Yesterday, I came across John Green’s blog post about some of the perils of book reviewing: namely, that reviewers can put too much emphasis on their own reactions to a book (did they like it?), or that they can react negatively to a book based on a petty personal detail that doesn’t stand true for anyone else. I’m sure we’ve all been there, at least in our informal, personal reviews. I know I’ve posted any number of “it has a good beat; I can dance to it” style reviews on my GoodReads, but I try to remove “did I like it” from the equation before writing up an actual review that will be published in actual places. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes… not so much.
Green references Shannon Hale’s blog post about rating books, and the reader’s responsibility in enjoying a book—how making a book speak to a reader is not entirely the task of the author; the reader needs to engage and be an active participant in the experience. Hale also asks “Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?” And in some ways, it has for me—knowing that I have to pay more attention to plot development; that I can’t stop at “did I like it” to evaluate the book’s quality. There are plenty of books I didn’t like, but I still gave them middling to positive reviews, because I can understand a book’s appeal—even if it doesn’t appeal to me. (There are certain other books that I’ve found so dismal I honestly can’t understand the appeal to anyone—but there are plenty of other people who loved those books, so maybe I’m guilty of the “did I like this? No!” review, too.) But reviewing books both personally and professionally has changed the way I read and evaluate even the books I’m reading solely for myself, and I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or not.
But what do you do when you’re anticipating one kind of book, and the book you’re reviewing turns out to be totally different? You could review it the way Entertainment Weekly’s book reviewer did, sticking to your delusions despite all the evidence to the contrary, and complain that Catching Fire sucked because lacked the erotic energy of Twilight. Or you could describe The Hunger Games as “the first in a projected young-adult trilogy about Katniss Everdeen, a heroic adolescent girl who crushed on a sexy hunter. In between romantic daydreams, Katniss shot strange beasts, dodged force fields, and battled murderous zombie werewolves — usually while wearing fabulous glitzy outfits.” Then be roundly mocked in the comments.
I’m not really aiming to make any large points here—mostly I’m just pointing out two excellent posts and the most misguided review I’ve read in some time. Discuss!