When is a review, not a review?

27 Apr


Recently it has become clear that when we read book reviews, the book itself is not actually being critiqued, the reader is merely being provided a background to the story.

Occasionally, a reviewer may dare to mention in a single line the worthiness of the plot, or perhaps dabble in a touch of academic theory, but not enough to make the reader consider the review as a strong opinion of the books credibility.

It is not always that easy to write an informative review, with worthy discussion of the writer’s style, and contemplation of the plot. Mainly because many of the books offered for review, primarily to the newspapers, are not designed for heavy critique, they are in essence an entire celeb style mag in the form of a book with only one star telling their story.

Barry Turner, editor of The Writers Handbook 2011, says that the books most likely to receive a review are ‘Anything that links across to the news, such as a current war or an established expose, moves up the line, as do books that tackle fundamentals of human existence such as climate change.’

Online reviews are slightly different. You will find reviews of every style and genre. Unfortunately, many of these reviews are amateurish, with the reviewer wanting the book to deliver something that was never promised. However, there are sites such as Bookreview.com, as well as many blogs, where the reviews hold a more valid place as the reviewer critiques good writing practice.

With bloggers that do review, invariably come recommendations, which are great for the writer. This instinctively, holds a stronger opinion for the reader, as bloggers are not held to house styles, or a particular image.

If a novel writer, successfully finds they have received a national paper review, it is with a cynical eye that the reader examines the text. Does the author know the reviewer; was it written as favour for the editor? Many reviews are seen as a back slapping exercise, and Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Man Booker Prize has claimed, ‘The only way you can detect that a reviewer doesn’t like a book is when they spend the whole time simply describing the plot. They’re not brave enough to say “It doesn’t work”.’

Another criticism is the way reviewers tend to review each other’s work, as many critiques are authors themselves. Inevitably, this leads to strong opinions on the worthiness of the book. Unfortunately, this has also crossed into the blogging world. Many self-published authors link up and write reviews on Amazon, as well providing praise within the author’s blog. Linking at the end to their own published works, this provides the reader the imitation that this author really is worth pursuing.

Miles Kington, in 2007, wrote a master class in the independent about writing reviews. He clearly defined a book review layout, breaking it down into five principles. A negative comparison to the authors earlier work, how it is not as good as another authors, how the story could have been improved, why the cover is all wrong, and finally, why it should still be read. Kington’s overall point was that the review was about the reviewer, not the book or the author.

Most readers make their book purchases based on their own preference. Reviews as a whole are very rarely considered, and the old adage, when browsing a bookstore, never judge a book by its cover, goes out the window. If you are partial to chick lit, you will invariably be drawn to the colours and style of the cover.

Reviews primarily, are for the writer’s ego. A good review congratulates the hard work and determination. It is a fanfare of recognition. A bad review is a chance for the author to dismiss the unintelligent spectrum of society who just obviously didn’t understand the purpose of the book,  or they can consider Miles Kingtons point when he said, ‘No book reviewer ever has time to read the whole book, not for the money they are paying you. The vital thing is to give the impression that you HAVE read the whole book.’

(This was part of an assignment but I found writing this really interesting – what do you think of reviews? )


11 Responses to “When is a review, not a review?”

  1. Ellie April 27, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Good point Laney. I hate it when the ending is given away. I have noticed many bloggers doing that too, drives me mad! I have never read the lord of the rings because i got told the end so didnt see the point.

  2. Charlotte April 27, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    Nicely considered post, Ellie.

    I do personally pay attention to reviews, a little. Reader reviews, that is – I’m not interested in ‘expert’ reviews printed in newspapers and magazines. I don’t trust them, for the reasons you state. I take reader reviews with a pinch of salt, because they’re certainly opinion-based, but I usually browse them.

    I don’t pay any attention at all to the back-slapping that goes on in the way of recommendations from other authors splashed all over the covers of books (and prominently displayed on Amazon pages). All of that clutter really annoys me; it takes up so much space without saying anything of any use. If anything, these high-profile quotes are amusing: the stupid language that they employ to state why this particular author ought to be read, above all others, is perfectly risible. I sometimes wonder whether anybody cares about them at all.

    • Ellie April 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

      I was actually tempted to put ROFL! Oh i just did ha! You have just said exactly what I wanted to say but so much more eloquently, ta for that!

      As a side note though, when my book is finally available on amazon i expect y’all to give me some back slapping reviews just to get me started – naturally I shall return the favour! LOL!

  3. Jessica S April 27, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    I agree with Ellie, pkg. Books are books, facts are facts, stories are stories, but it’s the effects left by them that really stay with us. I think that’s the perfect thing to review!

    You’re welcome, Ellie… Oh. Wait. You weren’t thanking me? LOL

    • Ellie April 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

      and now I am….thanks!!

  4. Laney April 27, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    I find that a good number of the books I have read recently have other authors within that genre giving reviews. In other words, fellow authors giving each other props. I generally pay little attention to reviews anymore. It isn’t some one elses opinion that will make me want to read, it’s my opinion. And that first impression on the inside jacket or the first page goes much farther than jacket cover colors or reviewers thoughts. Great post.

    • Ellie April 27, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

      Thanks Laney!

      I agree, reviews leave very little imprint with me. Having said that (I know this is against many peoples agreement) but I tend to buy my books second hand, so for me, it is about the instant attraction, the blurb etc.

      However, when I do buy new, it is from Amazon, so the readesr reviews are where I turn before I hit purchase.

      • Laney April 27, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

        I buy used too sometimes(shhh), but I do love a new shiny book in my hands. I generally dog ear them to death and destroy them into a nice supple used book by the time I’m done anyway. The reader reviews, I find, occassionally give the whole story away. I hate that. So I read those with caution now as well.

  5. pkg April 27, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    When I write about books, I am really not reviewing the book. I write about the effect the book had on me.

    • Ellie April 27, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

      For me, that is a perfect review!

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by.


  1. Reviews = Sales (But make sure they are genuine) « Reading, writing and the bits inbetween - May 20, 2011

    […] = Sales (But make sure they are genuine) 20 May Many of you may remember my post about reviews. I discussed how fake reviews can seem, and how even with self-publishing, authors are using […]

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