Stuff On Sundays: It’s Not You, It’s Me…

 

How a reader responds to a book depends on a myriad of factors – from age to life experience, from what they have already read, to what kind of day they are having. Peruse any online site hosting multiple book reviews and it is obvious “no two persons ever read the same book” (Edmund Wilson).

I’m not surprised when I receive notification from Amazon that a five star or four star review I have posted ‘has helped a customer shop for [book title]’ but neither am I  surprised to find that of the dozen or so of these emails I receive a week, about half are notifications for books I have rated 3 stars (=OK- personally I don’t think three stars is a negative rating though it seems many authors disagree) or 2 stars (= I don’t like it)*.

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Furore regularly erupts in the book blogging world when authors take offense at what they feel are ‘negative’ reviews or ratings of their work and each time the drama develops it makes me nervous . Thankfully I have rarely come under attack from an author unhappy with a review, but I am always aware of the possibility.

What I think authors sometimes need a reminder of is the simple maxim,  ‘it’s not  you, it’s me’. My opinion is just that, my thoughts, feelings and reactions influenced by my experience and interpretation of the world which determines the way in which I relate to any book.  Naturally then, my review is going to vary from someone elses, sometimes only nominally and sometimes wildly, and it is also more than possible my response to a book will be different from what the author intended. I can understand the instinctive reaction of hurt when criticism is leveled at a novel an author has invested their heart and soul in, it is natural to be protective of their work and crave ‘five star’ glory but I must admit I don’t have a lot of patience for authors who publicly react badly to the honest, thoughtful and personal opinion  of a reader. ‘Bad’ reviews are going to happen no matter who you are or what you write, as this blog,  badreviewsofgoodbooks proves.

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It is never easy to be critical of someone’s work and when I find it necessary, I try to be respectful.  I strive to share reasons for my thoughts, both good and bad because I do believe it’s important to be honest.  Personally I find reviews that articulate the positive and negatives discerned by the reader to be the most useful to me as a reader. Sometimes a review that shares what the person doesn’t like can actually convince me to try a book I was on the fence about, though it is true the negatives in the review may also confirm the book won’t work for me. Only in instances that I don’t finish a book do I not post a review (I discussed that in a previous post here).

I hope, should an author ever feel the sting of criticism from me, they comfort themselves with the knowledge, ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.

Do you post ‘negative’ reviews? How much does a ‘negative’ review affect your reading choices?

* I haven’t ever used a one star rating on Amazon * My rating system on Book’d Out is slightly different where 2 stars = OK and 3 stars = good. You can read more about it HERE

23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kate @ whYAnot
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 17:54:16

    I still like to read reviews which are two or less stars as long as they tell me why they didn’t like the book – and in a sensible kind of way. The reviews I have issues with are the ones that are slanderous or just full of hate and general hostility. But I guess – I don’t like positive reviews that are just gifs… I like to know why someone liked a book or why they didn’t.

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  2. readingwritingandriesling
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 18:04:40

    I agree with you Shelleyrae, my reviews are a personal response not a literary critique. I have only had 2 authors email me re my less than 5 star review of their work…ehhh..🙂 We are all entitled to our own view on life, reading and all that. Pity they bothered to email though when the review wasn’t a personal attack or even all that negative all things considered. On the other side of the coin – I have had far more authors and publishers who have emailed to say they are pleased I enjoyed their books.

    Lately though I have been a bit disappointed with some of my reads…maybe this is more about my expectations or maybe it is because I have judged in the light of some really great reads and found them lacking.

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    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Oct 27, 2013 @ 22:59:15

      Your last comment is interesting to me Carol, we inevitably compare what we read and the larger number of books a person reads the harder a reader can be to please.

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      • readingwritingandriesling
        Oct 27, 2013 @ 23:07:25

        I think I am starting to fall into the “hard to please” category though when I do find a book I like it is usually GREAT not just good. Maybe it is about understanding “self” and knowing what you potentially will like, though sometimes it is hard to judge just by a cover and a back cover blurb if a book will live up to your expectations..

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  3. Margaret Lynette Sharp
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 18:20:58

    What irks me is the posting of a negative review written by someone who will not reveal his or her identity. Sometimes, such a review is so mean-spirited that one wonders at the truth of its contents.

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  4. booksaremyfavouriteandbest
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 18:28:54

    I do sometimes give books one or two stars but I always qualify it with why – I make sure that I give very clear reasons for all of my ratings and use specific examples or quotes.

    When I’m reading reviews (which usually happens AFTER I’ve read a book!) I always read all the 5 star and 1 star reviews on Goodreads – I like to see opinions from either end of the spectrum. That said, any 1-star reviews that don’t provide reasons why, I dismiss.

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  5. Tracey
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 18:31:41

    I aim to be fair and honest. But love or hate the book, I think it’s important to try & articulate why the writing evoked that kind of response from me. That’s only fair to the author and to the people who read the reviews. Absolutely agree with ‘it’s not you, it’s me’, because it’s only my opinion after all.

    I actually find it more difficult to write reviews about books I love because I want to communicate why I love it without (a) giving away the very best bits and (b) sounding like I’m fawning. If I don’t like it, it’s usually much easier to pinpoint the reasons.

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  6. cleopatralovesbooks
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 19:29:49

    This seems to be a popular topic this week. I agree with Tracey in many ways it is far harder to write a review of a book you really love than one with flaws. I like to look at a range of reviews and whatever the rating they are only good if the review articulates the good and/or bad points. What I hate may not bother someone else and vice versa. Great post and it is good to think about this issue from multiple angles. Thank you.

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  7. Elimy
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 23:52:40

    I wrote a post about this a while back. I’m actually quite worried about upsetting an author one day, even if I didn’t like their book… so if I hate something I just don’t review it sometimes. Is that terrible of me?

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  8. Lawrence Grodecki
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 00:03:11

    Fascinating discussion. Personally I’ve found it’s impossible for anyone to rate anything objectively, be it books, art or Wayne Gretzky’s final season.

    While the star system kind of simplifies things, at least for databases, I’m not sure it really does readers a great deal of service. Responsible reviewing entails a keen awareness of those personal biases, and reviewers need to have that constant gut check.

    For me the standard for reviewing was set pretty high back in the days when there were a lot of movies worth watching, and I would watch Siskel & Ebert quite faithfully. They were masters of articulation in terms of being in tune with their own biases as well as explaining what and why they liked or disliked something in a fairly non-personal manner.

    I never favored one over the other and together they were much stronger than each separately, and they were incredibly bang-on in their ratings, but that’s just my opinion!

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  9. laurelrainsnow
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 03:10:38

    Yes, giving reasons why we like or dislike a book is very important…and I agree that I am sometimes swayed to give a book a go when the reviews range from negative to positive.

    Eat, Pray, Love is a good example of wildly differing views on the book….

    Here’s MY WEEKLY SUNDAY/MONDAY UPDATES

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  10. notesoflifeuk
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 03:45:12

    Negative reviews only effect my choice if all the reviews I come across for that book are negative.

    When it comes to writing negative reviews, they’re few and far between for me. The simple reason is that if I don’t like a book I rarely finish it.

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  11. Laura Fabiani
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 08:29:51

    Like you I try to be honest in my reviews. I don’t post mean remarks just what I did and didn’t like. Sometimes if a book is on tour and I don’t finish it because I really don’t like it, I will opt out.

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  12. Petrea Burchard
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 11:14:24

    It helped me to see Goodreads reviews of “Olive Kitteridge.” It got many fives, and a lot of ones. Some people absolutely hated it. (I loved it.) The book won a Pulitzer in 2009, but that doesn’t make it a best seller.

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  13. Heidi
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 13:23:08

    I like reading your reviews because there is always an explanation about what worked very well for you and what didn’t – I think that authors who take these things on board will ultimately grow in their writing skills, especially when several readers offer the same points. Constructive criticism is never a negative thing. What I hate on Amazon is the ability of other readers to rate your review “not helpful” without offering a reason – which, like slanderous reviews, is not constructive criticism at all.
    I must admit that many negative reviews do affect my reading choices, though I tend to base these on the reviews of people with similar reading tastes as mine.
    As for my own reviews, I must admit that I do not force myself to finish books I really don’t like at all, so my positive reviews by far outnumber the negative ones.

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  14. Kathryn White (@KathrynsInbox)
    Nov 01, 2013 @ 20:03:58

    I think no two people read a book in the same way, and a review is always going to be as unique as the person that wrote it. In other words, totally subjective.

    That said, as a reviewer, I do feel annoyed by slanderous reviews, ones that are full of or only .gif’s or, occasionally (and maybe this is the English Lit graduate coming out here,) when the reviewer has simply missed the point of the story (i.e. someone giving To Kill a Mockingbird one star after discovering that the novel has very little to do with bird hunting.)

    As an author, obviously I’d rather that people loved my work so much that they wrote glowing reviews all the time, but the reality is, that’s not going to happen. Not everyone is going to love or even like my work and well, it’s their review and they can write whatever the hell they like.

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