To often we will pick up a paper or watch something on TV where it tells us about a book review that was done. I wonder if we should trust them with their opinions. Wouldn't it be better to read it for ourselves and make our own opinion? Isn't that what we do when we read a book and write about it on our blogs?

Look at it this way. To often we are reading a book because were hoping that someone else might pick it up and read it too. In many ways we are the critics like the ones in the papers and on TV. 

What do you think?

Tags: book, critic, opinions, reading

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I look at all the comments and then base my opinion. If it's something I wrote, I look for what I can correct in my writings. Sometimes a critic just doesn't like the book/TV show/movie - just not his or her taste. If there's only one review, I don't consider it helpful. If there are lots of reviews, but all dislike or all like the work I'll read several to see if there's one thing that makes the work stand out. Even then, I still make my own decision on whether I want to read or watch the work, and then I'll write my review.

critisms are needed to grow. So I would not get too personal with it, just learn from it

I try to read a book or watch a movie without reading the reviews first, and then afterward it is kind of fun to see if what others think is similar to my opinions, and feels more like group discussion this way.  Honestly, in the age of the Internet I do not have cable TV of subscribe to newspapers, and I am much more interested in what my fellow bloggers think about a particular book or movie.

One of the problems with trusting critics, especially amateur critics, is that they have a lot of reasons why they may be giving the rating or review that they're giving.  It may be a paid site, in which case it's in their best interest to give consistently high ratings to the authors who pay them since the authors aren't going to pay them to review a second book if they panned the first.  Another is if the reviewer has a strong political or religious viewpoint which goes against what's in the book or believes their audience may hold those views, they may simply be unable to set that aside.  And the last reason is when the reviewer doesn't read the book at all or only reads part of it and draws an erroneous conclusion.  Someone on goodreads put my first novel on the same shelf as Mein Kampf and "How Not to Raise a Homosexual Child," which means she clearly had NO idea what my book was about.  I'm still scratching my head over that one.

So it's important, I believe, to take the opinions of critics and reviewers with a grain of salt.  You're far better off reading the preview of the book (which you can do on Amazon for most books) and judging for yourself.

Jordan, I couldn't agree with you more. I have had all of the above happen. I have had amateur reviewers (a phrase that is almost an oxymoron; would you trust an amateur surgeon?) who let their religious beliefs bias their published reviews and at least one whose review revealed she, as you say, hadn't read the book, or had skimmed it, and drew erroneous conclusions. I nearly fell over, when I learned one major bookstore chain had listed my Halos & Horns fantasy saga under "Christian literature" on its Website.   

As a reader, I would stick to legitimate reviewers from professional periodicals, and even then, find one with similar or dissimilar tastes. For example, the late Cleveland Amory was a prominent critic for TV Guide for many years and his tastes ran counter to mine (at that time). I always read his weekly reviews and watched anything he panned and was skeptical of those shows he praised. 

Book previews are helpful, but they can only take you so far. Sometimes you have to read the entire book (or view the entire film) before you can assess it properly. For example, watching the first hour of The Sixth Sense versus seeing the movie in its entirety would lead one to two completely different appraisals of the film. 

Honest criticism is *always* right. We should listen to everything a critic says (again, assuming it's honest and not written to order) because although a critic is just one person, there will always be many others who will feel the same way.

However, that doesn't mean we should necessarily *act* on criticism. As a reader we may decide the critic is too different from us to be relevant to our opinion. And as an author we may decide they are too far off our target audience to influence our work. 

What I find most useful about criticism as an author is that it helps to crystallise my *own* opinion of my writing, and particularly to answer the only question that really matters: 'what is the story actually about?'. I had a long conversation with a publisher over the first draft of my book (many years ago!) in which she pointed out a number of things she really liked about it and some things she didn't. Unfortunately, I realised that the things she really liked were actually a distraction from the focus of the book so I was forced to remove them, while enhancing some of the things she didn't! That sabotaged any chance of getting published by her but I still think it was the right thing to do (more fool me!)

I think "finding useful criticism" is more appropriately a role for beta readers (and editors) than reviewers. By the time the reviewer is holding the book, it is usually too late to restructure your plot or rewrite the novel. 

For myself, I have found that I usually like what the critics don't, and dislike what the critics adore.  With writing, I think one has to look at the consistency of criticism.  If the majority are saying, for example, that a work is convoluted, then the author really ought to take a moment to seriously consider that criticism.  If one critic, however, voices that opinion against a majority that does not, then one is looking more at personal taste issue.  Too often, an artist will be haunted by the singular voice of criticism than embrace a sea of compliments. I don't know why that is, but know it is all too easy to fall into that trap.

If the criticism is well supported, and you understand the critic's perspective, then having a critic's viewpoint can be useful in determining whether we would like whatever item is being reviewed.

 

I remember the days when Siskel & Ebert reviewed movies, and comparing my opinion of movies with their opinions.  In general, I tended to agree with Ebert more than Siskel, but with time I learned that Siskel was more about the art of film making, and Ebert was more about entertainment.  It was always funny to hear Ebert say a movie was artfully filmed, but not entertaining, which is why he gave the movie thumbs down while Siskel was extolling the virtues of the film.

 

I am frustrated by the reviews on Amazon because they are often not about the item (it was delivered late; the box was damaged; etc.), or the comments are illustriously non-illuminating (the movie sucked; it was bad; boring; etc.).  Yet, there are reviewers who take the time to do a brief plot overview, which is often different from that provided by others, and then describe what worked in the book or film, and what did not work.  If they can sum up their experience and provide a touch of support for their rating, at the conclusion of the review, then I am happy.

 

So, I look for reviewers who describe their experience and whether they would recommend the item or would buy it again.  The reviewer says, as an example:

 

This book began slowly, but the author was developing his or her characters for critical events later in the story.  Though it took me a couple of chapters to get into the story, by the third chapter I was hooked, and a shocker in the tenth chapter made the character development worthwhile.  By the time I turned the last page in this novel, I was stunned at what I had read and relished my reading experience.  I absolutely recommend this book to people who enjoy character-driven stories inspired by true-life situations.  Once this book draws you into its story, which for me happened around page 30, the story will gnaw at your brain until you reach the end.  Easily a five star novel that I would love to see as a movie.

 

I could only wish all reviews provided this sort of detail and summary of the book.  Much more enjoyable to read than "It were a gud buk and I likd it allot.  I got it from my dad who tode me I shuld red mor to lern gooder.  The fighting parts was even more gud, but not when the rat died.  I didnt like that part and I tode my dad when he aksed me."

 

We live in a time when there's so much on offer that it's impossible to take it all in.  We wade through this tidal wave of entertainment by looking to see what others have said about the book or the movie in an effort to decide whether this is something that's worth our time.  I often disregard reviews, but if I happen to see that the majority of people have strongly criticized something, I will take heed, especially if they seem to mention the same issues and problems. 

 

As far as reviews for my own books, I try not to take them too personally, and learn from them.  There are people who'll just write a one-liner about whether or not they've enjoyed the book, but there are others who get very detailed and draw my attention to things I might have missed or haven't considered.  Those are the reviews that I read very carefully and think about for a while before deciding if that's something that should be addressed.

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