Booking Through Thursday: A positive spin

booking_through_thursToday’s Booking Through Thursday question addresses a topic that’s been pretty hot in the blogging community lately. It comes from JM:

“I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?”

In my opinion and in many cases, the review itself says more about the reviewer than the book. If someone were to submit a mystery thriller novel to me for review on my blog or wherever, I’m sure I wouldn’t bring the same perspective to it that a diehard James Patterson fan would. I read mostly young adult, chick lit and contemporary fiction. If I wrote a young adult novel and sent it to the diehard Patterson reader, he/she probably wouldn’t enjoy it the way I had “intended.”

I know that’s tricky, too. Because if a good book is a good book, shouldn’t it stand alone? I don’t know. People have opinions and tastes about everything. Just because you dislike the book doesn’t mean someone else will. Heck, look at all of the Christopher Paolini and Stephenie Meyer fans — and those that dislike them so much, they write entire diatribes condemning them.

No, a free book does not mean you’ll automatically receive a positive review. Everyone is entitled to feel the way they feel about a book. Like all art, it’s completely subjective. As long as the reviewer has given it an honest, serious read and formulated an intelligent response to the book — which all sincere book bloggers would — reviewers can do as they please.

That being said, I do feel that reviewers have an obligation both to themselves and readers to state what their “angle” is when presenting a book. I don’t know if that makes sense. What I mean is that if I were to read that James Patterson book I mentioned — having never, ever read mystery and not really having any interest in doing so — I would probably state that at the top of my review. Likewise, if I’m a HUGE fan of Meg Cabot (which I am) and can’t get enough of her books, I’m probably going to say that somewhere, too.

I don’t know that readers are necessarily looking for “unbiased” reviews of books. We’re all biased. I just want to know where your bias is coming from. If you’re a huge chick lit fan and absolutely loved a certain chick lit title, I’m going to take you more seriously than someone who despises the genre and despised a certain chick lit novel. You dig?

On the subject of “bad” reviews — in many cases, these negative discussions can do as much good for authors as the “good” ones — it intrigues readers who love controversy. Look at the publication of If I Did It, O.J. Simpson’s infamous tome published on how “if” he had killed Nicole Brown-Simpson, this is how he “would” have done it. The first time it was mentioned nationally on TV, we had calls pouring into the bookstores looking for it. Television personalities were, of course, panning it. But everyone had to see what it was all about. And at that point, the book hadn’t even been published yet.

I’d also like to go on the record as stating that any author who would viciously and/or publicly attack a reviewer obviously hasn’t been in this business for very long. I can only imagine how much fun it would be to read someone ripping you to shreds — delightful — but there’s a certain level of professionalism that needs to resonate in these situations. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any great, canonized author who doesn’t have both his or her fans and critics. Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ayn Rand, Ian McEwan . . . love them or hate them, they’re both successful authors. And if any of us would hope to reach that level of literary stardom, we have to grow up and be big boys and girls.

Besides, most true, serious book reviews aren’t going to absolutely decimate an author. They’ll point out its faults, sure, but they’ll leave you with a positive point or two to take away from it. Or they’ll tell you why they hated the book — concisely, and in a way to which it’s easy to relate. Or they’ll tell you from which frame of reference they’re arriving: they don’t like this style of book; they hate books told in first person; they don’t like family dramas, etc. As long as I know where the bias is coming from, I’m set!

And who can really argue with that?

One thought on “Booking Through Thursday: A positive spin

  1. As long as the review bears a resemblance of reasonably argued and well-supported statements, it’s a just review regardless of whether the subject being reviewed is good or bad. I stopped reading some of the book reviews in media because they turn into fluffy gasbags. I owe my readers my honest opinions to a book, regardless of whether it’s free or not.

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