To Review Or Not To Review?

I was skimming through The Passive Voice and happened upon a posting that wondered “Is reading reviews a huge mistake?” In it, the author asks some interesting (but, IMNSHO, unnecessary) questions.

I wonder if I should stop writing reviews. Am I guilty of spoiling another’s enjoyment, of perhaps causing someone, because of my arrogance, to dismiss a novel without even giving it a chance? Conversely, does a review I write of a book I love convince a reader to pick up that book only to find that it doesn’t work for them? What makes me think I can or should pass judgment for another reader?

The post includes some interesting backstory and makes a well-reasoned case for only writing reviews in situations where the reviewer is “comfortable giving the book four or five stars.”

I don’t disagree. I recently reevaluated  my own position and decided that I will only review books when I have something that I simply must say and I expect that those instances will be limited to books that I really love.

I liked much of what Darlene Jones had to say and appreciated the even-handedness of her post.

Then I read the comments.

Stupid, stupid Cheffo!

They actually aren’t terrible, but there is one comment that just irks me. Because it comes from a man who founded a company to help authors publish/market/promote their books and feels like nothing more than a hearty “Get off of my lawn!”

I believe that book reviews should be written by professional book reviewers in respectable publications. Unfortunately, in today’s digital world, authors have to secure as many reviews as possible because a lot of book promotion sites demand it. As a result, Amazon, Goodreads, and others are heavily laden with two- and three-sentence reviews that say nothing and tell nothing about the book. We are simply in the midst of a numbers game. The dark side of it all, however, is the number of so-called reviewers who write reviews out of spite instead of honesty. I agree with you. If I believe a book is only worth a couple of stars, I don’t bother to review it.

Did somebody abolish professional reviewers and respectable publications while I was sleeping? *Notices issue of Quill & Quire on desk* Um,  dude — we still have those. Why do you care if somebody (at no cost to you) posts a couple of sentences that you don’t find valuable? Perhaps those sentences may be valuable to me. Or, say, to somebody else. Or even nobody. Really, why get so bent out of shape?

We do have a discoverability problem, but throwing up your hands and dismissing it as “numbers game” completely misses the point. What is the point? I’m glad you asked.

The point is that this gentleman founded a company to promote and market books and all he seems to see are problems and his only solution is to head back to 1975 and take the rest of us with him.

Some of his concerns are legitimate. Spiteful and stupid reviews happen, even though they aren’t particularly hard to recognize (again, let me decide how valuable the review is for me). Some people do buy books based solely on number of stars and number of reviews (but those people weren’t reading the professional reviews anyway). Then he overlooks the fact that there simply aren’t enough “professional reviewers” to review all of the books out there. What, should we have fewer books as well?

He may not like it, but professional reviewers are no more relevant than non-professionals. When I look for a book, I want to know what people like me think. I want to know what people like me feel.

I’ll take a single word from a favourite blogger (or a writer that I like) over a prim, proper and thoroughly anonymous review from Kirkus or PW. Connection trumps format. I know what that blogger and writer are like, so I can evaluate for myself what their opinions mean to me. Even in cases where I don’t know the reviewer, I can probably look at their other reviews/ratings and decide for myself in their opinion has any relevance for me.

At the end of the day, Mr. Pirtle may be a delightful man and may merely be frustrated by trying to play the numbers game.

If that is the case, maybe I’ll loan him my copy of WarGames and let WOPR explain things to him.

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