Ok, well. I’ve been giving this some thought, so it’s fun to share what I’ve come up with for now. I’ll begin with the last two questions.
What is a review?
What I’d like to share with you first is my understanding of what a review is. Two different types of writing have affirmed themselves over time: literary – character driven, and commercial – plot driven. While those who favor the first tend to see the second as not artsy enough, those who tend to favor the second may see the first as too artsy. And then there’s the happy medium, people like myself, who enjoy each not for what it should be but for what it is and find their bookish bliss somewhere in the middle.
I’ve began with this because I think reviews, just like books, would consist of two different types, the literary criticism approach, seen in ‘pro’ publications of all sorts, and the reader’s opinion approach, seen on many book blogs for instance. Just as literary and commercial are all books, ‘pro’ criticism and book blog opinion are both, in my opinion, reviews. And publishers tend to think just like that too, since they send out lots of ‘copies for review’ to book bloggers, won’t you say?
I’ve seen some authors state that book blog posts that are addressed to book consumers aren’t really reviews, that emoticons and fun stuff somehow make it not a review. I find this deeply, utterly disappointing. I could be just as b!tchy and say, hey, if your book isn’t as good as The Picture of Dorian Grey, it means it’s not a book. I’m betting you wouldn’t like that or find it fair, would you?
A review, just like a book, isn’t what it is because you like it or not, it just is what it is, period. It’s really ironic to me that some, as writers, focus on the shell, the appearance and not the content of something. It tells me a lot about you as a writer, you know? Because if you dismiss a review based on who wrote it, what it looks like from a plane and whether or not it sings your praises, then, well simply put, you’ll most likely suck as an entertainer for me. It means you’re judgmental, have narrow horizons and quite franctly, you’ll come off as shallow to me. That means I’m seriously not interested in what you have to say, as a person and as a writer. So you just lost the race before the start, good news for all the others trying to sell me their work – I won’t be spending my money on yours so there’s more to go around for theirs.
If comments on a book touch on main aspects such as plot/story, characters, writing, world building, themes, styles and so on, they treat these things seriously after giving them real thought, the comments are made in the sense not of bashing or raving but sustaining points of view with arguments, that’s a review. Deal with it. You might find another dictionary definition of the term, but language is a living, developing thing and if the term is used to describe something then it gets that meaning with common use.
Welcome to the dynamic world of the future, right now’s ideas become tomorrow’s facts.
What is the role of a review? How important is it?
The role of each type of review differs, I think. Where the lit crit may be addressed firstly to the authors themselves, other authors and such craft-focused readers, and then to readers who have that sort of more technical approach perhaps to reading, writing, books in general, the reader’s review in my opinion firstly addresses other readers who approach the reading experience as consumers of books, meaning the general public.
I can go just literary critique on a book on my blog, but in my mind I’m wearing stilettos in the swimming pool – sure, they do look sexy, but they’re not much help for swimming, are they? In turn, I can do just a reader’s opinion with no literary criteria at all on a work, but the result might resemble wearing swimming trunks at an art gallery – I’m wearing something, true, but it doesn’t really fit the occasion. The point here is, art galleries and swimming pools are both awesome, stilettos and swimming trunks are both cool and we might love them both or favor just one, but it’s better for all of us to fit the occasion and not compare the two because there’s no picking one over the other, each goes with a different situation and we’re most likely to enjoy and do both. Each will appeal to those that find that kind of thing interesting. You know what I mean?
In my opinion, a book review has the role of bringing to attention a title – not the author as a person, not the writer of the review as a person, the focus ought to be the book. Each blog, each reviewer has their own way of approaching their reviews. Some use ratings, some don’t; some just relate their emotional response and entertainment factor while other also comment on more technical aspects of the book, some use a blend in different doses of both. Each reader will best respond to that kind of blend that best appeals to them, and once they’ve found it, they’ll come back for more.
As a book blogger, I think reviews are that wonderful bridge over troubled water that point out titles to their readers all over their networks, and regardless of the rating or general tone of the review, I think it has served its porpoise if through it someone either found out about a title/author they hadn’t heard of, if through seeing that title one more time they finally decided to give it a try and test it out for themselves, if through hearing about it they became curious.
Reviews put those titles out there on people’s reading radars. You might say, hey, that’s not a big deal, once the book is out it’s automatically on everyone’s reading radar, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. The irony of a lot of books being published yearly if not monthly is the public may have less and less chance of actually finding out about any given title, or becoming overwhelmed instead of curious and just turning away from it. By seeing the title featured on a blog they like to follow and they resonate with, it’s a less overwhelming, more reader-friendly and personal way of having a book brought to their attention. Of course, they may decide to turn away from it anyways, but it will be more of a decision then a lack of knowledge. Even by turning away from it themselves, that book is on their radar, meaning they’re likely to talk about it with someone, or read the next one by the same author, or decide to pick it up at a later date for whatever reason. That title won’t be just a spec of dust in the great bookish universe anymore, it’ll be a clear destination, it will exist on the map. That’s the next best thing you can get, aside titillating their curiosity enough to read you. Book/author awareness, you know?
What do I look for in a review?
I read a lot, I’ve always done so. I began reading classics, literary books, and I read lots of them. I adored some, loved a lot of them, got bored by others, and have been utterly traumatized by a few. I’ve done literary reviews, genre analysis, character descriptions, and while I was good at it for my Lit classes, they were also technical and well, plain not fun. Books I’ve done that for became test subjects more then pleasurable experiences, you know what I mean? I was fed up with that approach real quick and felt liberated when I didn’t have to do it anymore. I’ve also read many critics, appreciated their points, often disliked their snark, the meanness that they seemed to merrily spout. I don’t really like b!tchy and snark, so sue me.
If I see a title I’m interested in, I’ll look it up on Goodreads, never ever look it up in the book critics places. Reading a ‘pro’ criticism generally has the effect of making the book completely uninteresting to me, regardless if the review ended up being favorable or not. It’s this knee-jerk effect I got stuck with after Lit book analysis, it just instantly kills my fun, utterly and completely.
So when I look for thoughts on a book, I’ll look for Goodreads opinions meaning reader’s opinions, look the title up on blogs I usually read, or ask book blogger buddies for instance. I never look for a hardcore ‘professional’ review because that just doesn’t make me wanna read a book, I’m sorry.
When I write reviews, I write them like I would have wanted to read them. Yes, I think a review should talk about the plot but not by telling it, rather general considerations, little bits or instances that won’t reveal the story too much. I don’t like to know what’s the story before I read the book, it ruins the whole thing for me. Yes, It should tell me about the characters, at least the main one, how is this character, how did they react to it and why (again, no story-killing spoilers!). Yes, it should talk about the writing, like I like to know is it a third or a first person narrative, what POV does it have, what’s the style, can I expect humor and accessibility or more like classic-ish prose, did the dialogue make the reader believe it or not. And yes, to me what I call curb appeal is interesting, because I’m an impulse book buyer, so the cover + blurb + maybe author name will sell that book to me, and it might to others like me as well. So a review should address all that catches the reader’s attention, all that moved or pleased them, everything that did or did not entertain. This is the kind of review that makes me want to read a book.
So, what do you guys think? What do you look for in a review? Tell me all about in the comments or gimme the link to your post if you’re in the hop 🙂 And don’t forget to hop around and see what others thought, this is a meeting of the minds here xD