Shannon Hale (author of Austenland and The Actor and the Housewife, as well as many other books) recently posted on her blog about reviewing books. Take a moment to go read her post, in which she talks about going beyond saying simply whether or not you liked a book when writing a review.
For this week’s Weekly Geeks, we challenge you to respond to the questions Ms. Hale asks in one of three ways.
1. Find a negative review that you have written. In your post, link to or include the original review and then rewrite it to answer these questions:
- Why did you react negatively to the book?
- What was it about the story or characters or style that hit you so strongly?
- Are you reacting to any fears or insecurities?2. Write a new review about a book you loved, keeping in mind these questions:
- What was it about the story that resonated?
- Would you have loved this book as much ten years ago? Five years ago?
- Will you keep loving it in the future?
- Where are you in your life that this is the story you wanted and needed?3. At the end of her post, Ms. Hale posed six questions for those who review books on their blogs or other sites. Write a letter to Ms. Hale explaining your position on each of these questions, then return to her post and leave a comment with a link to your post. And remember her request to speak freely, but kindly and respectfully!
- Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?
- Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up?
- Does knowing you’ll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place?
- Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book?
- What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world?
- If you review a book but don’t rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer?
Having just done a negative review, I’m going to take questions 1 and 3. My negative review was for Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. As I mentioned in my original review, I reacted negatively to the author, Julie Powell, rather than to the book. I disliked how she portrayed herself and how she interacted with others. While on the surface, we should have had quite a lot in common – same age, same job types at the time, similar interests, and so forth – how she treated others and her reasons for continuing the project really bothered me, to the point where I was somewhat sickened by her need to dramatize everything and her complete lack of sympathy towards her suffering husband. Was I reacting to any fears or insecurities? That is a distinct possibility. One of my dislikes about Ms. Powell was that I felt that she continued the project solely because of the fame it brought her. It started out as a fun project, but when it got tough, she only did it for her followers. As her followers grew, and she started getting notice from the media, it added fuel to the fire. As a blogger, I do not want to blog solely for my readers, BUT I do want readers. That’s my catch-22. I do it for myself, but the fact that there are people out there reading my words does cross my mind with everything that I write. I try not to cater to them and to write as honestly and as openly as possible. My fear is that I will come across as dramatic and as negative as Ms. Powell came across to me.
As for Question 3, here it is:
I do find that anticipating the writing of a review has changed my reading experience but it is definitely a positive change. I find myself thinking more about why I feel a certain way, what drew out my emotions or caused me to really pause when reading. I pay attention more to what I’m reading, and I now stop between books and really think about what I’ve read. I did not always do that before, and as a result, I feel that I’ve made better choices in what I read and in what I retain from my reading.
I wait to rate all books until the end. Often, I’ve found that my opinions about books fluctuate so much from section to section that to judge them in the middle means to miss out on so much more. This is why I always finish a book no matter how much I dislike it – there is always a chance that the book will get better, and it is not fair for me to avoid giving the author that chance to turn it around.
Knowing that I am going to review a book has not prevented me from picking up certain books. I’ve reviewed books from work, books for school, non-fiction, self-help, and fiction. If I read a book, it is solely because something about the book interested me.
I think the process of writing a review only clarifies and magnifies my feelings for a book. For example, I was dissatisfied with Julie and Julia but until I started putting my feelings to words while writing the review, I did not realize just how much I did not like the author. Having to put down why I was dissatisfied helped me understand the depths of my feelings and the reasons behind them.
My motivation to write a review is based solely on the need to think more critically about what I read. In the past, I would move from book to book without any additional thought or time to absorb a book. That lead me to forget entire plots and characters. I could tell you that I read a book, but I couldn’t tell you anything about it other than a vague opinion of what I thought of it. Writing reviews, as I mentioned earlier, is a way for me to stop the cycle, think about what I am reading and more importantly retain it. If I am going to take the time to read something, I should take the time to do it right. Blogging reviews is one way for me to do so.
I’ve chosen not to rate a book on my blog because I know too well that what I like may be completely different from what others like. In my role as a reviewer, I prefer to give my impressions, likes and dislikes of a book and my recommendations for who might be interested in it. I will state whether I liked it or not, but I will not come out and give it a certain rating. To me, that seems too limiting, and I never want to be a person to turn someone away from reading any book. I feel that each book deserves a chance and that there is a willing audience for any book, no matter how I feel about it.
I truly enjoy reviewing books. It is something from which I derive great pleasure. But I do feel quite responsible for what I write and tend to agonize over each word. Books are a labor of love for their authors, and for that reason, I try to be fair and truly think through my feelings and reactions of each book before any review. Reviewing books has definitely caused me to read, think and write more critically, which has enhanced my reading.
I also enjoy reading your answers and love the balance that you gave to Julie and Julia…
Another quote that struck me was
” I find myself thinking more about why I feel a certain way, what drew out my emotions or caused me to really pause when reading. I pay attention more to what I'm reading, and I now stop between books and really think about what I've read. I did not always do that before, and as a result, I feel that I've made better choices in what I read and in what I retain from my reading.”
I find in my case it's maturity and being comfortable in my own self that give me the feeling of “taking it at my own pace” so I end up looking a book which a few years ago would be a read and forget – I now take the time to really appreciate the little things, both positive and negative.
Hope you have a great reading week..
Liked how you did this WG!
Much to ponder over!
Weekly Geeks: Reviewing and rating
I really like how you expressed yourself in answering these questions – very well done.
Kerrie, I have friends who are like that – will put down a book if it doesn't appeal to them, but how many great books take a few hundred pages to set the stage for the amazing drama that follows. I can come up with at least five right off the top of my head that I'm grateful for reading even though they were slow to get started. I liken it to the idea that you can't judge a book by its cover, and you shouldn't judge it by just a few pages either.
Ceri, I usually finish and review all the books I read, but was one earlier this year that I just wasn't able to. I feel really guilty when that happens, because like you I feel that I have an obligation to the author. There are some bloggers who will say “too many books, too little time”, and some who can even abandon a book at page 50 if it hasn't struck a chord by then.
Ceri – Thank you! It's a blogger's burden, isn't it? We say that we blog for ourselves, but we do quite a bit to attract readers, don't we? That balance is extremely important, but in addition, if you are truly doing it for yourself, then you won't obsess about the number of followers or lack of comments.
reviewsbylola – Thanks, Lola! It was one of the few times I really struggled to write a review for fear of coming across too strong and subsequently turning people off from either the book or from me.
I liked your discussion about Julie and Julia. I especially found the portion about fears interesting.
Great answers, Michelle. I enjoyed reading your WG post. 🙂 I feel similar to you in that I don't want to write specifically for what my readers expect but I'd like to have readers. I think it's just important to find a good balance. 🙂