Saturday, September 21, 2013

Reviewing Books

If a book I've committed myself to review turns out to be 'disappointing' I make an effort to present it objectively to the reader, including a good number of excerpts from the text, so that the reader might form his or her own opinion independent of my own.
— Joyce Carol Oates

"Prolonged, indiscriminate reviewing of books is a quite exceptionally thankless, irritating and exhausting job. It not only involves praising trash but constantly inventing reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feeling whatever."
— George Orwell

The only reason I reproduced the quotes by Joyce Carol Oates and George Orwell was because they were well said.

Actually, I have been thinking about book reviews, my own and those by fellow bloggers, and—I'm sticking my neck out here—I think a majority of reviewers hate panning books. Instead, they are content with offering mild criticism of a book they didn't like much, for whatever reason.

I don't pan books either. In fact, I find myself saying only good things about the books I review on this blog. The thing is I am not conscious of it. I realise that I could have pointed out certain flaws only after I have read a book and reviewed it.

People say writers have a responsibility towards their readers because they invest their time, money, and expectations in the book. So if a particular book doesn't live up to one's expectation or the hype, it should be trashed, particularly if the author is one of your favourites. I don't agree. I read books, especially fiction, because I enjoy reading and as a form of self-gratifying entertainment and I treat them as such, and along the way I learn something. I also have a theory that every book, no matter how bad it may be, has redeeming qualities which is still no reason to pan it.

This debate is older than the first book you read. Still, what do you think?


  1. I agree with you: better to point out the positive elements. Knowing what work goes into a book, I don't like to be negative.

    When reviewing, I try to imagine who the book would appeal to--that makes it easier to be honest but positive at the same time.

  2. Hi Prashant, what a thought-provoking thing to discuss.

    It is something that troubles me too. Till date, I have been more or less objective about books but somehow have started feeling that I am neither being honest to myself nor to those who are interested in what I blog about. It's a terrible fix and perhaps now the reviews would be more subjective.

  3. I also understand that writers have feelings, and most of the time were probably trying the best they could. that generally makes me temper my more negative comments. It's definitely tough though. I find myself simply not reviewing stuff by people I like if I didn't care for the book

  4. I think it's more honest for a reviewer to simply not review something they don't like, than to puff up with praise something that maybe isn't so great but was written by an acquaintance. Non-reviews never trip me up, but there have been many books I've read that were incredibly well-reviewed yet rife with problems that certainly could not have been apparent only to me, you know? That's frustrating.

    On the other hand, a book that is entertaining yet has problems can still be objectively reviewed without ripping it, even as the flaws are pointed out. Too many reviewers seem to think it's one or the other. And for those who seem to take delight in trashing work -- and there are plenty of them -- I have nothing but disdain for.

  5. Hey Prashant,

    This debate is like you inferred - as old as time. I usually don't participate in them either but I will for you. As a reader, no one goes into a book looking to dislike it or hate it. Every new book is greeted with some measure of anticipation and excitement. I am not apart of the school of thought where if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all. While I realize that writers put a lot of work into their books, as a reader I am concerned only with the end product.

    I don't think about the writer when I wrote my reviews because the reviews are not for writers - they are for other readers. My honest reaction will sometimes include positive as well as negative criticism if there is any worth making publicly. I have nothing against reviewers wanting to only review books that they like or enjoy. Believe it or not, that's most readers agenda as well. But the truth is that we will not always like everything we read. Readers I think are smart and can discern when reviews are personal attacks or just mean spirited and don't offer much in the way of helping you to decide if the book is what you want to read. I usually skip those types of reviews. But if a review is honest and criticisms are articulated in a thoughtful manner then I find such reviews helpful and informative.

  6. Prashant: I try to be objective knowing I lean to the positive in reviews. I try not to pick on small issues. If I really do not like a book I try to say clearly why without disparaging the author.

  7. I try not to totally trash books that I have read and not enjoyed - though it has been a while since I came across an absolute stinker of a book. The bad books do tend to stay in my memory as much as the good.
    Its a balancing act. I can dislike elements of a book, but still enjoy the book overall.
    I hope I try and accentuate the positive most of the time.

  8. I'm with Bambi's mother on this so err on the side of caution - every now and then I have been critical but mainly because a book has espoused views that are really contrary to my own - this tends to be in earlier books though I was surprised by some of the retrograde aspects of Sidney Sheldon's THE NAKED FACE but had no problem at all pointing them out - I figure I'm doing a good service! On the other hand, you criticise Lord peter Wimsey at your peril!

  9. I agree with just about everything said here. A review should help a book find its audience and be honest enough to warn others away. Someone recently complained of American reviewers that they are too polite, while Brits regard reviewing as something of a contact sport, or as a scorched earth military exercise. I suppose I tend to be too kind; but there's enough ill will in the world today without creating more.

  10. I guess I have never had an issue saying a book didn't work for me, but I always explain why I didn't like it. Even the one book I reviewed that I hated, I explained why, before I told everyone to never read it. I think insincerity comes out in a review, and I'm not sure I would ever take a reviewer seriously if they only have praise for every book they read. I write my reviews for myself and my readers first. I don't want to hurt the author's or publishers's feelings, but I think part of the risk when you put something out there to be reviewed, is a negative review.