As a reviewer, I freely distinguish between two types of books:
1. Those I think are poor examples of their type (which I usually enjoy)
2. Those that, for one reason or another, are just not my type of book.
I do not review the second category. If it's just not my thing, then why should I weigh in?
It is sometimes difficult to identify book that just aren't my thing. We are often obsessed with genre labels, but I have enjoyed books in nearly every genre you can name. I've also hated books in almost every genre you can name. And I've identified books that just aren't my type of story in almost every genre you can name.For example, I read a lot of romance. But I've realized I don't usually care for modern romances featuring career-driven women in office settings. Just not my thing. Doesn't make them bad books, just not for me.
I would think that simply not reviewing books that aren't for you would be the natural way to go, but around the internet, I see a surprising number of reviews that, IMO, never should have been written. For example, reviews of romance novels condemning the sexual content. (Really, the two naked people on the cover in a passionate embrace didn't clue you in?) Or reviews of science fiction novels from people who don't understand genre norms, and clearly never read them. Or -- and this one really gets me -- reviews of novels partway through a series in which the reviewer is confused by what is going on, because s/he didn't read the prequels.
(And tonight, I am feeling a bit miffed on a personal level because I received a harsh review of my own science fiction novel because there is practically no romance in it. I never said there was!!!! Why would you read a scifi book and then slam it because it isn't a romance novel?)
Reviewers: What do you do when you find yourself reading a book that just isn't for you? Do you recognize the distinction? Are there times when it is appropriate to leave a review of a book that isn't really your thing?
I like how you put that...loud vs quiet.
I've probably been responsible for some quiet ones myself, if I'm being honest. And it's hard to define, really, because in a sense, every book you dislike could just not be your thing. (No book being universally loved nor hated.) I wonder where you draw the line...
I try to review everything I read so sometimes I come across things that aren't my thing. I just do my best to explain why a book didn't work for me. I've been told by friends that those type of reviews are just as helpful as a "legitimate" review. I might be able to point out something that a reviewer who really enjoyed the book doesn't point out. All reviews are helpful (some more than others) when deciding to read book.
Ever since starting my blog, I've reviewed everything that I've read. I'll point out when a book just isn't for me, especially if I'd still recommend it to other people. For example, I love sci-fi but read a book where the protagonist develops extreme dementia. I didn't like it because I used to spend a lot of time with my grandmother when she was dying of Alzheimer's, and the book seemed a little too close to home. At the same time, I did strongly recommend the book; the fact that it wasn't for me was colored by my own personal experiences, and I mentioned that.
Sometimes if you step outside of your preferred genre you surprise yourself and find something you enjoy.
I think part of the problem with reviews on Amazon/Goodreads is that a lot of people are just giving their own response to the book, even if they aren't big readers and don't know what they're talking about. Anyone can write anything on the internet, so there's no real standard that people have to live up to when writing reviews.
I absolutely agree with both of you. I started reading everything I could when I started teaching creative writing. I wanted to be able to help students who were working on different things than I was. A lot of my older students were writing romance, which obviously isn't usually targeted at me, a middle-aged man. I love it though. I burn through two or three of those novels a year. Still not my favorite, but they're great.
I think that part of the job of the reviewer is to say whether or not he/she likes the book, but the other part is to discuss what the book is doing and who else might actually enjoy it. I've never wanted to read the Harry Potter books for example, just not my thing, but if I were, I think it's perfectly acceptable to say that they are good and interesting books within their genre. I'd also look for what makes them stand out as examples of their genre. What I don't like are the reviewers who tear down simply because the book isn't what they generally read or like. These are often smug and self-satisfied ways of bringing up the readers.
But I think it's probably important not to read reviews of your work. The person who slammed you for not having enough romance is silly. They had preconceptions of what you should be instead of taking your writing for what it is.
I have gotten into the habit of not reading most reviews, but when you go on tour, the rules change. You have to read and participate. As an aside/update: The reviewer in question was actually taken off the tour by the host -- not by me -- because she wasn't supposed to leave reviews less than 3 stars and had the option of not leaving a review if she didn't like the book. I wasn't sure how to feel about that, although that's getting way off topic.
Back on topic: Perhaps it takes a certain degree of maturity that not all reviewers possess to fairly review a book for what it is (or at least what it is trying to be), rather than what you want it to be.
I got a review today that just left me speechless. After re-reading the review twice, I still wasn't sure that the person was actually reviewing my book. It sounded as if she was talking about a completely different story. Putting that aside, she also got hung up on some violent moments. I write historical fiction. As we all know, our history is not without violence and bloodshed. I am simply portraying life as it was. If the book is not your cup of tea, why bother reading it or reviewing it? It seems that some people just enjoy the power of being able to say negative things anonymously.
That's horrible. As long as the writer is clear as to what she's writing, the review shouldn't bash for excessive violence. It's not as though (I assume) you advertised it as being a light-hearted romance. It's historical fiction! People are going to die.
By the way, I just read the amazon description, and it looks interesting. You just got yourself a new reader. The Jacobite Rebellion? Someone thought that was going to be be tame?
I think it really depends on the reviewer. Some reviewers (like me) read a wide variety of genres because they appreciate the different aspects of each genre. I think it is ok to review a book when it isn't your main genre so long as you don't bash the book because it isn't your genre. When I come across a book that just isn't my style, I'll mention it in the review and then explain the reasons why it isn't my style. So yes, I think it is fair to review books outside your genre so long as you write the appropraite review.
Just to clarify, because it keeps coming up, I'm not talking about genre. I mentioned in my top post that people are obsessed with genres, but when I say "not really my thing" I don't mean reading outside of my normal genre. It's more like when I read a scifi book that is military-heavy. I don't normally like that sort of thing, so would it be fair for me to give a harsh review because of the military presence?
Now, it might be fair to discuss things I did enjoy about the book, mention that I'm not usually into military stuff, and recommend it to people who are. (Assuming I got a hold of the book without realizing this element was such a major part of the book.)
I'm with you, Christine. When someone asks me to review a book that is in a genre I know nothing about or that I don't read, I generally explain to them that it's not my genre and I wouldn't be able to provide an accurate review.
But I think it is important to differentiate between a book that is "just not for you" and a book that has poor writing or story-telling. There are a lot of great self and indie-published books out there, but there are also a lot of self and indie-published books that were just tossed out on the market as soon as the writer finished the first draft. And when that is the case, I don't feel bad at all giving a bad review. After all...it's not personal. It's meant to give the writer ideas of things they need to work on. How could they improve if the only reviewers they got were reviewers that refused to give 1 and 2 star reviews?
I know that's a little off topic, but I've just come across a lot of reviewers who won't post reviews below 3 stars, and that just keeps people who are contemplating spending their hard earned money on a book from getting the full picture. So it's important to distinguish "bad" writing from writing that's just unappealing to you personally.
I completely agree with you. Reviews should be honest and constructive. When I write a bad review, I always mention things that I liked as well, so as not to be too harsh or one-sided. However, I find that many people who review books, are in my opinion, not qualified to be reviewers. Sometimes they simply miss the whole point of the story, and at other times they get hung up on something and pan the book because of that. Recently I read some 1 star reviews for one of my favorite books (written by a best-selling author with a cult following). There were dozens of 1 star reviews where all the reviewers harped on the fact that the main character hit his wife and that the author was promoting wife-beating. The story took place in mid 1700's and wife beating was the norm. The readers might not like that, but it was an accurate historical fact which the author incorporated into the story. I thought it was very unfair to trash the entire book based on this one scene.