Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Book Reviews are Useless (and how to make them less so)

This isn’t exactly a post on writing, but I thought it needed to be said, and I just finished my six-part series, so now’s the time for it.

I assume that all of you have a favourite book, or at least a book that you really, really like. I’m also guessing that you have some books you really dislike, ones you think aren’t worth reading and you can’t imagine how anyone could like it. For instance, I absolutely love The Hunger Games and I hated Shiver, and I really don’t get how anyone could dislike The Hunger Games or like Shiver. But lo and behold, if you go on Goodreads, they’ll be a lot of people who disagree with me.

On the whole, people do agree with me on those two books. The Goodreads rating for The Hunger Games is 4.54 (quite high for Goodreads) while Shiver is rated 3.96 (fairly average). When you average it out, The Hunger Games is ‘better.’ However, if you look at individual reviews, Shiver is going to have some five stars (I just check, and some of my friends gave it four or five), and The Hunger Games will have some one-stars (a couple of my friends gave it three). Some individuals will drastically disagree with me.

If that’s the case, why should you bother reading my reviews? Why read reviews at all? I can tell you a book if awful, but then you could go and read it and love it. I’ve read books that people have told me they loved, but I couldn’t stand them. Is there any reason to pay attention to goodreads/amazon ratings?

The thing that a good book review does is give you a sense of why the reviewer (dis)liked the book. My review of Shiver makes clear that I am not a werewolf fan, so that could well be why I didn’t like it. When I read reviews on Amazon for I Am Number Four, I saw that most of them talked about how terrible the characterization was. When I got the book, I had to agree, the characters were boring (though I have had some people say they loved them). If you’re more interested in a fast-paced action story than in riveting characters, then I Am Number Four would be great. If you like characters better, then you probably won’t enjoy it.

Basically, a good book review should do three things:
1-      Make clear that this is only one opinion (Don’t say ‘The only people who would like this book are ones who think Twilight is great literature’)
2-      Show how the reviewer’s personality affected the review (For instance, ‘I don’t normally like Paranormal/Romance, but I loved Paranormalcy’)
3-      Showcase both the books strengths and weaknesses (even the best book has some bad things, and even the worst has some strengths)

I’m not sure if my book reviews always fulfill those criteria, but I try to include them all. It may feel egoistic, but it’s essential to let your readers know what kind of reader you are, so that they know if their tastes are similar or not. You also need to temper that with a fair bit of humility, admitting that yours is only one opinion and even your favourite books have bad parts and even the ones you hate have good points. Basically, think about how your book reviews can be of the most help to your blog readers.

As for you, my loyal followers, is there anything I could be doing with my book reviews to help you out? Do you have any tips, either for me, or for other book bloggers out there? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment! 

1 comment:

  1. Before I take a person's review to heart, I see if they have reviews of books I liked/disliked to see how similar our tastes are. The more similar, the more likely I'll go an pick up a book he/she loved and would probably steer clear of ones he/she one-starred.

    I also think reviews are much more important than just ratings. Like you mentioned the ratings on Goodreads. I never go by those. I always read a few reviews under each star rating. You'll notice many of the high ratings are young teens who just say "I LOVED IT!!!!" And the "real" reviews are full of what you said they need (and I completely agree with those three things), so I usually pay more attention to how many of those reviews there are and where those lie. For example, if the majority of the readers are rating a book 4/5 stars, but the detailed reviews are mainly with the 1/2 star reviews, then I'm less likely to pick up the book.

    And, like I said, I completely agree with the criteria you listed. There's not a single book in the world that everyone will like, and all reviews are just personal opinions, though you'd hope people reading reviews would already know that. haha!