Misconceptions of Negative Reviews

 

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A few weeks ago, I saw something that has become the norm online: a famous author (who shall remain unnamed) saying why people shouldn’t write negative reviews. Now, not only is *criticising criticism pretty hypocritical*, it also comes across as someone with a fair amount of power trying to stifle conversation- and let’s just say I don’t approve. But going beyond this individual’s fame and success, there are a lot of people who hold similar views. Personally, I don’t have a problem with people choosing to only do positive reviews, but I think negative reviews get a bad rap. Sometimes I just think people don’t understand why people do them and assume motives that aren’t there. So, I thought I’d break down where I reckon these misconceptions are coming from:

meanMisconception #1: Critical reviewers are MEAN. Well, that could be true, who knows? 😉 Just kidding- I think this assumption is reading wayyy too much into things. Beyond the fact it’s probably not a good idea to psychoanalyse strangers on the internet, I also think that it’s not taking into consideration that people are different and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some reviewers are blunter than others, some are snarkier, some are funnier- because that’s their personality. Not to go all Big Five Personality on y’all, but (and I can’t believe I have to point this out) being more agreeable (for instance) doesn’t make you inherently a better person. For goodness sakes- you don’t have to like everyone’s way of doing things, yet I think we can all agree that how you review isn’t the next Great Moral Debate!

the devil hocus pocusMisconception #2: We want to upset authors. Also known as the “reviews are meant to help you improve” idea. Ermmm no. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: reviews are for READERS! That means whether the review is positive or negative, it’s not designed for the author. Frankly, I’m too shy to @ authors when I’m being entirely positive- but I definitely would never do that if I had even a smidge of criticism there.

never happyMisconception #3: We’re hard to please… okay this one is totally possible. And I did see a really great video about critical reviews, which suggested there’s a possibility you’re reading the wrong books for you 😉 HOWEVER, while this could be true, most reviewers will have a mixed bag. I know I do. And the thing is, even positive reviews can hold criticism- which leads me onto…

throw booksMisconception #4: We don’t love books. Pahahaha- so because we don’t like your book, we can’t like any books?! I mean, this is just plain silly. Why dedicate hours and hours to a passion if we secretly don’t like it? Really though, this feeds into the idea that we can read *everything* *all the time*- which is daft. Encouraging people to read endlessly is preposterous. So much so that even positive reviews should point out the downsides- and vice versa. For instance, while some people are put off by slow books, I’ll be perfectly happy to give it a try. Even when I’m gushing, I don’t aim for mindless POSITIVITY- for me it’s primarily about getting people to be able to find the right book for them. Sure, this isn’t always possible, but it’s worth a try!

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Almost didn’t put this meme in cos it personally offends me!

Misconception #5: Negative reviews are to stop you reading! Again, negative reviews are often pretty nuanced. They’re written to explain why someone may/may not want to read something; they’re not explicitly designed to deprive other people of pleasure. A great review helps readers make informed decisions (see above about not having the time to read everything ever written). BTW people who read reviews also aren’t braindead- *SHOCKER* readers are smart and can make up their own minds whether to trust the reviewer thank-you-very-much! As someone who watched and read reviews long before I got into doing it myself, I think it’s safe to say I know how to read a review without losing my sense of self. It’s quite possible to see a negative review and say “I’m going to read it anyway!” Which brings me onto…

im-right-youre-wrongMisconception #6: We think WHAT WE SAY GOES! We’re not gods or always right (that’s why I did a post about how not to review). Reviews are biased, they’re not objective. You don’t have to listen to them all the time and you can come away thinking something completely different.

Misconception #7: We’re playing 4D chess… Cos right now there is this idea that you will get ALL THE VIEWS if you get a little snarky. While I don’t deny this can be the case for some people, I’d say I have the same stats on negative and positive pieces. Plus, this is a good opportunity to come full circle in the piece and say PEOPLE ARE A BIT MORE COMPLEX THAN THAT. You can’t just bottle up people’s reasons for doing things in simple “oh they’re just looking for attention” terms. I for one didn’t start my blog for just one reason (and I can tell you when I started attention wasn’t even a remote possibility on my radar). So I think it’s time to finish off my piece with some age old wisdom:

when you assume

And with that I’d like to know what you think- do you reckon people have misconceptions about negative reviews? Or do you think any of these are spot on? Let me know in the comments!

HOW (not) TO READ REVIEWS

I’ve been doing this nearly four years and I’ve received a lot of advice in that time- some of which has even been good 😉 Nonetheless, thanks to all the bad advice, I now think I also have a good idea of how not to approach a book blogger. So, I’ve compiled a “useful” list, for all those not in the know, of all the best ways to make a reviewer irate.

NB *please note, this is all in good fun, take this satirical piece seriously at your own peril* 😉

im-right-youre-wrongCorrect the reviewer on their opinions because their opinion is wrong and yours is right and soon they’ll understand that. Don’t be constructive and give reasons for your disapproval- it’s preferable if you use ad hominems like “you’re thick as pig shit” or more pretentious terms if you can manage it. Remember you can use a thesaurus on the internet and it doesn’t matter if your insults make sense- just try to find the longest word possible (like floccinaucinihilipilification or supercalifragilisticexpialidocious… although that second one’s more of a compliment 😉 )

pretending to readWhen you critique a review, don’t bother to actually read the review– remember your opinion is valuable and the reviewer is bound to listen to you, even if your suggestion makes no sense in the context eg “in the future you could write what genre it is” in a review that states as much in the first line- this will leave the baffled reviewer reading and rereading their work, trying to figure out what the hell you meant- which is what you want!

angry inside outAsk the reviewer why people are reading their review– make sure you say this in an as aggressive tone as possible- preferably in ALL CAPS example: I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY PEOPLE READ THIS TRASH!

 

I'm offendedGet insulted on behalf of the author for negative reviews– particularly if the author is a millionaire. Remember to take any criticism levied extremely personally- cos your hero’s honour is at stake and you must defend it! If they knew you existed, said author would probably thank you (or, you know, not).

angry catCritique the blogger’s layout– cos why not- if it’s offensive to your eye then it must be bad and if you don’t like the images they used, they have to know about it dammit.

 

 

 

you need to shut up.gifAnd my favourite: if you don’t like what a blogger has to say- harass them on twitter. This will not only show the world that you’re a *good person* but is a great way to change someone’s mind (also mind you don’t listen to any counter arguments they offer because you are a GOOD PERSON and they are a BAD PERSON). I have to add that this is an incredibly convincing tactic, cos I’m sure “YOU’RE WRONG, I KNOW YOUR LIFE EXPERIENCE BETTER THAN YOU DO!” has convinced many people in history (particularly when coming from strangers).

Annnd *ouch*, I think I’m feeling the sting of my own sarcasm after that. What do you think of this list? Have you any other “helpful” criticisms to levy at book bloggers? Don’t be shy! And Happy April Fool’s! 

Reviews are for READERS

So I spent a lot of time last week talking about writing and trying to encourage writers, which almost makes me feel like I neglected the reader-y side of my blog. But *have no fear* ranty monkey is here to talk about why I think reading and reviews!

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You see, like many other people on the blogosphere I’ve noticed an ongoing problem of a certain type of author (#notall) that goes after reviewers when they get a negative review. This is obviously something that’s existed longer than I’ve been around, yet I specifically saw a video recently (that I won’t share because it names the author in question) where a vlogger described a horrible incident of an author harassing them for their 3* review. Now I’m sure I don’t have to state the obvious, but I will anyway: THIS IS NOT ON.

Still the encroachment on what reviewers do goes further than this unfortunately. Because I also see a fair number of authors, every so often, pre-emptively telling would-be readers of their work how they ought to review. Which is also NOT ON. Ultimately I hold with the view: your platform, your rules. I do not see how someone else is entitled to tell others what to do on their own site. Particularly when it comes to opinion pieces like reviews- gah! The nerve!

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Personally I have my own unspoken rules of how I like to run my blog and I see a lot of other reviewers make different choices. And whether they want to discuss certain aspects of a book, leave out negative reviews or only review certain kinds of books is *completely* up to them! It’s certainly not up to the author to determine what makes a satisfactory review.

And I say this not because I think people should avoid advice or never try to improve what they do- we’re all learning things all the time- but because I am seriously sceptical about whether someone who asks for reviews to be tailored for the author’s benefit are really looking out for the reviewer’s best interests. I do not think it is right to tell readers off for not giving a book a high enough rating, or not stating how the writer can improve, or heaven forbid “not getting it” (whatever that means)- dude, it’s not for your benefit. Most of us are trying to write reviews to help out fellow readers.

Sure, you’re welcome to write each and every review as a love/hate letter to the author– that’s your prerogative. In my experience though, most critics aren’t doing that. What motivates me personally, aside from enjoying chats about *BOOKS*, is knowing that I can help fellow bookworms out from under their crushing TBRs to figure out what they *need* to read a book and what they might want to skip. That’s why even if I gush over a book, I try to tell people what it is they can expect and point out that other people might not like it. Some of my favourite books of the year fall into this category- and that’s okay! Everyone has different tastes and is entitled to their opinion.

It’s kind of unbelievable that some authors use reviews as their personal critique anyway. I mean, it is supposed to be a finished product. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but the time for critique should be a little earlier than the publication stage. Once it’s entered the market, it’s fair game. Especially if people have parted with time and money.

None of this is to say that authors can’t get something out of reviews. My personal view is that if a review helps an author I like then that’s *fantastic*- I obviously want all the authors I respect to have a long and illustrious career (if nothing else than for the selfish reason that I want to read *all* their future books). And guess what? People still go onto read books that are negatively received. In fact, I’ve gone out and read books I’ve seen people slate (morbid curiosity/monkey-brained masochism- call it what you will). In my experience, what actually puts readers off is whiny authors who moan about reviews.

throw books

And believe me, I get that writers poured a lot of work into it. I’m perfectly sympathetic to that. However, here’s the rub: reviewers put a lot of effort into their platforms too. No one has a monopoly on importance or conscientiousness here.

Contrary to what some writers might think, reviewers can’t control if they liked or disliked a book. Nor are they “out to get” anyone or likely to have personal vendettas against (often unknown) authors. Yet what reviewers do depend on is their ability to critique a book on its merit– and to start meddling with that undermines the whole process.

So I’ll say for the record: my reviews are for readers. Writers who think otherwise can kindly back away- I have bananas and I’m not afraid to use them!

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How about you? Do you think reviews are for readers or authors? Let me know in the comments!

Why Not Five Stars?

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To infinity and beyond!

(Or rather- why not 5 bananas?)

I’ve been doing this a while and one question I’ve had a few times when I post a 4 banana review is: why didn’t you give this 5 bananas?

Now of course I could do some soul-searching, tear my hair out because AM-I-BEING-MAJORLY-UNCLEAR and wonder WHAT THE HELL IS UP WITH MY REVIEWS… but in all honesty, this is a very fair question and I can be totally calm about answering it (*freakout was for theatrical affect only… mostly*). Because sometimes it may not be totally obvious why a book- that on the surface level seems near perfect- didn’t get five stars from me. And, honestly there’s good reasons for that (I hope- otherwise it’s back to the drawing board and the aforementioned angsty soul-searching 😉 )

scooby doo mysteryThere was something missing– and sometimes it’s hard to articulate just what that *something* was… because, well, it was missing. So I don’t know what it was, do I? It’s a mystery to me…

 

 

confused_lion_kingSometimes I might have been thrown by a handful of comments that niggled away at me– like woodworm or termites or maybe something less serious (the bug imagery’s a bit extreme for a 4* tbh) and even though I tried to brush it aside it’s ended up riddling the book with doubt about how much I liked it. Now it’s pretty rare that I won’t say if this was the case, but there are times when I’d have to go into a whole lot of political theory and I seriously can’t be bothered because aghh it was one comment (okay, yes I do have these freakishly strong reactions to random lines in books, but I can occasionally curb my inner nitpick- not often, just sometimes)

whateverMaybe it just wasn’t unique enough. I’m sure as readers we all have tons of stories lodged into the back of our minds- the more we read, the harder it becomes for a book to clinch that coveted OMG spot, just by virtue of the fact that we can compare it to so many other stories.

 

can't get comfortableOr maybe my experience reading it wasn’t tucked up in the perfect spot with pleasant-yet-not-overbearing instrumental music lulling me into a state of calm… Okay I don’t actually need that to enjoy a book- still sometimes I can be tired and distracted and a book needs to do *a lot* of work in order to WOW me. (FYI this is the one I’d ask author’s, on my site or others, to assume is the reason every time 😉 )

banana gifSo, okay, it wasn’t perfect– but hey, there’s nothing wrong with that! I said this in my post about negative reviews and it’s worth repeating: it’s a scale. Just cos something didn’t scream THIS-IS-PERFECTION to me doesn’t mean it wasn’t great- especially since according to my very well thought out rating system, four stars is still awesome sauce with a side of bananas. Speaking of screaming…

 

chill slothIt didn’t make me squeal gleefully. Yes, this is an actual requirement for 5 bananas. I’m a squealer. Not just over books, I think I must have squealed a gazillion times in cutesy tv shows like Once Upon A Time which I’m back watching again… but I digress. Basically the book might be objectively brilliant, but if it didn’t push me into the stratosphere it’s not going to get top marks from me. I’m probably looking something like this sloth though…

tasteGenre bias? And yes the question mark is deliberate, cos I’m not sure about this one. I mean it’s not consciously done anyway. Looking at my book ratings though, I can see there is a clear bias in what books are more likely to get the best ratings. Fantasy and classics are just more likely to produce the aforementioned squeals… whereas contemporary and non-fiction draws the short straw. I have given a couple of books in my less-favoured genres 5 bananas before, but it’s super rare. Yet I feel like this is fair, because at ultimately the whole point of ratings is to showcase taste. So if my personal preference for certain genres is what pushes up my ratings for certain books, then I’m okay with that.

So what do you think? Do you sometimes have trouble articulating why a book didn’t deserve all the bananas/stars? If not- can you teach me some tricks so I don’t get asked this again? 😉 And do you have your own reasons why a book might not be classed as *perfection*? Let me know in the comments!

Is it worth analysing and reviewing non-fiction?

You know how sometimes real life and the blogosphere collide? Well recently someone told me that they didn’t think I should review non-fiction books. Now my first reaction was something like this…

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But then when I cooled down a bit, I actually came up with an argument as to why it’s just as important to review non-fiction as fiction…

To answer the question I posed- the short answer is YES! I mean, I started my blog to tell the truth- to be honest about my feelings regarding books in a way I often couldn’t be in real life. Part of that might be to recommend books and part of that is to discuss the way a book touched me- and for so many books what can really strike me is the ideas it holds inside. So what would be the point if we could not talk about the ideas in non-fiction? Why limit myself?

Well, for a lot of people, it is the fear of being called arrogant if we happen to disagree with greater thinkers than ourselves. BUT- and I shouldn’t really have to point this out- just because someone disagrees with another person doesn’t mean they think they’re better than them- just that, in the words of John Mill, “mankind are not infallible”. Moreover- how limiting would it be to the progress of human thought if you could never disagree? Disagreement is the very essence of finding truth and having a healthy debate (Also “how dare you disagree with my favourite philosopher you arrogant prick” is not an argument or a refutation, just sayin’ 😉 ).

Non-fiction creates a discussion and encourages the spread of ideas. So much of it is crying out to be shared, discussed and argued with. A lot of these thinkers did not want people blindly listening to them or obeying them like lemmings running off a cliff…

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Of course, there are different ways of looking at and writing about non-fiction. I’ve personally found the more philosophical a book, the more room for thought there is in my post about it. And that is so exciting to me! It keeps me on my toes and makes for more diverse types of reviews.

For me, and for many of you, book blogging is a part of our journey as readers. We evolve with the things we read with the things we read and if we can’t or don’t feel comfortable arguing back or discussing ideas then we may as well pack the whole thing in.

Quite simply, when I talk about ideas I learn about them. As fun as it is to be a passive reader, it is very rewarding to actually have to think while I read from time to time. And knowing that I have to write about it afterwards really helps me stay focused. I learn so much when I decide to read and review something non-fiction. I won’t be stopping any time soon.

So what do *you* think? Should we discuss and review non-fiction just as much as fiction? Let me know in the comments!

Reading Between the Lines Is Not A Thing

*Warning: I’m talking about one of my biggest pet peeves- this may get ranty*

Hi all! So I’m gonna start by laying all my cards on the table. In my last post I admitted to committing the cardinal reading sin of just assuming a character was gay. While this is a somewhat popular theory around the book, I didn’t bother to back up my point, cos I know that while I was reading this was something that I just felt rather than based on any textual logic. Admittedly we all do this from time to time- and as long as we accept that these are fanfic-y assumptions we have made and not actual facts, we can all go along with our lives quite swimmingly.

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The problem, for me, arises when people present what is actually a very flimsy opinion as fact. I cannot tell you how many times someone has said “well I just think so-and-so was secretly in love with so-and-so” and when I ask for evidence of this they just say “read between the lines!”

No, just no. That is not how analysis works. I’m gonna come right out and say this: there is no such thing as reading between the lines. I mean if you step back and think about it, what is actually in the blank space between the lines, except maybe a few scrawled notes we may have made? (yes I’m guilty of writing in books- it’s not sacrilege if you’ve ever been an English Lit student!) As self-referential as we may like to be, it is hardly good academic practice to say: “well I think so-and-so was in love with so-and-so- because that’s what I wrote in my notes!” Good analysis actually requires going back to the source material and showing that this is the case.

Remember what your primary school teacher said about how, when you construct an argument, “you can say anything as long as you can back it up”. Well- we need to go back to that- with an emphasis on that last part! Because at some point, when you make a claim, someone will say “prove it”.

More than that, we need to remember that sometimes the evidence is weighted in the other direction and an interpretation can be wrong. Because sometimes, someone can show evidence to the contrary that fits the story better. And also, to be absolutely clear, the absence of evidence is not evidence! (No matter how hard someone tries to convince me that, say, Mr Rochester is a zombie, I’m guessing that I will remain unconvinced). It’s obviously fine to have parallel convictions about what a book means, but sometimes opinions contradict each other and- this may come as a shock to some people- only one person is right.

And that’s a good thing- that’s the whole purpose of debate! We are actually trying to reach some sort of conclusion! When someone says: “I don’t agree with that interpretation, where’s the evidence for that?” it’s ridiculous to just throw up your hands and say “read between the lines!” Because that is not an argument. And if you say that, don’t expect me to take you seriously.

Okay- phew- glad to get that off my chest! What do you think? Are you open to more vague interpretations or are you more finicky about these things like me? And do you have any reading pet peeves that make your blood boil?

“I don’t care, I didn’t write it”

Alrighty I know I said I was gonna post up my Q&A next, but I haven’t had the time to compile it yet. Feel free to leave more questions- I’m leaving it open for a little longer 🙂 In the meantime, I thought I’d share some thoughts I had a while ago about people not liking the same books as you, cos I was inspired by a comment from The Reading Rebel on my Emma post.

So what’s with the title I hear you ask? Well that’s basically my mantra when it comes to people’s opinions if they disagree with me about books I loved/hated. Honestly, I don’t see why it should affect me. I’m confident enough in my own opinions to defend them. Even if that book is trash- I can still determine what I liked about it. Very often, I give a higher rating to a book if it made me cry. Does that mean it was a great work of fiction? Nope. (I mean, this is coming from the girl who cried over the Sainsbury’s Christmas ad last year- it’s not *that* hard to make me cry). So if I like a trashy book, then so be it. Heck- I could like the next Fifty Shades of Grey– and it wouldn’t matter to me if I was the only person on the planet that did (although that’s somewhat unlikely, but you get the idea).

It’s not an affront to me personally if you hate something I loved. And why should it be? We’re all entitled to our opinions and someone disliking something I like isn’t going to take away my enjoyment. (Unless of course you’re standing directly behind me shouting those opinions- cos that would just be annoying).

Now obviously, this would be an entirely different story if I did write it. Because most of the time, the only feedback most authors want is “OMG I want to marry your book and have its babies!” Which I can totally understand (while obviously not condoning authors that throw a hissy fit when someone doesn’t like their work- I can see why a lot of authors completely ignore all book reviews of their work). What I don’t understand is people that take it as a personal affront when someone criticises or even insults a book or author they admire. It’s a ridiculous stance to take because these things are *not an extension of you*. It really doesn’t matter if everyone likes it or if you’re the only one that does.

Just stand by your opinion. Because for all you know, one day they could be the next Van Gogh. I mean, people didn’t like John Donne for centuries- does that mean he suddenly went from bad to good? For crying out loud, even Shakespeare’s popularity has gone through phases! So stick to your guns- it doesn’t matter who agrees with you and who doesn’t.

And in the words of Jerry Seinfeld if someone says they don’t like a book you like, just say:

Now- after all that- this is the best time to make your voice heard. Agree or, heaven forbid, disagree? Let me know in the comments below!