Reading and Reviews

How Do You Feel About Authors Reviewing Books?

A few years ago, I noticed an interesting thing happening amongst author acquaintances of mine — the book review exchange. Author #1 agrees to review Author #2’s book if Author #2 agrees to review his book in return. But when Author #2 gets online and sees Author #1’s review of his book, things aren’t looking so happy. Three stars? It “wasn’t up to par?” But Author #2 gave Author #1 FIVE stars, and a glowing review. Isn’t that what authors are supposed to do for each other? Where’s the support? But Author #1 doesn’t feel bad. Author #1 says, “Hey, you said leave an honest review. Why are you so upset? I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve helped you out.” But did he? If he honestly didn’t care for the book, is he supposed to lie in his review? Find a clever and more professional way to say only nice things about it and give it a higher rating? Pull out of his obligation to write the review in the first place? Should authors agree to only give a review if they loved the book? Do we all just need to grow a backbone? These questions are valid not only for review exchanges, but authors reviewing any books in general. What is professional? Is there a line?

I’ll admit I did the review exchange a few times. Sometimes it worked out great, sometimes it didn’t. I also reviewed books on my own without any exchanges, but I eventually decided that as a published author I was no longer comfortable reviewing books, whether I knew the author or not. I took all books off my Goodreads profile, deleted every review I’ve ever written online, and decided never to say yes to exchanging reviews or review requests (even from friends, and yes, this was a difficult decision). I’m happy to blurb/endorse a book for another author, help out with marketing where I can by spreading the word, and recommend books in certain situations, but to this day, I am not comfortable writing reviews in public under my author name.

I’ve heard authors say, “Well, I read and review books, and I always will. I’m a reader as well as an author. I have every right to review books and share my opinions about them.” I think that may be so, and perhaps some authors can pull it off more gracefully than I can, but I’m far too worried I’ll unintentionally hurt feelings and burn bridges with an honest review, or cause distrust and skepticism with a ridiculously glowing one. Not to mention the hurt feelings I’ve observed when authors take time to review some books, but not others, when there’s clearly not enough time for authors to review everything out there, even from all their author friends.

How do you feel about authors reviewing books? If you’re a published author, do you review books online under your author name? I’m curious as to other viewpoints on this topic, so share how you feel. I’m curious!

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Reading and Reviews, Working With Other Writers, 40 comments

Why It’s Okay to Dislike a Book Everyone Else Seems to Love

I just finished reading a paranormal Young Adult novel (the first in a bestselling trilogy)* recommended to me by a friend. Sadly, I hated it. Maybe hate is too strong a word. I disliked it very much. I disliked everything about it so much that I had to go on Goodreads and Amazon and read the 1 and 2-star reviews to see if I’m the only one who feels the same way about this popular bestselling novel. I’m not, but there seems to be very few of us. Why do people love this book so much? I found that while some of the writing sounds pretty and literary, for me it turned up ultimately vacant. I was bored by the irritatingly shallow, flat characters, confused by huge plot holes (at least for readers like me who apparently question too much), and frustrated by a distressing lack of detail. I would have put the book aside after chapter twelve or so, but it was loaned to me by my friend and I felt I needed to finish it in order to form an honest opinion about it.

None of this means, of course, that the book is bad or that it’s unworthy of the love and praise it gets, or that I’m correct in any of the claims I make about it. I mean, what do I know? I’m not an International bestseller or a professional book critic. All it means is that I don’t understand why others love it, and I probably never will because I’m obviously not the type of reader for whom it was intended. Reading is subjective, just like everything else. In some reviews of the book, I found readers saying the opposite of the very things I found annoying. For instance, some praised the amount of detail, the dynamic and well-rounded characters, the beautiful and rich prose. And all I can think is, huh? There were a few bright, shining moments in the book where I thought, “Hey, this has potential!” and then they faded so quickly I almost forgot about them.

All this is to say that as I read those 1 and 2-star reviews, I came to an understanding that reviews reflect more on the reader than the actual book. Everyone has opinions, and everyone’s opinions are forged by their own experiences, outlook, morality, temperament, etc. If I dislike this book, I think my loathing says a lot about me and my personality … more than it ever will about the book itself. I do not fit into a mainstream group of readers. Or maybe I missed something crucial in this book. Maybe it means I have poor taste. Who knows? I wanted to love it. I love other wildly popular books, so my dislike is not born of jealousy, at least.

So what about you? Have you ever read something the whole world seems to love, and you disliked? Not because you’re trying to rebel against popular vote, but because you really, truly disliked it? What conclusion did you come to about why you hated it?

*little disclaimer: the book I’m talking about is not written by anyone I know, friend or acquaintance

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Books, Reading and Reviews, 30 comments