Sunday, November 22, 2009

sunday salon: the importance of negative reviews

The Importance of Negative Reviews:
Earlier this week I posted a review of Behind the Bell by Dustin Diamond. I considered not reviewing the book because it was so bad, but after a few people asked me how I liked it, I decided to review it. Many bloggers don't post negative reviews, and I respect that. I was blown away by the positive comments I got on my incredibly negative review. Most commenters thanked me for my honesty, and it got me thinking about negative reviews in the larger context. I think they're important, and I don't come across very many of them.

Reading is about personal taste, and simply knowing what books I like doesn't tell the whole story. I write reviews because looking at a star rating only tells part of the story. I give a lot of four-star reviews. I'm pretty good at finding books I enjoy to read, and I think most book bloggers agree. There are authors I always enjoy, books in a series I like, and recommendations from those whose taste is similar to mine. Perhaps also we don't finish the books we dislike.

Most books that get a four-star rating from me get it for different reasons. Rating a book is complicated, and I take a lot of things into consideration. The two biggest criteria for me are the quality of the book and how much I enjoyed reading it. I recently read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. I gave it three stars, even though I didn't like it. It was beautifully written, and I really enjoyed the first one hundred pages. I think it's a book worth reading, even though I didn't like it. I read some books that are not especially well-written but incredibly entertaining (the early Sookie Stackhouse books come to mind), and I think of them as four-star books largely because of how much I enjoy reading them. I like ratings, but explaining why a book gets its rating is more important to me.

I know my taste is not universal. I never want to write a negative review for the sake of writing a negative review, nor do I want to write a positive review for the sake of writing a positive review. Reading is an incredibly personal and often emotional experience. I admire writers, and I don't want to engage in ego boosting or personal attacks; I want to write about my personal reactions to books. I will continue to write negative reviews. I will continue to write honest reviews, both positive and negative. Calling a book the worst book I've ever read, as I did this week, requires justification. There is often a fine line between being honest and being mean, and I think I achieved it.

What do you think about negative reviews?

Reading update:
I finished Evil at Heart, the latest Chelsea Cain novel about Gretchen Lowell, and my review will be posted tomorrow. I also finished Driving Sideways by Jess Riley, which will be reviewed Tuesday.

Want to win a Kindle?
It's no secret I want a Kindle, and there is little to no chance I'll get one for Christmas. Thankfully, Bibliofreakblog is still hosting her fantastic giveaway. If you enter via this link (or the one on the top of the right sidebar, then I get one entry too.)

Coolest thing about being a book blogger this week:
Robin Maxwell emailed me after my Waiting on Wednesday post about her latest novel, O, Juliet, which comes out in February, and offered me an advanced copy of the book when it's finished. It's always a joy to hear from authors, but to receive an early copy of a book I can't wait to read was completely unexpected and incredibly exciting!


  1. I think there is absolutely a place for negative reviews in the blogging world. After all, not everyone is going to like everything they read, and I think it lends authenticity to one's blog. Now there is a right way and a wrong way to writing a negative review, i.e. no personal attacks on the author, but remain honest and focused on the book. I mean, I hate when negative reviews are couched in compliments. Seriously, just say what you really think!!

  2. I appreciate "honest" reviews, negative, neutral or positive. I DO post negative reviews--it's my opinion, and does not mean others might not enjoy the book.

  3. I've only been blogging for two months and for me, before that reading everyone's blogs was the only way I could know books weren't as good as all of the positive press led me to believe. I let people know if I can't finish a book or why I didn't like something and why I picked it up in the first place if for no other reason than when I do like something that will make it that much more meaningful. At any rate it's only ever just one person's opinion!

  4. I write negative reviews. I was going to say all the time, but that isn't true. Most of the books I read I do enjoy. I hope so, given the fact that I pay for the vast majority of my books. But since I do review everything I read, whether sent for review or not, I do come across books I haven't liked and I try to be honest about my reactions. I try not to be nasty but not all books will appeal to all readers. That's just a reality of the world. And in order to be fair in presenting my opinions on books, I think I have to show both the positive and negative reactions I have in my reading life. Hopefully that helps my blog readers better determine whether their tastes are enough in line with mine to assume they'll have a similar reaction or to know that we sometimes diverge wildly and they should give the book a shot despite my review.

  5. I jumped down and read the review and think you were fair. If the book was that mean-hearted, it's something people should know before they pick it up. I read a celeb memoir much the same and also gave it a negative review.

    I give honest reviews, with both good and bad. Every book has something to critique since writers aren't and can't be perfect. Readers have their own opinions. If I read a small press book I really can't stand, I won't say anything about it. However, if it comes from a big publisher, sure I will.

    I especially thinks it's fair with celebs who get huge advances and sell books only because of their names. If it stinks, we should say so. Loudly.

  6. I've posted a couple negative reviews on my blog as well. One was for a book that contained a great deal of foul language and sex that was mentioned no where in the description and it really turned me off to the book as a whole. I thought it was something potential readers should know about.

    I think most of my reviews tend to be middle of the road (3 or 4 out of 5). It takes a special book to get a 5 from me and if it is less than a 3 I tend to not finish it.

  7. I liked this post. I don't like giving books negative reviews, but I sometimes feel like I must. However, when I do, I usually put in something about why I didn't like it and why that doesn't mean that someone else won't. I always (if I can) try to put positive things with them, too.

    Interesting post. And nice blog, too. I have a good friend who is going to school for library sciences and is going to be a librarian.

  8. I definitely post negative reviews of books. I think it's more honest and fair that way. I no longer give number ratings to books, though, because I don't want people to just see the rating and then decide for or against the book. I still rate on Amazon, where it requires you to, but not on my blog. I think it's more fair to list the aspects of a story I liked or did not like, so that people can see if the same things would or would not appeal to them.

    Great post!


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!