The Value(?) of Book Reviews

“Open confession is good for the soul.” — Scottish proverb.

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I hate writing book reviews.

There, I said it.

I know what “they” say:

  • Writers should pay it forward by penning reviews.
  • Getting your name — and words — “out there” is an important part of “platform.”

But I hate writing reviews. Especially on books I won as a gift in a blog drawing.

Here’s why:

  1. Memories. Book reviews are hauntingly reminiscent of school book reports. ‘Nuff said!
  2. Ethics. The journalists’ ethics code cautions against accepting freebies (generally made in exchange for writing).
  3. Value. I don’t choose (or reject) books based on recommendations, so who am I to tell others what to read?
  4. Time. I’m a web designer and spend enough time staring at a computer screen. Adding another social media site to my already-long list isn’t something I want to do.

Now I admire folks who can spend a lot of time writing reviews on Goodreads. Or Amazon. I admire those who blog every single day, too.

And I especially admire writers brave enough to publish their words and open themselves up to all sorts of potentially mean-spirited, jealous jabs, just for the sake of becoming noticed.

But one of Life’s challenges is knowing thyself. And I’m not a book-review kind of gal.

I much prefer writing the author a personal note, bragging on the book as needed or tactfully pointing out problem areas.

When I read, I’m working. Studying how the author connected the dots of the plot line, what techniques he used to make the dialog realistic, which point-of-view he chose, how he made the protagonist believable and heroic. I’m trying to spot red herrings, learn new things, see how the author put into practice the steps necessary for book success. I’m analyzing, dissecting, absorbing.

And enjoying the story.

By the time I come to The End, my mind is tired and I need a break. Not more thinking.

Definitely not writing a review.

I might change my tune when my own book gets published.

But for right here, right now, this is my story and I’m sticking to it.

What are your thoughts on book reviews? Do you write them? Read them? Heed them?

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22 thoughts on “The Value(?) of Book Reviews

  1. The “Value” part hits home for me. In general I’m not fond of reviews unless they come from someone I know and who knows me. My Mother totally enjoys Danielle Steele these days. She finds them easy and entertaining and free on the give away book shelf at the dog training building. I like books that are penny dreadfuls and well written. If a friends suggests a book it’s likely that I will at least read the description. The last sensation I read was “Goldfinch.” Most of the reviews I read seem to be more of a conversation around the book. Once in awhile, I’ll join the conversation but not often. I like the idea of a personal note, or just sharing that I found a book I really enjoyed.

    • YES!! The opinions of friends definitely go a long way toward making me want to read a new book. And like you, I’ll at least check out the cover blurb to see if it’s something that piques my interest. Unless I were to give up my paying business, I can’t see myself having the time to review everything I read, though. Glad you approve of the personal note compromise!

  2. I hate writing them as well. I’ve found some reviews helpful and others way off base in my opinion, which basically means we all have different tastes in reading material. I generally get book recommendations from friends with similar reading interests….and that is always helpful.

    • Thanks, Suzi — me too! It’s funny, you know, how even the people we think are most like us often have different reading interests. That’s okay in the long haul. It means there are that many more avenues for writers to pursue!

    • Ah, you too, huh? If I read something I truly love, I find it hard to add a single word or phrase that would encourage someone else to read it. That said, the rips you’ve been penning on your blog are fantabulous!!

  3. Debbie, I haven’t written that many book reviews in the past, but I have written movie and product reviews – on my blog. I actually like writing them, but only if it’s a book, movie or product that I like. I won’t write them if I don’t.

    As Suzicate shared, reviews are all relative and based on someone’s opinion, so I in no way think that just because I like something, everyone is going to like it. But I do enjoy sharing my thoughts and positive feedback in reviews, just for the enjoyment of doing it.

    Great post topic!!!!
    X

    • I like the idea of writing reviews on one’s blog, Ron, and you do a great service with that!

      You’re right, of course. Not everybody who reads our blog is going to agree with our opinions, and that’s okay. I’m always open to learning something new, being challenged on something I hold dear, and being a conduit for the exchange of ideas.

      Have a wonderful Wednesday, dear!

  4. Debbie, I agree. It’s hard (back to school) WORK.

    I can only write book reviews for books I LOVE love love. For example, GIRL GONE, Lolita, PULL OF THE MOON. I mean, these books are like butter, babe.

    Anyhow, I have a quick story. My friend wrote a book review on Amazon (she was asked to) for another friend’s new novel. She was honest, but did admit, the book had a few flaws. Even so, she gave the book a 4 star rating. This so-called-friend UN-friended her and will not talk to her now!!

    News Flash: Do not write book reviews for friends! Have you done this?

    xx

    • Thank you, Kim, for validating what I feared would happen. I tend to be more honest than is good for me (ha!), so I just knew that, if I said what I really thought, I’d get myself in a whole bucket-load of trouble. Hasn’t happened yet, but mostly because I’ve dug in my heels and refused to write reviews. Friends are hard enough to come by; the last thing any of us need is someone un-friending us because of our honest opinions. And let’s face it — we writers tend to be a sensitive lot, don’t we?!

  5. I mostly read online reviews, because a few of the bloggers I met in the beginning are book bloggers, and reviews are their primary focus. I tend to read according to my own interests, and prefer non-fiction to fiction, so most of the new books I pick up I find through mentions by other writers, especially in feature pieces that catch my interest in magazines or journals. Sometimes, I even pull them out of bibliographies.

    I thought I’d never write a review, either, but someone I went to high school with has a very interesting new book out, and I think it deserves recommendation. He doesn’t need the pub – he’s already quite well-known and has published multiple books. But I might make a run at it anyway, just because.

    I guess that’s the point, for me. If there’s a book I want to write about, for whatever reason, I will. But to do it “to get my name out there”, etc. ad nauseum — that’s for others, not for me.

    • Thanks, Linda, for your wise words. While I enjoy connecting via blogs, book reviews just aren’t my thing. I can see where your review of your friend’s book would be the nice thing to do, especially since it “deserves recommendation,” but the situation grows stickier when you don’t particularly like the book — or when it’s not your genre-of-choice. There, you feel like you’re merely passing judgment on something, not necessarily adding value to it. I guess my mom would be pleased to know that her lesson of ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ had “took”!!

  6. Hi Debbie, I’m not a professional critic but I do write reviews on books I enjoy. I believe it’s an important way to support fellow authors as long as it’s honest. But I understand how you feel. I’ve read reviews that have been ridiculous (negative in a disrespectful way). I tend to discount them and feel they say more about the reviewer than about the book. Sometimes, though rarely, I may buy a book based upon positive reviews. This is an interesting discussion, fraught with controversy about the legitimacy/value of the process. Meanwhile, as I get ready to publish my first book, I brace myself for the negative reviews that inevitably filter through.. Maybe it’s better not to even read them.Although i’ve heard a negative review is better than no reviews because at least people are interested in your book.

    • Kathy, thank you for stopping by to add your thoughts and advice here. I think it’s a sad day when a review can make or break a book (or a film or even a person). There’s so much chatter in our world today that it seems to me, we have to steel ourselves against the negativity and even disregard the positive (just in case someone is “being nice” for less-than-honorable reasons). Sounds jaded, I suppose. But a writer (or any creative person) rides the Struggle Bus long enough just to get their message out, and for Joe Schmoe to casually pen a pan of it doesn’t seem “fair.” While I can’t honestly say I LOVE every book I’ve read, I can say there’s something nice I could say about them, and I guess that’s my point — the artist has released his “baby” into the world, and the general public should be waiting in eager anticipation, rather than with a knife!!

  7. Debbie, I’m with you. I like reading them, but writing them really is like having to do a homework assignment and I don’t like the pressure when folks send books. Of course they assume you’ll write a good one, and then you feel bad when you don’t like it at all. Anyway, seeing how you spend so much time in front of the computer, thought I’d send you the link to an article I came across yesterday about how we read differently when reading online as opposed to in print. Check it out! http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/serious-reading-takes-a-hit-from-online-scanning-and-skimming-researchers-say/2014/04/06/088028d2-b5d2-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html

    • Outstanding link, Monica — thank you for sending it! Web designers have long known that people read differently online than they do on the printed page (thus, shorter line lengths, more headline breaks, etc.). It’s sad to hear that some folks are getting to the point where they “can’t” read the slower printed page any more. Must be terribly hard to be a reading teacher at the elementary school level!!

  8. I have read very few book reviews and have only written one review. (I didn’t enjoy writing it!) On Amazon, I’ll look at the overall rating and look at the number of reviews for each star rating to see if, as a whole, people think the book is worth reading. I don’t read specific reviews because I don’t want to read something that would give away something in the plot. Reviews are opinions and books are so subjective… just because someone else loved it or hated it doesn’t speak to what I’ll think of the book.

    • I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one, Janna. I don’t want to hear how the story ends before I read it myself. I get so immersed in the plot and the action that I WANT to be right there when things resolve, not knowing ahead of time who the “bad guy” is and what happens to him. Your last sentence says so well what I was trying to convey here!

  9. you know it’s a funny thing Debbie. I hesitate to review them too – unless it’s something I was crazy in love with – and even then, just a, “hey, I’m crazy in love with the book” suffices for me. I guess that’s because I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to reviews. I scan them. But I’ve taken to downloading samples into my kindle or ipad to get the flavor myself. And my sister and I, who have so very much in common, are pretty far apart on what we like to read. So there’s that too.

    • Thanks for the reinforcement, Barb. I might change my tune one day, but right now, I just have so much else on my plate that I can’t afford not to sleep or eat or exercise, ha! I know it’s a nice thing and writers (esp. new ones) really appreciate it, but I have to agree — the value (for me, at least) just isn’t there. I glance at reviews, but I prefer making up my own mind as to whether I like a book or not.

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