the art of the review

The point of leaving a review is to inform a potential reader what you liked or did not like in a book.

I’ve hesitantly re-animated my Goodreads account to help me find books in specific genres.  It can be helpful to avoid stories that aren’t what I’m looking for.  My problem is reviews are hard to follow.  I understand.  Even a professional reviewer can turn into a troll.

When I first joined a writer’s group, I’d listen and think how awful the story sounded.  Yes, I’m aware they probably thought the same of my work.  It made reading my work, and hearing the work of others uncomfortable to say the least.  The guidelines we follow in that group have helped me immensely in seeing the great bits of writing in a piece, leaving feedback to writers across the table from me, and how to edit my own work based on critique.  One more,  it’s also helped me to find books I enjoy.

Point out the good stuff.  When a review tells me what the best parts of a story are, and there is almost always something good in a piece of writing, if I like that sort of thing, I might give the book a try.   For example; the sense of flow, dialogue, description, there might be a poetic sense to the writing here and there, etc.,.  It took some practice before I was able to locate these, but now that I can life is so much better.  Why you ask?  Because a writer wants to know, not just what didn’t work, but what did, and so does a potential reader.  The person reading a review might like the very thing I hate, or find they love the same stories.  Also, as a human, who creates and shares that work with others, the point is to encourage that writer to keep writing, chances are they will anyway, don’t you want them to consider a possible change for the better?

When something in the book doesn’t work for you as a reader, say why.  Please don’t cast aspersions on the writer’s intelligence, or leave it at, “It sucked, whatever”.  As a possible reader, I want to know if you felt the main character was believable, or did you feel the whole thing was bogged down in description.  This requires considering the parts and breaking a few of them down, rather than labeling the whole book a ‘hot mess’.  Please keep in mind, most writers have developed a rather thick skin.  But behind the inanimate book, stands a human being.

Which leads me to wondering who reads a book they think they’ll dislike?  I keep seeing this on reviews, “I thought I’d hate this and I did.”  If something isn’t your thing, accept that and read something else.  I give points to a reader for trying a new literary flavor, or giving a generally disliked genre another chance, those reviews may bring in other new readers.  That said, I do not understand why anyone would force themselves to read something they didn’t find any joy in, and then disgorge a nasty review.  That just sort of mucks things up.

I learned that I read some books for different reasons than others.  Some say they read for the romance of a story, even if it’s listed as fiction (enter sub category here), and not romance in particular.  Others might say they like the gory bits, or the creepy nightmares it gave them.  Something I like to avoid.  Shudders.  That bit of information can be useful to a potential reader as well as the writer.

One thing a reader/reviewer should be aware of is the following.  The writer has already gone through a multitude of feedback, edits, and so on.  I’m not saying every published, self published, and indie published book is perfect.  I’m saying, it’s a finished product.  And I’m not talking about typos and punctuation.  I’m talking about content.  You won’t see George R.R. Martin hesitating to kill a Stark.  Sure you can leave a review saying you hated to see Ned get the ax, it certainly shocked the heck out of me, but don’t write it with the attitude of someone who knows better.  (And don’t tell/order/beg him to not kill Arya.  There are more books coming)  Ehem.  The reader is a guest to the party.  Yes, a writer can glean information here and there, but most don’t write to make readers happy, they write the story they are moved to tell.

Lastly, reviewing books in this way has helped me become a bit more discerning and broadened my reading horizons.  Although I still can’t get past the first chapter of Neal Stephenson’s, Anathem.  I suspect I lack the grey matter for it, but I bet people who see math in colors, and what have you, love it.  It’s exciting to find new books I enjoy, and how much faster I can spot what I don’t like, so I can get lost in a story I do like.  And you thought the Hokey Pokey was what it was all about.  There are a TON of stories out there, it’s a bit like the mother of all treasure hunts, so what are you waiting for?  Grab a book and bon voyage!

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