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The importance of honest book reviews

If you weren’t on Twitter yesterday you may have missed the debate which is currently occurring on my Wolf Hall post. I have been accused of not:

…being honest (or rather fair) about the book at all.

 My critic goes on to say that:

…to go and write a review about a work after getting only a fifth of the way through is not only ridiculous, but degrading to the responsibility of the critic.

Several other people were subjected to more abusive comments on their negative reviews yesterday – all by different people. I’m not sure what was happening yesterday, but there was a lot of bad feeling flying around.

I stand by my decision to write negative reviews for books.  The quotes I pulled from the book may not be representative of the text overall, but do explain exactly why I did not enjoy reading it.

I should perhaps make it clearer that my ratings are no indication of the quality of the book, but are purely based on how much I enjoyed reading it. There are lots of people who love reading Wolf Hall, and they in turn probably don’t enjoy reading the same books as me. There are millions of books out there, so it is great that we all enjoy reading different ones.

The blogging community has emerged so that like minded people can join together and discuss the books we’ve read. I think it is a shame that more people don’t write negative reviews, as I find it much easier to determine whether my taste in books matches someone elses if the complete range of books they’ve read is on display. As long as the review is not abusive or an attack on the author, then it can only help people to discover books they enjoy, therefore encourage more reading. I know that since I have found people whose recommendations I trust, the quality and therefore quantity of books I’ve read had increased massively.

I really hope that the abusive comments that were flying around yesterday do not prevent people from giving honest opinions on the books they’ve read.

How do you feel about negative reviews?

Do you think there is anything important to mention when writing negative reviews?

Were you put off writing negative reviews after reading the abusive comments others received yesterday?

88 replies on “The importance of honest book reviews”

Yeppers! I write negative reviews and I write reviews of books I couldn’t finish. All part of my “honesty” policy. I love reading about people’s DNF books, especially when they explain why the book wasn’t for them. It’s fascinating.

Just because one blogger couldn’t finish a book doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t give the book a try. That’s why I like negative reviews.

Let’s say you didn’t like a book because there was too much swearing in it. I could then say to myself (1) Oh I hate swearing too, so I won’t read it. or (2) What the @#!*. Swearing doesn’t bother me, I won’t let that stop me from reading the book.

I love reading DNF reviews too. It gives a real insight into the thoughts of a reader.

Everyone is wound up by different things and as long as the reasons for not finishing are clearly stated then everyone can make up their own minds.

I have no problem with writing negative reviews, and have done so. I do, however, agree with Matthew Clayton from your Wolf Hall post, in respect of differentiating between personal experience and reviewing the text. This is because I think first and foremost the review should be about the book, not the experiences felt while reading it. Those are secondary. Of importance to the reader of reviews is what the book’s about, what the reviewer believes the author is trying to achieve by writing the book, and whether the reviewer feels the author has achieved that goal.

I’ve not read Wolf Hall yet — got it from the library yesterday — so I don’t know what Mantel planned to achieve with the novel, but when it comes to writing about it, whether I liked the book or not is mostly irrelevent, but whether I think Mantel was successful in achieving what I believe to be her aims and can, with supporting quotes, back that up.

That said, I’m all for a bit of letting off steam after the experience of reading a book that doesn’t gel with my mindset, but I wouldn’t label a dismissal as a review. I can see that you have provided quotes from the book as to why you didn’t like Wolf Hall but, out of context, it’s hard to appreciate their usage. The repetition you found annoying (“He hopes you are well. Hopes I am well. Hopes his lovely sisters Anne and little Grace are well. He himself is well.”) sounds like someone reading a letter and providing a summary to someone listening nearby. If this is so, then the repetition seems justified, annoying or not, and this wouldn’t be Mantel’s issue.

It’s important to consider the consequences of your reviews as, as can be seen from your comments, that people are quick to dismiss/accept books based on your opinions of them. For example, I remember when I read and commented upon your review of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland where Beth F (above) commented “All you had to do is say the word ‘cricket’ and I was done! I’ll definitely stay away from this one.” in response to “I’m not a fan of watching sport, and cricket has to be one of the dullest there is. A book about trying to build a cricket stadium in New York is going to have a very tough job exciting me, and I’m afraid it didn’t.” This was, to me, a strange one as the book wasn’t about building a cricket stadium, although it did involve this, albeit minutely. What the book was about was so much more, above and beyond the superficiality of some of its scenes. (For what it’s worth, I can’t stand cricket either, but it’s not as if the book was an account of a five day event. Loved the book.) If someone really didn’t read a book because they trusted your opinions then it’s their loss (or a saving of their time), but I would hope that it was based on a reflection of the book itself than of the reading experience.

John Updike once wrote of his rules of reviewing which I think are great, and while rules are, as they say, made to be broken, I do always try to keep them in mind when writing my own:

1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

2. Give him enough direct quotation–at least one extended passage–of the book’s prose so the review’s reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.

4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending.

5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author’s ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s his and not yours?

To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author “in his place,” making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.”

Thank you for your detailed and interesting reply – I think that we approach books in very different ways. I read for enjoyment only. I have never studied literature and so have no interest in whether the author achieved what they set out to do, or how it compares to a body of work. I only care about whether I enjoyed the experience of reading the book.

Beautiful language is not enough for me. I realise I am quite fussy, but I need a decent plot and characters I can engage with.

Our blogs are aimed at entirely different audiences – and while I admire the analysis given in your reviews, I am much more interested in the emotional response a book generates.

Humm. Actually I don’t read sports books in general: sports, the building of stadiums, or a wonderful inspirational winning season. So that’s the part I was really responding to. Now if someone RAVES about a sports book, I’ll at least consider it. But really, instead of “cricket” she could have said “baseball” and I would have felt the same….

OK – I’ll remember that if you rave about a baseball book I need to pick up a copy straight away!

I think negative reviews are as important as positive ones, and no, I’ve never been put off writing them. I also got an angry comment in my recent review of The Forgotten Garden, but oh well. The only thing that bothers me is if the negative review has an arrogant, sneering tone that seems to imply that anyone who actually likes the book in question must be stupid. That’s definitely not the case with yours, though, nor with those of any blogger I know. And like Beth was saying, a negative review won’t stop me from picking up a book. Sometimes, the opposite happen.

The only reason why these conversations about negative/positive reviews can make me uncomfortable is because I don’t like the idea that someone who doesn’t write as many negative reviews as positive ones is being dishonest (and I know that’s not what you’re saying, Jackie, I’m just speaking in general). I go for long stretches without reading duds, but that’s because I know myself as a reader pretty well and manage to avoid books that aren’t for me most of the time. And the same is true of many bloggers I know. Maybe it means we need to venture out of our comfort zone more often, but it doesn’t mean we’re cowardly or dishonest.

Yes – sorry – I didn’t mean to imply that people who don’t write negative reviews are dishonest.

Hey, I write negative reviews every time the books ticks me off enough to give it the time of day. I agree with you, there should be more negative reviews than there are in blogosphere. There are days that go by of me reading blogs and not a single negative review in sight. HHMMMM? After being an avid reader for the past 25 years I know it’s suspicious that so many people have not one book they didn’t like enough to review it. But whatever, you have guts so kudos to you. And I have gotten my share of critical comments but that will not stop me. I pay for the book and it is my right not to like it. After all, not everybody can be a writer and a lot of published works should never have been published.

Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time. I’m pleased to hear that you write negative reviews and hope you continue to do so!

Comments shouldn’t contain nasty language or be insulting (i.e., “you’re an idiot for liking/ not liking this book.”)

That said, I think bloggers need to be open to people disagreeing with them about their book reviews. We are critical of the books we read and the words the author writes; so, too, should we expect people to be critical of our own words and reviews.

I’ve had good conversations about books with people who think differently about them than I do. I see brilliance; they see shoddy writing. They see meaning; I see manipulation.

There is nothing wrong with disagreement and having a conversation about that; as long as the language remains respectful and doesn’t get into bad language.

I agree – I have had some really good discussions over a book. There are some books that seem to divide opinion between people that have otherwise matching taste. Healthy debate is really interesting.

I guess the problem is that when you write a negative review some people seem to take this very badly and become offensive. The comments against me may not contain swearing, but they did attack my view point as opposed to discuss the text – something which I am always more than happy to do.

I’m not a blogger or book reviewer but an avid reader of books as well as other people’s blogs and reviews. In fact, just this weekend I realized why I love reading book reviews, and Farm Lane Books Blog was where I first figured it out. Frequently when I have an opinion about a book- good or bad- I’m not sure why I came to that opinion. I love to read a review by someone who had the same impression and then I say, “AHA, that’s what I thought!”

A negative review in today’s NYT of Monica Ali’s IN THE KITCHEN made me realize exactly why I slammed the book closed half way through and said, “enough!” It just wasn’t for me, but I’ve read a lot of positive things about it. I love to note reviewers who have the same opinions as I do and then follow those blogs/reviews to add to my TBR pile (or validate my personal impressions.)

So, in answer to the question about how I feel about negative reviews, I think they’re a very important part of the literary criticism world.

Hi Sue – Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog for the first time!

I think some people often feel that they are the only one to have a certain opinion on a book. They then go away feeling silly for not having ‘got’ the book.

I read a book with an online book group and we all thought it was overly sentimental and not very enjoyable to read. All the reviews on Amazon were glowing and the other members of the book group all thought they were alone in their opinion until we got together. I then wrote a not so postive review on Amazon and was flooded with comments from those who agreed with me. It is really nice to know that you are not alone in your views and I am happy to be the person who stands up and goes against the majority.

Oh and I disagree with Stewart. Experience is just as important while reading a book as a book itself. Writing is an art, or at least the very best of writing is, just like painting, just like music and as an art it damn well be EXPERIENCED by a reader. If we only looked at what the book’s about, what the writer tried to achieve, blah, blah blah it would be very very boring.
Unless some authors don’t even want to be considered artists and mere employees in the world of writing and publishing. Then I guess saying that experiencing their books is secondary wouldn’t be offensive to them. After all, they would not be creators of a piece of art, simply good typers with grammatical skills.

they would not be creators of a piece of art, simply good typers with grammatical skills.

LOL!! I agree – I need to experience the book. If I am just a passive observer then the book isn’t doing its job properly. I need to become involved in the story, caught up in the emotion of the characters. Great point!

I don’t currently write DNF reviews, mostly because I have enough to write with the books I finish. I have a huge pile of books read but not reviewed. I also don’t finish a book less than once a month.

I agree with Nymeth that a lack of negative reviews shouldn’t make people think the reviewer isn’t being honest. I have very very few negative reviews, but that’s because I seem to like the books I pick up.

However I must say I disagree with Stewart. I think that’s where the term lit blogs and book blogs came from. Lit blogs seem to concentrate more on if the book accomplished what the author wanted to do etc.. .where as book blogs focus on if they personally liked the book and what they did or didn’t like about it. Some people prefer lit blogs, I prefer (and write) book blogs. I don’t care what the author set out to do so much as if others liked the book.

I do think it is important to mention when writing a negative review to remind everyone that this is just your personal view, that others may like it. Also include what sort of people you think might like it. (i.e. If you like books about ____ or books that are writtten like ____ than you might like this book.)

You make some very good points. I think the problem sometimes arises because I am a book blog that reviews many books normally found on a lit blog. The line between the two is bluring all the time.

I’ll try to make the fact it is a personal opinion clearer in the future and to include more ‘if you like this…. you’ll like this …’ examples.

I don’t have a problem with DNF or negative reviews. I agree with Callista. As a book blogger, I’m not paid to read. It’s a hobby. If a book doesn’t grab me or I have a problem with aspects of the book, I don’t want to feel obligated to finish it. However, I often do feel obligated to post something about the book if it’s been given to me.

Reading is personal experience, so why can’t a review be personal?

Everyone gets something different from each book they read. I am sometimes amazed by the different things people pick up on when they all read the same book.

All reviews are going to be different, no matter how much the reader enjoyed the book – as you say it is a very personal thing and so that should be refleceted in the review.

I read for enjoyment only. I have never studied literature and so have no interest in whether the author achieved what they set out to do, or how it compares to a body of work.

Other then students reading set texts for study, I would doubt there was anyone who didn’t read for enjoyment. Otherwise what would be the point of reading? For the record, I’ve never studied literature either.

How do you feel about negative reviews?
–Honestly speaking if a book doesn’t hold my interest long enough for me to find a couple positive pieces, I don’t do a full review. I consign it to my ‘Review Bites’ pile and when I have a few of those I put up a post with the book title, author and why the book didn’t hold my interest. I’ve found that when I try to write a negative review I can be very critical, harsh and sarcastic (because I don’t broke with boring well) and I don’t think I should post that. Its unfair to the writer.

I like reading negative reviews or DNF’s because a lot of times I’ll see nitpicks that would irk me and I will know either going into the book or when avoiding the book why at least.

Do you think that there is anything it is important to mention when writing negative reviews?
–I think you should state your case. That’s all I really think is necessary in a negative review, explain how much of the book you read, what really irked you (without spoilers if possible) and just make it clear you’re not personally attacking the author or the book itself, but you didn’t enjoy the book.

Were you put off writing negative reviews after reading the abusive comments others received yesterday?
–I’m a moot point. When I want to rant about a really bad book I turn to my personal journal (since that’s friends locked). I try to keep completely negative reviews off my blog (except in the review bites paragraphs), but lately i’ve been having a lot of ‘i liked this…but not the rest of the book’ reviews.

Like others have said–we’re not getting money, this isn’t our job and its mandatory to finish in a contract. Its a fun thing to do and share. I love the fact that you have the ones who bash people who only write positive ‘OMG SO COOL’ reviews and then you have those who bash people who write negative reviews. Did the blogging community forget that a personal opinion is a GRAY area, not black or white?

Hi Lexie!
Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time!
I think the ‘review bites’ post sounds like a great idea for people who are struggling to write negative reviews without ranting.
I love your comment about the blogging community bashing each other – I think that is just the nature of all society.

The way I see it, if you didn’t enjoy a book you should say so, and not feel pressured to have a diplomatic review. What’s the point of focusing more on the content than the emotions it invokes? If that’s all someone wants, they should just go by the blurbs on the back of the book, and the 2-3 lines that are splattered on the cover by various newspapers and magazines, and not spend their time reading reviews on a book blog.

Returning visitors to your blog probably identify with the books you read, and your opinion on them. For these visitors (well, for me, at least), I’m guessing your experience is more important than you following the principles of book reviewing to the t. If everyone wanted a professional book review, they should look up the New York Times or the Guardian or whatever else is out there…

And, I don’t think, one should feel compelled to finish a book they aren’t enjoying. From the time I’ve been visiting your blog, I find that you’ve finished most books, and your reviews are exactly what I want to read – not detailed plot analyses, but simply, why you liked the book, or why you didn’t. I might have a different opinion on some of them, but that’s what makes book-blogging so much more interesting.

That’s my $0.02 worth anyway.

I’m not a professional reviewer, so following principles of reviewing isn’t something I do. I write the kind of reviews I like to read – brief, simple and easy to gauge how much the book is liked.

Thanks for adding your $0.02!

My $.02 …honesty is always harder to do than extreme politeness, especially in the cultures of England and the US. I think it is easier in other countries where people don’t expect everyone to love all that they do, or it is okay (actually encouraged) to have an opinion that is different, that will make for more fun debates.

I am so glad you were honest, and if you didn’t like it, you didn’t. I think it is good to be gentle, but what do you say then if you REALLY didn’t like it? It is a fine line, I have a hard time walking it myself sometimes and I think it is more of a personal thing than we all realize. Some people are more discreet, and shy and others more excited and hyper….shouldn’t those too types have a different flavour of criticism? I would guess so. This isn’t a social club, I think to limit ourselves to that is setting us back more than a decade.

In other words….keep on keepin’ on. Sorry you have endoured criticism, not fun, don’t stop telling it how it is!!!

It is a very fine line and the problem is that it is often hard to judge the exact meaning when reading a review. Things can be taken the wrong way, or sound worse than they were meant to. Don’t worry – I’m not going to stop!

Hmmm this is a bit of a can of worms for me as I can see many different sides to all the opinions. Firstly if you ever feel attacked then thats not fair and I am sorry people have made you feel that way Jackie as that is never nice.

I do think that people should be allowed to write whatever they feel about a book as that is part of the book blogging dynamic. I do feel (and this isn’t aimed at you) that if people write too many negative things or really harsh critics it can give a negative vibe to a blog. It’s if people are constructive and yet critical which the blogs I return to are that its ok.

In terms of the whole negative review thing I try hard not to. I will let it be known if I didnt love a book but I would never slag one off. I think the closest to that I have ever got is with Netherland and even then I was very careful with what I wrote. I was honest but bared in mind people might miss out on a book they might have loved just because I didnt. My opinions are honest but I have to really think what I write as texts, emails, blogs can sometimes read completely differently to how we thought them. I have written comments before and gone back a day later and thought “that reads much worse than I meant” because I know I can exceptionally blunt in real life but people see my facial expression if that makes sense.

I personally don’t think if I haven’t read a book that I can call it a review. As with Home which was a slight nightmare and disaster for me I only had it as a “book thoughts” as having not finished it, I hadn’t actually read it and some books can change in the second half, final ten pages (like The Little Stranger). I can only say I wasnt enjoying it so I didnt finish and try and explain why it was I didnt get on with it but I don’t think thats a review its my opinion.

I also think that as bloggers we are putting ourselves up for critisism, we are writing to lots of people who don’t know us and judge us from one post to the next. I have had some horrid stuff and I either delete it, answer it in a polite manner or ignore it. If we are prepared to critic books be it in an emotional or literary way and then put it out where hundreds of people see it we need to be prepared that along with all the lovely comments we get some will be harsh, cruel and unfair. Thats what authors do when they release their books into the world and they have taken sometimes years to create those books unlike my blogs which at a maximum take hours.

I was surprised to hear that you have had some horrid stuff. I know you try really hard to find the positive in everything.

I am not sure that I have any more to add to this conversation that has not been more eloquently stated already. I think reviews (especially in this blog format) have two purposes: to allow the blogger to voice and track opinions about the books they have read AND to allow that blogger’s followers an opportunity to preview a book. Over the past few months I have learned which bloggers have the same reading preference as myself, and which ones may differ. There is not “right and wrong” in reviewing, as far as I am concerned; I read both as I enjoy reading a variety of opinions. As long as the blogger states that it is opinion, based on specifics from the text, then that is ample. I do think that reviewers owe it to the author to use diplomatic and professional language, not to bash the author. I can honestly say that all the book blogs I choose to read, there is no one who does not write in a professional manner.

I would certainly write a negative review if I read a book that warranted it. However, as a fringe benefit to reading these wonderful book blogs, I find that I have rarely read a book over the past 9 months or so that I did not like in one way or another. I rely heavily on blogger recommendations, and so far I have found that all recommendations have been spot on. Would I not read Wolf Hall just because you did not like it? NO. If this book appealed to me I would take your opinions into consideration, but I would not allow you to make my decision for me. That being said, I can say that there have been books that you have given glowing recommendations that I know is not for me.

I feel as though I have rambled and have not said much worthwhile. I hope you can read between the lines and understand that I am in full support of your review policies.

My reviews aren’t so much reviews as they are my thoughts on a book. Sometimes the post is a brief summary, sometimes it’s a rant, sometimes it’s pretty much me gushing over a book. I don’t feel an obligation to either the author or my readers to write about what I thought the author was attempting to accomplish. I do feel an obligation to myself to write about whatever I want to write about.

I really don’t understand why people are feeling the need to tell bloggers off…or give us instructions on how our posts should be written.

It is really good that you feel that way.

I try to bear authors in mind whenever I write a post – I make sure anything I write is something I’d be happy for them to read.

I hadn’t caught any of the discussion about this topic yesterday and so I’m coming into it straight from this post.

I tend to like most of what I read (I read for pleasure and prefer to read books I know I’ll enjoy rather than books that will waste my small precious reading time), and so haven’t written too many negative reviews. Even so, I am not afraid to say I didn’t like something. I’m the kind of person who will be polite when doling out criticism, but that’s my style–we’re each entitled to do it however we want, and, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with that. It irks me when some bloggers start trying to dictate how others should blog. Anyhow, no matter the review–positive or negative–I hope for an honest one. That’s really all that matters to me. And like with any type or review, it’s nice if the review explains why he or she felt a certain way about the book–if giving examples of the writing helps the reviewer get the point across, than by all means.

I personally see nothing wrong with anyone writing a blog post about why a book didn’t work for them–even a book that person couldn’t finish. In fact, I want to know. I think that’s part of what blogging is about. Blogging is informal for the most part (at least the among the blogs I am interested in and frequent) and, as you pointed out, a place where readers can come together to discuss what we read. And while I am always happy to enter into a discussion about a book everyone’s loved, I also want to hear about the books people struggle over or don’t like.

A negative review doesn’t necessarily turn me off of a book. It sometimes has the opposite effect, causing me to want to a book more. Also, I find negative reviews a good balance to the positive ones. If I read too many rave reviews about a book, I am likely to get my expectations up too high. A negative review can ground me–or at least keep me from expecting something different than what I’m actually going to get.

I do my homework before deciding to read many of the books I choose to read. I don’t base my decision one way or the other on one review. I admit to feeling a bit alarmed when someone reads a lukewarm or negative review of mine and declares that he or she doesn’t want to read the book as a result. But then, am I being unfair to my reader? How do I know this person hasn’t been thinking about the book for awhile now, read other reviews, and has finally decided the book isn’t for them? Or perhaps the book was never really something that person would have read anyway and this is just confirmation of why it’s not worth his or her time to read.

I have more to say but will stop here. I’ve already talked your ears off. 🙂

Have a great week, Jackie!

I have read a few negative reviews and become more intrigued by the book too – especially if it is something everyone is talking about. I still haven’t read Twilight, but I really want to read it, just because I have seen so many negative reviews!

This is a very interesting topic, especially from a completely new bloggers perspective! I decided to create my own book blog to express my opinions about the books I’ve read & read other book blogs for the same reason. If it takes a while to ‘get into’ the book, has annoying aspects etc., i think it’s great for a perspective reader to know beforehand. I’m sure as time goes by, blog readers get to ‘know’ which blogger has similar tastes & with that in mind, an honest ‘I tried’ post is very valuable.

Chris@bookarama summed it up perfectly….”Reading is personal experience, so why can’t a review be personal?” Not everyone is going to feel the same about a book (Life of Pi by Yann Matel comes to mind).

I look forward to reading more posts, both the good & bad 🙂

I love knowing that a book is slow to start, but picks up later. It is that sort of information which is really useful to know. Good luck with the blogging!

Not everyone will agree with me, but I think that writing negative reviews are as important as writing good ones. As long as the review is unbiased and backed up with explanations, then it is relevant. Nobody likes everything that they read.

Interesting topic. I do read negative reviews and have made a point of doing so ever since I read Pillars of the Earth based on all the glowing reviews (including a reviewer whose tastes usually march with mine). I went back and read the one and two star reviews and found their opinions were in line with mine. Had I done so before purchasing the book I might have at least got it from the library. I might add that I’ve had several comments on my review of that book from readers having the same reaction to the book I did and needed some “back up” to see if they wanted to continue reading.

I enjoy reading a good critical review, and I have no problems with comments about a book that one couldn’t finish – as long as there are valid reasons, i.e. graphic sex and violence. I try not to write reviews on books I gave up on say 50 pages into it, but 100 pages is enough to form an opinion that I’d like to hear.

Just because I follow a particular reviewer (I’ll pick on Jackie), it doesn’t mean we’ll like the same book every time. She could rave about a book and I’ll be scratching my head thinking WTH did she read, and the same can happen in reverse. That’s life. Same if she couldn’t finish a book, I might turn around and love it.

Bloggers are not professional reviewers and I actually like that. There are enough of them all over Amazon, B&N and other sites glowing and gushing over every damn book they review. I want an honest opinion, whether it’s good or bad.

I was planning to read Pillars of the Earth soon. I have heard so many good things about it recently. At least now I know where to come if I don’t like it!

Wolf Hall seems to be selling well and is being strongly tipped to win the Booker, so I don’t think you need lose any sleep about ruining Hilary Mantel’s career. I have to say I was interested in this book, your review and in particular the rather clunky passage you quoted at length put me off it, but then all the positive responses it has been getting elsewhere suggested I probably should get around to reading it at some point and deciding for myself.

I am sorry you have received negative feedback for giving negative feedback. I cannot bring myself to go and look at what was said because I hate it when web discussions (be they blog comments or forums) turn nasty. It’s one reason I stop scrolling down online newspaper articles when they get to the comments section. I know that while there may be a few interesting comments to follow, there will more often than not be an awful lot of ranting and name calling, particularly as commenters start to lay in to each other even more than to the writer of the original piece. Newspaper editors, it seems to me, used to perform a useful role of picking out the best feedback and bringing to the attention of the reader. I am not against freedom of speech, all should be free to say what they want in appropriate places, but I reserve the right to only pay attention to respectful interchanges. I’ve got better things to do with my time than to watch the mud flying.

One of the reasons that I have developed a taste for good book blogs like yours is that they generally seem so much more friendly and stress free than blogs or forums which touch on politics or religion. (Unlike you I’m interested in both of those things, provided they are discussed reasonably.) If an over-sensitive type like me wasn’t offended by your Wolf Hall review I’m somewhat surprised anyone else was.

I agree with the majority of commenters above who say that you should feel free to say whatever you want about a book you have read, irrespective of how many pages you actually completed. If I ever reach the stage when I find that your reviews cease to be helpful to me, then I will simply look elsewhere, but I can’t see that happening soon. (Thanks, by the way, for the tip-off about The Other Hand which I am enjoying enormously.)

I was toying with starting my own blog, to comment not only on books but also on the many hours of pleasure I get listening to speech radio. Your timely reminder that bloggers (like anyone else with a public presence – perhaps even more so) can sometimes receive some very unpleasant correspondence, means that I will probably put those ideas on the back burner. Simon’s comment that he has received some “horrid stuff” is particularly off-putting. I think I shall stick to the lower-risk of activity of commenting on other people’s blogs rather than starting my own.

When I post book reviews on LibraryThing, I am normally very careful when writing about books that I did not enjoy. I always try to highlight the fact that I am only expressing a personal view, though it would get very boring if I had to include a disclaimer to that effect every time. I also try and bear and mind how the author of the book might feel if they read my comments. I’m not so vain as to think that they are likely to do so (the deceased authors would find it particularly problematic) it is just a useful self-censoring rule to work with.

I think you can take many positives away from the debate on this page. It is far more intelligent and dignified that many of the newspaper website debates to which I alluded earlier. Without wishing to appear immodest, it seems to me that this shows that your blog attracts a better class of reader.

Keep up the good work.

I am sorry you have received negative feedback for giving negative feedback. I cannot bring myself to go and look at what was said…

and then:

Your timely reminder that bloggers can sometimes receive some very unpleasant correspondence…

David, just because a comment doesn’t chime with Jackie’s view doesn’t make it a negative comment.

Stewart – Matthew did make some good points and he is entitled to share his opinions, but I think he did over step the mark on occasions and direct abusive comments at me, as opposed to disagreeing with my thoughts.

David – I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Wolf Hall. Please come back and let me know once you’ve read it.

I think you’d make a great blogger – if you do decide to start one please let me know and I’ll be the first to comment!

I’m pleased you are enjoying The Other Hand. It will be one of my favourites of 2009.

Thank you for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment.

I’m all about honesty, and I do discuss books I’ve abandoned, but I don’t, as a rule, write full reviews of them. My personal opinion is that a review should be a fair examination of the work in its entirety, and you can’t do that without finishing it. A discussion of why you’re choosing not to finish a book is always interesting, but I think it is and should be different from a review.

That said, I also think it’s highly inappropriate and immature for people to leave abusive, frequently anonymous, comments on blogs. It’s important for the blogging community to discuss our standards and expectations, but I hope we won’t give too much platform or attention to the folks who are clearly seeking it by leaving such uncalled-for feedback.

Reading the comments on this post shows how differently we all feel about this subject, but I agree that the important thing is to discuss these issues and respect each other’s opinions. Hopefully the abuse will remain a tiny part of the blogging experience.

Jackie, I don’t think there was anything wrong with the review you wrote. You were honest about your response to the book, AND you also made it clear that had not finished the book. It think it’s great that you made the point of saying why you couldn’t finish the book, because it gives people like me an idea of whether we would be bothered by the same things.

Also, I think your critic overlooked the fact that your blog is personal, not professional. It wouldn’t be appropriate for a professional book reviewer who was getting paid to leave a book unfinished, but this site is a place for you to share your personal reflections and responses to the books you read. You’re not saying people will or won’t like the book, you’re simply saying you didn’t and why. Nothing wrong with that, and I’m glad you wrote what you did. I always like to know what my fellow book bloggers like and dislike, because it helps me decide whether we have similar tastes.

And for what it’s worth, I will write negative reviews on my site AND I will (and have) written about books I haven’t finished. I think that so long as you say why you didn’t like the book you read, then that’s a useful review for other readers. In the end, your response to what you read is your own; other people don’t have to like it, but we do have to respect it!

Thank you for the support. I’m pleased to know that you feel my review was of use to you and look forward to discussing bad books with you in the future!

Good Lord Jackie! I worked out, and swept the kids off to see Julie & Julia (I had to bribe them), and I come back to this! I’m not even sure if commenting will have any effect at this stage. I can’t imagine that I could say ANYTHING original, as it has all been said. I mean, you know me. I will milk good out of almost anything. Reading is a personal, almost spiritual experience on a good day, and damn it, if I feel euphoric when I finish the book, I’m going to say so! I’m not there to focus on sentence structure, analyze the goals of the author (like I really would know that?) and plot development. If I don’t “get” a book, I feel obligated to say so! No amount of snarkish comments is going to prevent me from that. Could it be that I am dense? Had a bad hair day? I have personal baggage over people with the same name as the author? Maybe! I think you, me and the rest of us are pretty good about stating WHY we don’t like something, and we can make our own choices from there. We are adults here. If I got ugly comments, my day would be ruined though. I hope it didn’t upset you. We love you the way you are. So just keep doing what you’re doing, and the rest be damned.

Of course you are original! I love it!!

I don’t think that having a bad hair day is going to affect my enjoyment of a book – but who knows what may happen in the future LOL!!

Don’t worry – I have a thick skin, so it is pretty hard to really upset me. My day hasn’t been ruined, but it has just been brightened by all the lovely comments I have recieved on this post and by feeling sorry for all those authors out there with the same names as those on your hit list!!

I would be upset if you didn’t write negative reviews, Jackie. While we don’t have the exact same tastes, some of the books we read overlap. I would rather you tell me not to waste my time or give me a heads up that this book may or may not be for me than write fluffy reviews all the time. I get suspicious when a book blogger loves every book they read. Either they really know their taste or they’re afraid to say what they really think. I know I don’t have to worry about that with you, Jackie.

Negative reviews are just as important as positive ones; why shouldn’t you be allowed to say that you didn’t like a book or why you didn’t like it? Sometimes you don’t even know yourself why you dislike a book and need to work it out -if you can- in your post or from reader input.

I want the blog reviews I read to be honest, either way, and appreciate your opinion. I find it patronising for some commenters to suggest that people reading your post on Wolf Hall would be completely swayed, as if we are incapable of making up our own minds about something (much the same issue I had with the publishers of The Other Hand). I am an informed reader and know what I like and dislike but I also know that you and I like and dislike some of the same things. Saying that I am not going to completely discount something because you said “I didn’t like this” but make an informed decision on the fact that you couldn’t finish it, the subject matter is something that doesn’t appeal to me, the writing examples provided don’t wow me, and other reviews by bloggers AND critics as well as, most importantly, my own personal taste. However, that is all moot as now I have to attempt reading it because I’m reading the Booker longlist!

I also disagree that reviews shouldn’t be personal. I write personal reviews, I mainly read them, and I respond better to them but that’s my personal taste. If we wanted an objective (hah) review then we would read one by a paid critic or, I don’t know, maybe we do BOTH because we love books and love reading about books.

With all due respect, Jackie, and this is coming from a place where I support you: I am not going to be solely influenced by a review that you post but will make up my own mind. What I love about your posts are that they are honest and that you love reading.

As yet I haven’t written a review on a book that I haven’t finished but it doesn’t happen that often (selective choosing) but I know that if you were incapable of finishing a book then it’s not because you lack the attention span but because you didn’t like it. Life is too short to read books that you don’t like; reviewing books you don’t like/didn’t finish is important as perhaps you will prevent someone else from wasting their time and money on a book that is not for them. At the end of the day though, it is their choice – you may influence it but you are not responsible for it. Don’t beat yourself up or allow anybody else to do it.

Thank you for taking the time to write such a well thought out comment.

I am really looking forward to reading your Wolf Hall review!

I think I put myself in the position of reading books I don’t like by committing to reading entire lists like this. I know that I am probably not going to love all the books on the list when I set out, but by stretching myself to read them all I can appreciate my favourites all the more.

It also means that I stumble across hidden gems – I would never have read How to Paint a Dead Man if it wasn’t on the Booker long list, but I am so glad I did – I loved it!

What fantastic debate this has started! Jackie, I for one appreciate all of your reviews – positive and negative. I like the way that you clearly articulate what it is about a book you particularly like or dislike – I think this is really important and it certainly helps me think about whether I would enjoy a certain book or not.
I like the comment that SoftDrink made and I relate to this when I think about my own posts – I think of my blogging not so much as reviews but as my personal thoughts and feelings about a book – that way I feel that I have to be honest about my experiences of a book but I certainly acknowledge that other readers may feel very differently about the same book. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we all liked the same books (not to mention waiting lists at libraries would get very long!!!).

LOL!! Those library waiting lists are long enough already! I’m pleased that others aren’t as quick off the mark as me though – I managed to reserve 4 of the Booker long list within minutes of it being annouced and was top of the list for them all!! There is a bit of a wait if you waited until the following day to reserve them though.

I avoid writing one star reviews because it’s obvious that there isn’t even a single positive thing about it. but I really don’t mind reading them. Each to his/her own.

I have learnt the hard way that there is no way you can convince the commentors who say your review was bad. They believe what they want to. I once tried to explain my points to a person who had loved the book I had given a -ve reveiw of. It doesn’t help. He/ she started getting abusive and doubting my integrity as a reviewer. Thats when I stopped explaining myself.

I don’t mind people who tell me that they loved that particular book but there is a way to do it without disrespecting the other person. I am not put off in writing -ve reviews, I just stop responding to comments that are very dis-respectful.

As you said, we all should come to terms with the fact that everyone has different choices and interests.

Stewart: I’m sorry but I have to strongly object to your comment. If I wanted to know what the author’s intention was in writing the book and whether he/she has fulfilled it, I would read the press release. I come to bloggers like Jackie because they give a personal touch to the book. As a buyer and a reader of books that’s what I am interested in most.

In response to Matthew Clayton’s comment I just have to say one thing. Just because a book is literary fiction and written by a great author does not mean I have to like it. And personally I don’t want to read literary criticism of a book, I want real reviews, I want personal insights.

Jackie: I hope you are not disheartened by all those -ve comments. It happens. I love your reviews.

Some people do seem to get overly worked up about small things. Luckily I’m a very laid back person and don’t get upset by comments made by strangers. If a friend started saying bad things then I would get upset, but anyone else can say what they like! I will just moderate things and remove swearing /abuse. Luckily that hasn’t really happened on this blog yet.

This is a very interesting subject. Quite often I will write about books which aren’t very well known, so if I dislike a book or feel indifferent towards it, I think there’s probably not much point in wasting my (and others’) time by writing a post that effectively says, “Here’s a book you may not have heard of … and it’s no good.” When I do write negative reviews, such as of Don DeLillo’s White Noise or Philip Hensher’s The Northern Clemency (yes, I did the Booker thing myself last year!), I do take pains to say what’s good as well. I think to do otherwise is to be disrespectful to the book and the author (who, whatever you may think of the end result, worked very hard for a long time over the book and deserves at least a fair hearing) but also to readers of my blog, who expect me to be fair about the book.

I do think it’s important to note that this post seems slightly misleading in that it concentrates on the merits of negative reviews, which was not the impetus behind Matthew Clayton’s comments. He was aggrieved not that you had dismissed the book, but that you had done so without completing it or giving a balanced picture. You yourself said “I know I have taken the quotes out of context” and that you “decided to pick the worst [quotes] in order to illustrate my point.” As it’s also been pointed out that your criticism of those quotes seemed misconceived, I think this is where the criticism of your post comes from.

A blogger who builds up a wide audience as you have, does have responsibility to their readers and to the books they write about. I think to say that you don’t have to take heed of principles of reviewing because you’re not paid to write reviews is a bit of a cop-out. Personally, I’ve never had any of Updike’s (or anyone else’s) principles explicitly in my head when writing a review, and I too read only for pleasure (who doesn’t?), and I am just as interested in conveying my personal experience as I am in what I think are the intrinsic qualities of the book. But I still take care to write as intelligently, fairly and honestly as I can.

Criticism stings. People saying we’ve done something badly hurts. It’s understandable that you were stung by Matthew Clayton’s comments and wanted some support. A similar feeling of hurt might be experienced by an author whose book is dismissed based on a partial misreading. But we are adults and we get over these things. I do hope though that some of the comments above and on your Wolf Hall post will have given you pause for thought about the joy of thinking beyond our first impressions and really engaging with ideas we might initially reject.

Although this post was partly inspired by the comments Matthew left, I was pushed into writing it after reading a series of highly abusive comments on other blogs. These other comments were threatening, degrading and very upsetting for the authors of these blogs and I wanted to show them that we all suffer from critics and it shouldn’t put them off writing negative reviews.

I appreciate and understand where Matthew was coming from, but I write the kind of reviews I like to read and am not going to change them to fit with the ideal review format.

I always take the authors into consideration when writing reviews and I’m sure Hilary Mantel understands that her books aren’t for everyone, and the joy of being short-listed, perhaps winning the Booker prize will give her more joy than one person who lacked the patience to work out the meaning of her book.

I understand that a lot of joy can come from analysing books, but although I enjoy it occasionally I’m afraid I prefer just to get lost in a good book and not have to battle with trying to understand it.

Really interesting post, and really interesting debate following in the comments. I think you’re absolutely right, a post should be honest, even if the book is free from a publisher or the author. But I also agree with what Simon says, reading a string of negative reviews would put me off a blog.

I can’t believe the number/quality of the comments on this post either. It is clearly something people feel passionately about and I have loved reading all the comments.

I don’t know if I can add anything to what has already been said.
I feel negative reviews have a very important place in blogging. Book bloggers state their personal opinion on a book, and I think that is just as valid as any critic’s essay of appreciation. Authors write for critics AND for the wider audience of readers, not only for one of them. Some books appeal to only one of the two, and some appeal to both. That is no reason why bloggers should not voice their opinions if they feel they did not gain any pleasure from reading a critically acclaimed book. I very much doubt that other readers will be put off from reading a book simply because one person said they didn’t like it.

For what it’s worth, I am no stranger to literary fiction, I have a keen interest in the Tudor era (I own several books pertaining to that period), I read WOLF HALL cover to cover, and I did not like it at all. My opinion of the book is the same as yours. There is no reason why a person should plod through an entire book to form an opinion on it.

In response to another post on your blog, I had said that I very rarely reveal my personal ratings for any book, and this is the reason why. Negative ratings seem to attract such strong criticism. Why? The beauty of the internet and book blogging is that we can say what we feel about a book. If someone else’s opinion isn’t the same as mine, he can disagree, but he cannot, should not, attack my opinion and say it is any less valid than his.

This is the point I was trying to raise with this post – people shouldn’t feel ashamed of rating a book low. Everyone has their own opinions and shouldn’t feel that they will be abused every time they say they don’t like a book. I’m sorry that people don’t respect the opinions of others and this has led you to being secretive about your true feelings.

Not secretive about my feelings, just reluctant to state a rating. I usually just point out good and bad points (in real life to my friends and in my blog too). If it’s a book I enjoyed, I gush on and on about it, and if it’s a book I didn’t enjoy then I’m not so enthusiastic. But a star-rating is something that I don’t reveal, I prefer it stays in my journal

I don’t think I have anything more to add here really, but I do write negative reviews if the books deserve them, no matter how much literary merit they may have. I spent four years of my life thinking about literary merit and now I just want to read for fun. So I appreciated your DNF post! I generally appreciate them on all blogs even though I have never written one myself. I almost always finish what I start, but mostly because I know what I’ll like thanks to the many book blogs I read.

For what it’s worth, I appreciated your Wolf Hall post, and now I know what I’m getting into if I do choose to read it. Thanks.

I agree – there is a difference between literary merit and enjoyment. There is a place for both.

Thank you for your support.

Having read through all these comments, I’m thinking that some of the furor is over writing. Instead of “negative” reviews, maybe we need to call them reviews of books we didn’t enjoy. And as everyone points out, if you don’t like something, you need to give lots of examples so that we can see if we agree with your point of view. This discussion may not be about “honesty” so much as how well we express ourselves in writing. Despite the fact that I have a PhD in English literature, an MA in Composition and Rhetoric, and have taught writing to college students for 28 years, I wrote a review the other day that didn’t do a good job of expressing the nuances of feeling I had about a book that I didn’t enjoy reading but was glad I had read–if that makes any sense. It’s not always easy to say what you mean, and it can be especially hard when you’re trying to say why you didn’t like reading something. In Memory’s discussion over on Live Journal, a lot of bloggers pointed out that some of the books they liked best were “slow starters”–it took up to a hundred pages to get into the book. So I think reading books you’re not sure you’ll love and reviewing books you aren’t unequivocably enthusiastic about is a good mental exercise for most bloggers.

You’re right! I have very little experience with writing. I just put my feelings down and sometimes it doesn’t come across as I mean it to. From now on I will try to call them ‘books I didn’t enjoy’.

I think it’s all down to the word ‘review’ Jackie which to me personally feels loaded with a pressure that I just can’t subscribe to, so I make it very clear that I don’t review or call myself a reviewer and neither am I pretending to be a literary critic. I share my thoughts on books I have loved and like all bloggers that’s a perogative we each have.
Reviews IMHO need to be objective, balanced and fair and require a degree of literary expertise I don’t feel I have and besides that I want to engage emotionally and subjectively with what I read and go completely OTT about books if I want to.
A lifetime of working with families and children in the NHS feeds into all that in ways I never thought possible but I’ve spent too many years writing clinically and from the head, so this isn’t a cop out, all this ‘from the heart’ writing is a treat . I don’t have time to waste on books for which I am just the wrong reader but for which there will be millions of right readers out there.
Nor do I want to trash what might be a precious reading experience for someone else, so it’s my choice not to go there. To be honest I’m in awe of anyone who gets umpteen thousand words published and between covers and I’m not going to rain on their parade. There’s enough grief in life without me adding to it, plenty of people out there paid a lot of money to do that.
I’ve been criticised a-plenty for that stance too but that’s life:-)
If I was into negative stuff I wouldn’t feel I could ethically say a book was bad unless I’d read it cover to cover and come up with solid reasons for that, in the same way I can’t say I think it’s good unless I’ve done that either. That’s why there will be no thoughts from me on Me Cheeta for this year’s Bookerthon:-)
Each blog will have its audience who will know us for those individual qualities and either like what we do or look elsewhere and that’s the complete joy of the blogosphere.
Plenty to choose from and as John Carey (aaargh…sorry to name drop) said to me when we did a talk together at the Oxford LitFest last year, thank heavens for the blogs and the voice of the people; what we’d give to have those voices from the 18th and 19th century now, so keep up the good work 🙂

I am in awe of authors too. I really admire anyone who is able to write a book and get it published – it is something I would never be able to do.

My loyalty lies with readers though – as you say there are millions of books out there – how do we decide which ones are worth investing our time in? Everyone has different taste in books and thanks to the Internet likeminded people are able to link up and discover other people with similar tastes. I’m not saying any book is bad, just that it doesn’t match my taste. I am able to judge that it isn’t for me without reading the whole thing. I think that if I am honest about the amount I have read then everyone is able to make up their own mind about whether or not to take my comments into consideration.

I know we have very different taste in books, so I look forward to reading Me Cheeta – a negative review from you might actually persuade me to buy a book!!

I look forward to comparing Booker notes with you in the future!

First, I didn’t read all these comments. Yikes, there are a lot.

Second, I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I’ve toned down my negativity a lot in the past year. I used to be just plain out strident when I didn’t like a book. Now I realize that people feel differently.

If I don’t finish a book but I still want to write a separate “review” post of it, I’d include “Abandoned book” in the post title line so anyone reading the review will know that I didn’t finish it. I also don’t “rate” books, though, so maybe the point is mute.

I love reading any DNF or any negative reviews for that matter because I want to know how the reader felt about that book. Anyway, reading is subjective and I feel each book has its own readership. This world would be a boring place if we like all the same things.

Anyway, I just want to let you know I enjoy reading your reviews, Jackie!

Wow, that’s a lot of comments in a lot of time. This is clearly a hot potato. I only have two points to make in addition to what I said on the Mantel thread.

1. literature is undergoing a shift with POD, e-books, and the internet. We are moving from a “top-down” arbiters of taste model to a bottom-up one, where things are driven by the reading public. At the moment it seems chaotic, but that’s because it’s new. Many critics of the new environment use the current chaos as proof that it is a bad way of being, or somehow dangerous, that democratisation will lead to lowest common denominator and trash good taste. That’s balderdash. I’ve used the analogy many times and will doubtless use it many more, but we’re at a stage currently like the Universe after the Big Bang. There’s a lot of “stuff” floating. But just as planetary accretion provided the Universe we know today, so amongst the miasma of the net, like-minded consumers will find each other, and will gather around gravitational centres that will become trusted portals for people of similar taste to go to. I would urge bloggers and reviewers to do their own thing and see where they fall – this is a time to find like-minded people and not worry about those who move in a different orbit. The amount of activity here suggests jacki is well on her way to achieving critical mass. Just keep doing what you do.

2. As a writer, I have absolutely no problem with any negative review at all provided it’s not defamatory and doesn’t disclose personal information I haven’t warranted. People either like my books or they don’t. And they have their reasons one way or another. As an author, I have no problems with anyone giving me negative reviews. First, it’s great to be talked about rather than not talked about – and what’s a negative to one might provoke interest from another (One guy who reviewed my novel on his blog, bless him, said some lovely things but also mentioned he thought I had too many locations for the length of story – he was worried he’d been negative and sent me an apology on Facebook. We’re now good friends, and I posted a link to his review from my blog – it was the first unsolicited review I’d had and I was chuffed to bits). Second, as an author, one of the things I prize more than anything, and will fight for tooth and claw, is my right to freedom of expression. I would be a rather low kind of hypocrite (and worse, a snob who thought my “literature” was somehow superior to someone else’s blog) if I didn’t extend that same freedom to reviewers, and fight for their right to say what they want about my book, for whatever reason.

A final point. I do worry that people who don’t like the way negative reviews are done aren’t authors, yet claim to be speaking on behalf of authors. By all means have your opinion, but please don’t dress it up as being for our benefit. Frankly, the first qualification for an author is a thick skin, and the second is a passion for expressive freedom.

You put points across so well – I can tell you are an author. Thank you so much for your support on this issue. I’ll try to read Norwegian Wood soon and if I like it then I’ll seek your book out.

Thanks again!

I thought that your negative review was very fair. I appreciate that you expressed your opinion of the book honestly and gave examples of why you felt the way you did about the book in a way that left room for your blog readers to decide if they might have the same issues you had with it.

I don’t mind negative reviews at all. Everyone has the right to their opinion and so do I. Just because a book got a negative review doesn’t mean I won’t try to read it if I like the premise. Everyone has different tastes.

Good grief, I was totally unaware that this issue had erupted yet again. Every time it does, it’s so frustrating to me. I’m sorry the hot potato ended up in your lap this time, Jackie.

Let me just say: I HAVE studied literature in an academic setting, and I am very suspicious of people who claim that the subjective reading experience is not valid fodder for literary reviews. There is a whole branch of high-falutin’ literary criticism, called Reader Response Criticism, that focuses on the dynamic between reader and writer and the ways in which the reader actively contributes to the creation of a work of literature. So I think it’s highly dubious that anyone would claim to dismiss the individual reading experience based on a supposed knowledge of literary theory, seeing as they’d have to have missed one of the single largest movements in academic criticism of the 20th century. Not that Reader Response Criticism is an excuse for lazy reading or sloppy writing, but it certainly acknowledges the necessarily subjective experience that is involved with the consumption of any piece of art, including books.

Not only that, but way before RRC was an established discipline, plenty of essayists have made their careers by writing about their subjective experiences of reading. Talk about Michel de Montaigne, Charles Lamb, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov! I think it’s a real problem that Certain People have decided that “book bloggers” should be lumped in exclusively with professional newspaper reviewers, and not with the much older and richer tradition of personal essayists who write on the reading life.

All of which is to say: good lord, are we still talking about this? Of COURSE negative reviews are valid! Of COURSE it is valid to incorporate your own subjective responses! In my mind, the dishonest thing would be to pretend that you could separate that subjectivity out of a review.

Anyway, supportive vibes to you.

Emily, Thank you for adding a whole new perspective to the discussion. I loved being compared to the older tradition of the personal essayist.

I certainly hope for honesty … a negative review can be done in a respectful way and really, everyone is entitled to their opinion. It is always such a shame when I hear about a blogger who is so viciously attacked (especially personally) when they dare to be honest. It just isn’t right. I’m sorry you faced this, and I hope I don’t have to. I’ve been lucky so far but I imagine it will happen someday.

I have seen some negative reviews which haven’t been respectful, but I hope that bloggers can acheive this. I hope that you continue to avoid this nasty behaviour.

As I say to my Dad when he is watching a television show that is “offending” him in some manner – “You can just turn the tv off Dad. No one is forcing you to watch!” And this is what I think about reading as well – whether it be reading a book or a blog (or whatever!) If it doesn’t suit you for whatever reason just stop reading it. Like you and many commentors here have mentioned as long as your thoughts aren’t abusive or a persoanl attack you can write whatever you like – IT’S YOUR BLOG 🙂 Keep on bloggin’ sista’ 🙂

Thanks for your support!

It isn’t hard to click on that ‘unsubscribe’ button if you don’t like what you are reading! It always amazes me how many people write in to complain about something they’ve seen on TV. I agree – just switch it off!

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