Thoughts on Book Reviewing

BooksI’m coming up on the year anniversary since I started doing the book reviews for my local NPR station. Soon my twentieth appearance will be on WKAR’s Current State. (You can check out links to them here). I really love doing them, and I look at each of them as not just as an opportunity to share my opinion on a book, but to also educate the listener of how to read a book or what to look for. I have even been known to throw in facts about literature and its vast history.

What can I say? I love the artform. Books are my passion.

I’ve written quite a few posts on this site about book reviews today. The good, the bad, what not to do, the questionable things, the author experience. I thought I would share the links to four of those writing posts below and give some updates as well since when I wrote them. Enjoy!

The Thin Muddy Line of Online Book Reviews. All the problems I discuss in this article still happen all the time. And I still get requests to “exchange” reviews. It makes me so uncomfortable and I am surprised how many writers are okay with it. As an NPR reviewer, I could never, ever consider such an enterprise since it would put all of my reviews into question. But I wouldn’t have considered it even before I started this great gig! Whatever the case, whenever I get an e-mail or a tweet asking me to do this I get a sick feeling in my stomach and a little angry.

The Troll Under the Bridge: How to Write a Good Bad Book Review. Trolls don’t go away. But you know, I think a lot of people don’t realize that is what they are doing, or the impact it has on other people. It reminds me of the time when I was a kid and with a friend we called a 1-800 number on a milk carton asking what color their cows are that give chocolate milk (we were 8). It’s like that mentality.

Charging the Melancholy Dragon. A lot of my heart as a writer is out there in this post. I really discuss in some spots on the difficulties of writing and dealing with reviews (good and bad).

goodreads-buttonLoving Goodreads (And Some Reviewing Suggestions).  This is my most recent post on the subject. I still love the site, but I don’t know how it could be improved without some reviewers hired to review the reviewing (say that five times fast), or to “star” certain reviewers as being more “legitimate” and their reviews given more girth in the grading.  That last point is definitely something to consider.


5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Book Reviewing

  1. Scott, I don’t know if you have experienced this, but I have noticed my book reviews get fewer page views than many of my other blog post topics. This may have something to do with my audience. I think my more popular posts have some connection with parenting, so I may need to focus more on books of particular interest to parents (who are ideal readers for my novel, since it’s about au pars and host families, working moms, etc.). Since we bloggers have the freedom to vary our format more than book reviewers in traditional publications, I also want to think about creative ways of writing book reviews. It’s great that you have the NPR gig! Our NPR station doesn’t have its own platform for book reviews.

  2. I am a recently published author and, as such, have been subject to trial by Book Review on a few occasions. What has struck me most is the way some people have really studies the text and can give quotes and examples to demonstrate their opinion, and others seem to skirt over the whole thing and then put out a few generalities as if they were a considered opinion. I read English at \university, so I know what studying a text means. I’ve had some thorough reviews, and some sloppy ones, but as an author you must live with both. Once published you cease to own the text.

    • Well, you still own the text. That won’t change (thank the copyright laws). But you don’t own the readers experience with the text. It is there that is the great unknown to writers. We truly never will know if a reader has the experience we hope they will have with a work. That won’t be known until the book is in print.

      Thanks for writing and good luck with the books!

  3. Scott, Oddly enough, it took me several years to figure out the Goodreads “game” that makes review trolling there so much fun for so many. It’s the acquisition of ratings — the numbers chase of rising in the ranking based upon how many review ratings you post. While I understand that when the site was devised, someone probably decided it made sense to offer incentives to repeat reviews, and the ratings numbers chase would keep site members engaged. It took me a few times having my books added to “When Hell Freezes Over” lists in retribution for making comments that questioned some behavior or other, before I started keeping a clamp on my comments. There are still a lot of troll-bait stations scattered around there, but I finally have the sense to be able to avoid them, based upon the smell, and the noise.

    • I think one of the problems though with Good Reads (which I say in my post about them) is that it seems in the end all books end up at around 3.75 or so. Why? Because not everyone grades the same. Which is one of the reasons I tried in the post to break down some options for how to think of your review. For example, if you think Hamlet is always a 5-star, good luck giving anything else 5-stars.

      I think the idea of “starring” certain reviewers and giving their rating more power in the grading could clean up the generalization mess it is in. Or maybe having two ratings (like you see on Rotten Tomatoes) where you have “reviewers” ratings and then “readers” ratings? That would be a great idea.

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