I was reading through the reviews of a book about which I was contemplating marking it as a rare DNF for me, and one caught my eye. The reviewer gave it two out of five stars, and the only reason this person did so was that the book has almost no diversity outside of some skin color differences. This reviewer took offense that the author did not include any sex and gender diversity and therefore gave the entire story a negative review without really saying anything about the story itself.
A week later, I am still thinking about this review if only because it raises more questions than answers them. How should we approach a book review? Is it fair to judge a novel based on what is between its pages versus what is not? As the book community strives to become more diverse, should we critique authors on how successful they are to show atypical relationships and avoid gender norms?
I confess that the thought never crossed my mind to criticize an author for not adding some diversity to a story. I know some of that is because I identify as a white, heterosexual cis-female. I am only just beginning to grasp the idea of different genders and sexes. Plus, I tend to focus on the writing itself and not what is missing. I always try to include what does or does not work for me, knowing that reading is subjective.
Granted, there is no one way to write a book review and certainly no correct criteria upon which to base your critique. However, should there be? Should diversity in all forms be a requirement for a good book? I have no good answer, but seeing that review certainly got me thinking.
What about you – what do you think? How do you decide whether a story is good or not? What are your personal criteria when writing a book review or talking about a book to others? Also, what are your thoughts on judging a book based on diversity alone?
Personally, I try to be as impartial in my critique of books as I can be. I’ll say what I didn’t like in specific, but also say what I thought was well done, and explain why the things I disliked might be fine for others. I imagine that I’m more sensitive to certain topics, writing styles, etc, just as anyone will be more sensitive to the things that affect their lives. I also think its the nature of reviews/ratings to have personal bias, and as long as we keep that in mind, it’s interesting to see all the different viewpoints on specific books.
I love different viewpoints on books, but I guess I also expect such viewpoints to have some sort of backup to them and to be more than one-dimensional. If you didn’t like a book because it was not diverse enough, I get it, but that should not be the only reason you dislike a book IMO. Or not? I don’t know.
This is actually one of the reasons I am not wild about Goodreads. It’s SO useful in some ways, but I think it blurs the divide between authors and readers in a way that gives rise to questions like this. I have given books low star ratings in my own mind for completely arbitrary and stupid reasons — far more so than this person’s desire for diversity! — in my personal reading spreadsheet, because the point of it is to remind ME of my thoughts on the book. Making the star rating/review public creates a whole weird set of problems and questions about what a review “should” be, when of course the way different people are using those ratings and review systems are wildly variant.
Soooooo that was a very long walk to “I don’t know, girl.” 😛
I get where you are coming from. I usually don’t use the star rating system and just post my thoughts on GR or LibraryThing because you are right. What is a three-star for me may be a four-star or two-star for someone else. And just because someone posts a review on either site doesn’t mean it is an informative review, right?
My reviews are all about feel. How did it make me feel? How did it make me think? Did it push me out of my comfort zone in a good way? Was I entertained but maybe the plot was kind of weak? I read to escape or to experience worlds or situations outside of the ones I live in so for me, it’s all about how it made me feel. If the book lacks diversity and it bothers me, I may review it to reflect that.
That’s mostly how I review books. It certainly includes more than just diversity. I guess posting a review on GR doesn’t mean it is a good review.
I use the term “review” very loosely in terms of my own thoughts about a book. I am all about the feelings and how a book made me feel. I suppose that isn’t quite true because some of what I “feel” about a book comes down to character development, world building, writing, and other technical aspects. But it’s so subjective. I don’t pretend to be an expert.
I haven’t judged a book based on diversity alone. I think if I were to rate a book down for it, it would because the book falls on the offensive side. Like you, I am a white, heterosexual cis-female, and I’m afraid there’s probably a lot that I don’t notice that someone with a more diverse background might. I have read reviews of books I loved that pointed out issues that I didn’t see at all. Yet looking back, I see exactly what the reviewer meant. It gives me an entirely different perspective.
I am by no means an expert either, but I will say I have never read a review that judged a book based solely on one criterion. I am still struggling to comprehend how someone can do that and make a fair assessment of a book. It’s like making a judgment based on the cover only.