Risk of Reviews (Part One)

This post will be posted in three parts; risk of reader, risk of reviewer and risk to writer. 

Part One; Risk of Reader

I’ve recently found myself ever cautious of the books I choose to buy, partly because there’s only so much room in my university dorm but also because I’ve only so much money to spend on books (university is, unfortunately, quite expensive).

As such I’ve found myself spending an increasing amount of time fawning (which is only a slight hyperbole of the action) over reviews from strangers, hanging off of and believing every other word (I know not to believe them all).

These reviews, most from people I’ve never heard of (though a fair few are from my GoodReads ‘friends’), have had a profound effect on my book-buying, and I’m not sure if it’s for the better.

If the book I’m looking to buy has a bad review online, be it on Amazon or GoodReads for I do check both (and sometimes more) before I buy, I won’t risk it. Rarely do I go against a review and buy a book anyway, doing so feels strangely rebellious, as though I’m breaking a social norm by doing so.

What’s wrong with this though? Doesn’t it mean I’ll only read good books as a result? 

I love recognising ‘bad’ writing, having the ability to nod at a piece and see the brilliance behind the words or frown at them, shaking my head, ‘no, no, no’ I’d mumble to myself (no doubt alarming those around me). It’s like a superpower. It’s strangely (almost mesmerisingly) empowering.

I believe you can learn, and grow as a writer, from reading both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writing, and as such it’s important to read both. Bad reviews disrupt this; because of them you’re less likely to read a ‘bad’ book than you are a ‘good’.

Yes, reviews themselves are subjective, coloured by the experiences of the reviewer. As such you may find yourself loving a book that received several dozen bad reviews – it’s all subjective, people are different, that’s why there’re so many books out there!

Do you read book reviews? Why do you think people base their decisions on the amount of stars (and by extension other people) printed next to the book’s name?

Janna

Photo by Alex Merenkov

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13 thoughts on “Risk of Reviews (Part One)

  1. Melfka says:

    I read book reviews, but rather than following the book, I follow the reviewer: over time I find the reviewers who have similar taste to mine and I know to trust their impressions of the book: if they give it one star while everyone else gives five, I know the book is not for me. And the other way round: the book might be getting bad or mediocre reviews, but if “my” trusted reviewer has something positive to say about it, I might enjoy the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jannakaixer says:

      That makes a lot of sense! I actually do it with movies; I have a couple of YouTube movie reviewers whom I’ve found (over time) have similar tastes to me, so if they don’t like a movie I know I probably won’t either. The trouble with finding a book version of this is finding someone who reads all the books you want to read, or have you found that that’s not an issue? I imagine over time you’d build up a good inventory of reviewers with similar tastes, perhaps that’s all it takes; time.

      Thank you for the comment!

      Janna

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      • Melfka says:

        Yes, I have several trusted places I go for reviews. And over time I learn that the reviewers’ tastes and even if they are not 100% compatible with mines, they still provide me with some insight about the book. It also comes with a certain level of professional approach: a good reviewer can point out good things in the book they didn’t like. For example something like “I’m not a fan of romance and found the emotional drama quite boring, but all the people who like more insight into characters’ relationship will surely enjoy the book.” – which if I am fan of romance, tells me that book might be good for me even if it was rater 1 or 2.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. nonfictioness says:

    I rarely read reviews and don’t even like reading a blurb! I love to approach a book knowing nothing about what is within its pages, it makes going on a reading journey so much more fun!

    Sometimes I read the blurb or review after I have read the book and am often proved right not to have read it before as it might have put me off!

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    • jannakaixer says:

      Wow that’s amazing! Every book must be such an adventure! I want to try that one day – reading a book without researching it first (or at the very least reading the blurb).

      How do you choose a book to read, if you don’t mind me asking? Do you go by recommendations or just pick a random book off the shelf? Do you ever regret not reading the blurb or a review, even if it would have put you off?

      Thank you for the comment!

      Janna

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      • nonfictioness says:

        Hey Janna,

        Thanks for the reply! To answer your question my current book choosing ploy is to get my husband to buy me a stack of books for Christmas of his choosing. That way they are usually ones I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen myself but I am pleased to try new books this way. Some of the books he chose for me last year I loved, some I was not so keen on, but it is quite a fun way to broaden your reading horizons!

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      • jannakaixer says:

        I think that’s a fantastic idea! You’re bound to get a real mix that way too and, like you said, books you wouldn’t have necessarily chosen yourself.

        I got a bunch of books for my birthday from family and friends and a fair few of them are books I’d never thought of reading. I didn’t really look into them either, I read the blurbs but that was it. I’ve loved the ones I’ve read so far too! There’s something exciting about it, about reading outside of your ‘comfort zone’.

        Thanks for replying!

        Janna

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  3. Michelle Mueller says:

    An interesting topic! I’ve increasingly started reading reviews before choosing my books, but I try to read the reviews in the middle (2-3 stars, maybe a 4-star). I find them to be the most honest (or at least the most helpful). With the saturation of 5-star reviews, especially in the indie market, I don’t trust novels with only good reviews. As you said, reviewing is subjective, but these days, I think many reviewers (especially with books they’ve been asked to read and review by the author) feel compelled to leave higher ratings — even if they didn’t particularly like the novel.

    A well-balanced novel on Goodreads is going to have both good and bad reviews, so if the story sounds interesting to you, don’t let a bad review deter you from choosing it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jannakaixer says:

      It really is and it’s not one I’d really thought about till I wrote this post. It’s definitely a good idea to read the reviews in the middle (thanks for the tip!). I like to read at least one long and over detailed (the more detail the more time spent, or so I like to think) 5-star one with an equally long 1-star one before reading half a dozen of my GoodReads friend’s reviews and deciding whether or not to invest time in reading the book. It must be difficult to objectively review a book, as a reviewer must to some extent do, particularly if the author is involved. It doesn’t really help that GoodReads only has a 5-star system, it would be great to score things out of ten instead, but that may be personal preference.

      Very true – if it’s a good novel it’ll have provoked discussion (for I believe a good novel must make you think) in the form of good and bad reviews.

      Thanks for the comment! You gave me a tonne to think about!

      Janna

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  4. cassietheweird says:

    If I haven’t read the book, I’ll often skim reviews (both on blogs and goodreads), just to see what the majority thinks. If the majority is negative/neutral, I’m more likely to borrow the book first, but if everyone’s throwing love at it, and it looks like my kind of book, I’m more likely to just buy it/request it for Christmas/Birthday.
    I only properly read reviews when I’ve finished the book, so that I can see if people feel the same way as me (either positive or negative).

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    • jannakaixer says:

      That’s a really good way to go at it – getting an idea of the general buzz surrounding the book before deciding to either borrow or buy it. I think a lot of us do what you do subconsciously – when I request books for Christmas/Birthdays, for example, they’re always books I’ve heard tonnes about and am excited, as a result, for.

      I love reading reviews in detail after I’ve finished a book, it’s nice to see what others thought, to see if others picked up on what I did and see if I’d missed anything major (tension between two characters perhaps, or a reoccurring symbol that’s brilliantly placed). It’s also a nice way to solidify what I read, it’s almost like discussing the book with someone and figuring out what actually happened.

      Thank you for commenting!

      Janna

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  5. AbsentElemental says:

    I try to avoid reviews before I read a book because it’s almost impossible to find a truly objective review anymore. It seems to me that the majority of reviewers are either compensated for their time or are afraid to be critical of the work of another (lest their own work be looked upon in a similar manner one day). As a reader of reviews, I find it hard to separate myself from that mentality while reading. It’s not fun to be judging the content and motivation behind a review of a book that you haven’t even read.

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    • jannakaixer says:

      That’s true – once you have an idea in your mind it’s hard to dispel it. And I think it’s also true that a lot of reviewers are either compensated for their work or are afraid of being (perhaps too?) critical. It is getting better though, and I’ve recently read/watched a couple of reviews that had, quite objectively, looked at a book and tore it apart exposing both good and bad. Hard/good reviewers are hard to come by though. That makes a lot of sense, I’ve found I do that too – try to find the motivation behind the review another wrote all whilst convincing myself the book is good/bad. It’s hard to form an opinion about a book when you’ve been exposed to several others’ opinions.

      Thank you for the comment!

      Janna

      Like

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