference. I just don't like the fact that some people out there try and invalidate those of us who do prefer to make it more personal.

    As to Shannon Hale's post, I found it very interesting and thought provoking. I think my reading has improved since I began reviewing books. I pay more attention to what I am reading in terms of details and think I get more out of it as a result.

    For a while there, my reviews were getting the least amount of comments among my posts too. It seems to be a common theme among book blogs. I remember when MyFriendAmy considered giving up reviewing books at all because no one seemed to comment on her book reviews. That garnered a lot of discussion about how people do read the reviews but don't necessarily feel they have anything worthwhile to say in terms of commenting.

    I think my Sunday Salon posts and a few of the memes I sometimes do get more comments than most of my reviews. Either that or the book I'm reviewing is a very popular one in the moment--then people comment.

  5. I find reviewing non-fiction easier, but I believe that is a function of the type of non-fiction I read. I tend to stick to how-to books, mainly cooking and knitting. It is pretty easy to do a review on whether the instructions in the pattern or recipe are clear.

    I agree with Lori L that blog reviewers are more about the opinions of the consumer. That is why my book blog is called Average Girl Reads. I don't pretend to being doing a scholarly review of the author's writing style or a books place in literature. Because of my angle, I don't think that I get a review wrong. My opinion is my opinion -- how can I get that wrong? It would be different if I was trying to explain the book's symbolism or something.

    To be fair, when I say I didn't like a book I try to give the reason why. It may be an irrational reason, like my dislike of reading books with dated technology in them, but at least the reader knows where I'm coming from.

    I don't get a lot of comments on my blog in general, but I've been getting more since I started participating in Sunday Salon regularly. I've picked up a few regulars who found me on Sunday and then started reading my blog in the middle of the week, too.

  6. I do think bloggers write differently than "professional reviewers," but you know what? They write about what I want to know - is the book good? I'm not that worried about technique and symbolism and foreshadowing. I read because I love to be taken away to another world.

  7. I don't tend to get a lot of comments on my reviews either. never really considered whether that meant people were not reading the reviews though as I tend to comment fairly infreguently on review posts. When I write what amounts to a staggeringly long blog post or a short essay on whatever is going on in my crazy life, I get the most comments. Well, those and Sunday Salon or Monday Mailbox posts. I've just decided that I should note where I get reading suggestions so that even if I am not commenting on a person's review post, I can give them some linky love on my blog. Six and one half dozen of another.

  8. I suppose I don't comment as much on book review posts as I should because, if I haven't read it, I don't have much to say. I like discussions about books, but there are so many people out there reading things that I'm not reading... If something sounds great, then I'll definitely say, "Thanks for the review, I must check it out." Otherwise, I stick to lurker status.

    When it comes to the actual reviews... Well, I would like something more than "I liked/didn't like the book". I want to know why, I want to know if the book made you feel anything, I want to know if you had to put the book down occasionally so you could take in the bit you just read... Just 'yay or nay' with a rating isn't helpful.

    My reviews tend to focus on the technical things because nothing drives me bonkers faster than typos, plot piss-offs and other things like that.

    That being said, my Sunday Salon posts tend to get the most comments. :)

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  10. I'm much more likely to put off reviewing a nonfiction book, even if I loved it, than a fiction one! It just seems like more effort to review it, you know?

    I get most comments when I remember to ask questions at the end of a post, which isn't as often as it should be. Oh, and my Sunday Salons always get the most traffic! But since getting back into blogging after my really long break, I've noticed an increase in comments on my reviews! I'm not sure what changed, but I hope it stays that way. ;)

  11. I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but I do find I'm a bit touchier about reviewing it because I don't want to make a mistake on factual stuff like you mentioned.

  12. I think everyone should review books in the way they like to review books. We aren't professionals and I personally love how everyone has a different style.

    I read and review a lot of nonfiction. I can't say I find it harder to review: I find most reviews are hard for me because I'm trying to capture the essence of the book and reading experience for me. Fiction is more topical; nonfiction is more quotes and things I learned that were interesting. I tend to keep tabs on pages as I read nonfiction so I can quote from it. But I think everyone knows I'm rather long winded when I write reviews, so that's just my style. You surely don't have to be. I like your style too!

  13. Ratings? Ack! I can't do hurts my brain. And I can never predict what will get the most comments.

    For non-fiction books, I've found it's easier to focus on the chapters. I did that with Stiff and it made it remarkably easy to write.

  14. I only skimmed your post, sorry. I'm trying to get through alot of things at once. Everyone else's comments all seem more relevant than mine. But I don't review books very often, mostly because I don't think I do a very good job of it and also I don't get very many comments on them. I can't do ratings. It's like impossible. But every once in awhile I'll go through a review kick and churn out 2-3 and then stop. The posts that most people comment on are my blogiversaries, the boy's birthday posts. The more personal posts. I wonder if the reason I don't get more comments on my blog is because the focus isn't on a specific subject (books, parenting? other?) Maybe not? I don't really know.

  15. Wow, great questions & discussion!

    I haven't read Shannon's post yet, but I'm a ratings gal all the way. I like to get a quick pulse on whether a book is worth it when reading others' reviews, so I like to provide the same in my reviews.

    I can't think of any I'd do-over. It's hard enough trying to review everything the first time, let alone thinking of re-reviewing! :)

    I get the most comments on posts where I give tips (like learning how to quit books) or when I ask for feedback/advice (like which YA series are worth the time).

    My reviews don't get a lot of comments, either. But I really only want people to read the reviews of books I love, love, love. With limited reading time, I understand folks aren't going to read all my reviews. Especially when book blogs are a dime a dozen!


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