Bibliobanter: Review Philosophy

Posted 20 May, 2011 by Amanda / 6 Comments

I have been doing a lot of thinking about reviews (mine in particular) lately.  What makes them good?  What information is necessary?  I don’t exactly have concrete answers to these questions, mostly because I think it is highly subjective, but I can talk about how I approach reviewing, and more importantly – reading.  The short version of this can be found in my Review Policy page, but the following discussion provides greater explanation.

Last year, I took a graduate course on reading and listening comprehension.  It was more geared toward reading and listening in a foreign language, but we first had to learn what reading (and listening) entails.  I won’t bore you with the technical details (and to be truthful, I probably don’t remember all the details), but one important factor in a person’s reading experience is the purpose for reading.  As a teacher, this means I should give my students the reason(s) why they are reading a particular piece (gain knowledge? practice a specific skill?).  As a reader, it means that my purpose behind reading a book influences the way I will eventually perceive it.

I am not a critic.  And despite being 1 course shy of a Master’s degree in English, my emphasis is on teaching the language to non-native speakers, not literature.  When I read a non-school book, I read for entertainment.  When I do this – and when I’m truly entertained by the book – I read faster, and I notice fewer details because my mind is focused on the overall meaning and story line.  So reviewing a book I especially like can prove to be difficult to utter anything more intelligent than, “OMG, this book is awesome.”  If I read a book I am not overly fond of, I read slower and I begin to pick up the details – especially those that contribute to my dislike of the book.  Writing a book review about I book that I enjoyed is actually more difficult for me because the speed at which I read caused me to focus not on details that would be useful for review, but on the story as a whole.  Which makes me wonder: What do people actually look for in a review?

Another thing that I learned in my course was that factors such as our background knowledge and previous reading experience can also affect how we eventually perceive a book.  Our own personal preferences play a role in this as well.  I read a post someone’s book blog recently (I don’t who it was or how I found it) that drew attention to the fact many people use a lot of “I” in their review.  “I liked/didn’t like…” etc.  To me, it is impossible to explain a book without offering my reaction to it.  If you’re looking for an objective summation, read the back of the book (I always include a summary in my reviews, but it is never written by me).  Reading a book is an incredibly subjective and personal experience, and how I see (and review) a book will differ from the rest of the book blogging community – even if many of us review it favorably.  Something that made the reading experience excruciatingly slow for me – short chapters, for example – may not have the same effect for other readers.  And when I review a book, I want people to know why I did or did not like it; my review is not objective, it reflects my opinion.  This is why I try to include a “You Might Like This Book If…” section.  Just because I wasn’t fond of a certain book doesn’t mean I think everyone else will dislike it, and I believe that every book deserves a chance.

Do you have a review philosophy?  What do you look for in a review?

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6 Responses to “Bibliobanter: Review Philosophy”

  1. I experience much of the same Amanda. If I find early on that I’m really liking what I’m reading, then I speed through the book too fast to really be able to provide critical analysis. When it comes to reviewing said book, all I can think is OMG, Read this now! And if the book is slower going for me, I find myself nitpicking at it, which isn’t always very fair of me.

    I’m not sure what I’m looking for in a review, but I like to know the positives along with the negatives. I also believe every book deserves a chance and it is great to hear why they do.

    I love Jenny’s reviews from Supernatural Snark. She writes them in a fashion that speaks about readers as a whole. But I do admit to feeling frustrated with myself when I don’t agree with what ‘the reader’ would find appealing or not.

    So, when I write a review, I do find the subjective, personal experience more appealing. And I always try to make it clear that just because a book didn’t work for me, doesn’t it it wouldn’t work for you.

    • I also think it’s important to look at it from the flip side, too. You know, just because I enjoyed a book doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone. When I really like a book, I’m almost even more careful about how I review it and in explaining what made me really like it.

  2. I thought about this a bit when I first started book blogging… now I don’t care so much. I write what I think/feel about a book and that’s, that. Sometimes I feel like talking like I were writing a lit paper, other times it is more of a “this book was WOW!”. All depends on what how I felt about the book, how much I enjoyed it, my mood when I am writing the review and .. well, I think that’s it…

    If I really don’t like a book I try to find something good with it. Cause like you said, just cause I thought it was trash doesn’t mean someone else didn’t love every second of it. That can be hard but I think it’s a good exercise. I learnt how to do that a lot throughout school… why do teachers set such crap books?!

    Anyway, I am babbling cause I am tired. Hence, a good example of why some of my reviews end up being a big jumble of thoughts ;) maybe I should only write reviews in the morning, after a good nights sleep?

    P.S. My you have been BUSY! I thought I only visited a few days ago but I have 21 posts from you in my reader! You have outread me these past two months :) good job!

    • I think I am more interested in what people expect a review to be. Reviews, like the reading experience, are so unique. Well, and since I’m new, I’m trying to perfect my review format. I think it will be a constant work in progress, determining what it the most important information to include. I don’t have the background in literature, so in many ways, I don’t approach a book with a critical eye – I just read for enjoyment, always.

      Heh. I did read 21 books in the month of May, which is a lot considering in the entire year of 2010 I read 34. It’s what happens when I rediscover my love of devouring books and I have nothing better to do. But now that the summer semester has started up, my reading time is severely limited until I plan my lessons and revise my thesis.

      • I switch between the two… you know, I think I am more likely to read a book with a critical eye when it’s bad or difficult to read. If it’s a great book I just get lost in it.

        21! woah…. impressive… I have never read more than 8 books in a month, I think. And that is a good month!

        • That’s basically exactly what I learned in my grad class. If you get pulled in, you’re being entertained, and if you’re entertained, you don’t pay attention to the minor details (i.e., look at the book with a critical eye). I don’t think there is anything wrong with that; I think that’s a sign of a good book.

          Well, like my blog name implies… I go on book benders. ;) June may be lacking in the reading department.