January 9, 2012

Monday Murmelings (like 'Mumbling' only Munsch-ier*)

So I've been reading a lot lately on various blogs about reviews crossing the line and speeding towards nasty. Veronica Roth wrote a post on YA Highway about this very thing (HERE). It's long but worth the read. The lovely ladies over at Y(A)? Cuz We Write! are also discussing this issue today (HERE). I confess that before reading these two posts I hadn't realized that this was such a problem, though I know I've stumbled across some pretty harsh reviews myself. You know the kind: all too often laced with profanity, personal attacks, and really bad grammar. And they're heavy on the CAPS LOCK and exclamation points. KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT?!?!
My thoughts on the issue: 
First of all, I think that negative reviews are just as important as positive reviews. I should qualify this by pointing out that the negative reviews I'm referring to fall under the category of 'Constructive Criticism' rather than 'Soul-Crushing Rants'. Sometimes I like to know in advance if a book is for me before I spend the money and time on it. Other times I just trust my own instincts about a book. There are SO many books that I'd like to read, that I'd prefer to save some time by avoiding those that I'm fairly certain I won't like. This is where the odd negative review can be helpful. I tend to read a few from both ends of the spectrum, hoping that the truth lies somewhere in between. Negative reviews can point people in the right direction and steer them away from dissatisfying reading experiences. That's good, right?
So how does this affect me personally? 
Well, I've decided that from now on when I choose to review a book, I'll balance it out - good and bad - as much as possible (ie. 'What I Liked' and 'What I Wasn't Crazy About' balanced equally). Anybody reading my reviews can take what I've said and form their own opinion based on the good and not-so-good points as I see them. This last bit is important. It needs to come through loud and clear that this is merely my opinion and that others may (and probably do) feel a little or a lot differently. Finally, I'll include a 'Recommended For' line. I feel like this should almost be mandatory because even though I may not have been head-over-heels in love with the book, there's got to be somebody who would be. Reading tastes are entirely subjective and just because this book wasn't my cup of tea doesn't mean that it isn't somebody else's.
Bottom Line:
It comes down to respect, decency, and empathy. How can you expect to be taken seriously when your review is a vitriolic rant and not in the least bit constructive? Ask yourself: 'If this was my book, how would I feel?' This doesn't mean, however, that we need to tiptoe around a book's faults so as not to hurt feelings. Bad reviews are never easy for authors, (I can only imagine) but if they are thoughtful and respectful they can be helpful to both authors and readers. Let's apply a little kindergarten wisdom to this, shall we? If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Easy.

So what do you think about all of this? 
Do you ever write negative reviews?
Do you have a reviewing policy?

* Murmel, Murmel, Murmel by Robert Munsch:
'From way down the hole something said, "Murmel, murmel, murmel."
"Hmmm," said Robin, "very strange." 


  1. I love your point that reading is subjective--so true! Everyone has different tastes. I only review books that I LOVE, since I do book reviews so rarely. But negative reviews are definitely helpful. As long as they're not incoherent rants.

  2. The unprofessional and poorly written reviews I see are the slush on Amazon and B&N.com, and at times on Goodreads, although i think Goodreads has more creatively worded bad reviews. It's less of the rants and more of embracing the badness with delight and writing an enterataing piece about how bad a book is (an example is the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Very polarizing reviews - people love it or loathe it).

    I always follow up a ho-hum review with "fans of x may like this" or a suggestion of what type of reader might like the book.

  3. This is such a tricky subject. I've stayed away from doing actual reviews on my blog since I started it, and I have the Bambi philosophy going in which if I really didn't like a book, I won't post on it at all. That makes sense for me because I'm online as a writer and bibliophile but not a reviewer. I simply want to gush about what I like in terms of books, not provide specific constructive criticism.
    I think for some people, myself included, it's easier to decide "I'm online as a writer primarily" or "I'm online as a reader/reviewer primarily" rather than blend the two.

  4. Meredith: I don't do reviews very often, but when I do I'm going to stick to the policy I mentioned.

    Stephsco: You're right, Amazon and others seem to be worse than Goodreads. That's why I got straight to Goodreads now.

    Rebecca: It is a tricky subject. I don't review often but I'm going to be so much more careful now when I do. I'm not sure which I am primarily, a writer or a reader. I'm new to this whole blogging and writing thing, so it's hard to say at this point.

  5. I'm trying to review more this year--I'm still tinkering with my review format. I just went back and edited one of the reviews I posted this weekend because I forgot to include one of my favorite things about Legend (gold ink! It just fills me with joy.) I want to be comprehensive in my Sunday posts, so right now I'm sticking with a short and sweet note for books that didn't set me on fire with excitement. What's tough is that even that seems critical--even though three stars translates to "liked it".

    But I agree with you on the bottom line. My students are quite a bit past kindergarten, so what I generally say to them is, "Can we all just, you know, be human beings here for a minute?" That's definitely a reminder that some corners of the internet could use.

  6. I LOVED your bottom line! Very well said.
    I don't give bad reviews. I rate them with less stars on Goodreads, but I don't ever say why. I love your thoughts on the What I Liked and the What I Wasn't Crazy About. I think I may have to try that!


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