Brace yourselves or click away, it’s lit rant time!
Quite frankly, I think the fact that this debate exists smacks of the worst of what my generation has to offer, and as proudly as I’ll defend all things youthful and modern much of the time, this assumption that making positive feedback unconditional can do anything but render it meaningless makes me want to never, ever stop apologizing.
(Take that, infinitive!)
I’ll admit I’ve only been on the reader’s side of this specific issue so far. My first novel has not yet hit even advance reviewer’s desks, and I know that when it does, part of me will be praying that the ones who hate it will somehow forget to mention it to the general public. I know that when the first bad reviews do rear their heads, there will be tears and tantrums (private ones, safely muffled by my bathroom door).
But I also know, more than I want the bad reviews to go unnoticed, I want the good reviews to be real. I want people to say they loved my book because they did, not because they want to get some blog hits out of the hours they spent slogging through it and believe love is the only acceptable form a review can take. I want the good reviews to be something that future readers can trust, not the anemic, lukewarm, painfully polite praise I’ve heard for books I’ve then found to be every imaginable level of awful.
I don’t ever want to want to have to wonder if that’s what I am.
So why is my average book review rating on this blog a B+ then? I couldn’t believe that figure when I added it up.
I consider myself a fairly picky reader. As both a writer and an English major, I tend to read for flaws and patterns more than most. I analyze. I like to be able to explain why something does or doesn’t work for me. Knowing how the tricks are done sometimes makes it hard for me to enjoy a book that’s just by-the-numbers competent and okay. I want something special that makes me want to think and talk about it for weeks. Every new book I open, I’m hoping for the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games. I want to be blown away, and I rarely am.
Me, giving away a B+ on average? That couldn’t be right. I spent some time digging through my reviews and what I must have been thinking at the time, and the answer surprised me.
Am I dishonest? Are my ratings inflated by a subconscious fellow-author-coddling instinct? No, at least, not in the way you might think. It’s true that I often read books that are a little outside my usual field of interest because I’ve had some contact with the author or was intrigued by his/her social media platform. When this is the case, I do feel the weight of often being one of the earliest reviewers, one whose words may actually make an appearance when future potential readers consider the book, and I’m extra careful not to let myself take whatever problems I have with the genre in general out on this innocent book and author in particular.
It’s not their fault I decided to take the plunge, knowing that I’m not much of a title romance/tech thriller/what-have-you buff. I remind myself that a target audience exists that I am not necessarily part of, and I do my best to assess as fairly and objectively as I can how well the book does what it sets out to do.
But these occasions when the grade I consider fair may exceed my personal satisfaction with a book aren’t the real reason for my high average.
I’ve realized my average is high because I’m a picky reader.
I read slowly, absorbing every detail of story and prose I can. I write, blog, and work a day job, so my reading time is very carefully scheduled and rationed, enough to keep me sharp, up-to-date in the world of fiction, and well-stocked with potential influence and inspiration, but not enough to become an excuse not to do whatever I’m urgently supposed to be doing.
I do not spend my reading time lightly. I do often find myself finishing an okay book and giving it an okay grade because I invested a lot of time hoping it would turn out better than okay and then decided I’d come too far to cut my losses. I’d rather read one okay book than twenty okay first chapters. But when it becomes clear to me that the book I’m reading is worse than okay, nine times out of ten I put it down and go back to looking for something great.
And I don’t review books I haven’t finished.
So how does a book pry a negative review out of me? Three ways.
1: By being so hilariously bad that I get enough unintentional enjoyment out of it to make me want to read it all.
2: By convincing me I like it for most of the ride and then having an unforgivable ending.
3: By being so wildly popular or well known among people I have a lot in common with that I feel compelled to know what the fuss is all about, from beginning to end, even after I can tell I don’t like it. This is the most frequent way.
So there you have it. Yes, I believe in negative reviews. But it’s not my job to read everything there is to read so I can police its quality. I'm not a full time reviewer. I review because I read, not the other way around. I don’t have the time or desire to read vast amounts of what I don’t like. If I happen to finish a book I feel deserves a negative review for one of the above reasons, you’ll most certainly get to read about it here.
The rest of the time, I’m much happier sharing what I discover of the good and the great that fiction has to offer.
Agree? Disagree? Comments are always welcome! Or keep up with my fictional musings by joining me on Facebook, on Twitter, or by signing up for email updates in the panel on the right!