On Writing Negative Reviews

If all goes according to plan, my book reviews on Goodreads should start showing up here as well. I know quite a few writers have a policy of never posting negative reviews, and I get why they do. There is something to be said for not alienating colleagues, especially ones who may be in a position to respond in kind. I can respect this. However, consider yourself warned that I do occasionally publish negative reviews. I try to review everything I read, and while I would like to read only works I can review in the most glowing terms, it sometimes does not work out that way.

I suppose I could take the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” approach. However, this then goes beyond damning a work with faint praise to damning a work with silence. (BTW, I am very behind on my reviews, so if a book shows as “read” on my list but doesn’t have any stars or comments, that is not necessarily a bad sign.) I do not think silence is useful to other readers. Faint praise at least communicates what I think other readers might find appealing if they choose to read the book. When I out-and-out criticize, I try to do so in such a way that tells other readers why I felt the need to do so and why they may or may not agree with me. Often I recognize that my reaction to a book is very personal or even irrational, so I fully accept that there are people who will enjoy a book for the very reasons I have despised it. To each his or her own.

I will also admit that sometimes I get a little snarky. I do, however, try to reserve it for works that truly deserve it as well as to temper it by mentioning any redeeming qualities the book might have. Besides, in many such cases, the author has plenty of adoring fans and can drown his or her sorrows in buckets of cash. I hardly think Dan Brown is reeling from any harsh words I may have had for Deception Point.

As for the awarding of stars, please keep in mind that these are very much subject to my moods and whims. I’ve been known to rip a book to shreds in the review and then give it four or five stars. Sometimes the author’s writing style trumps any quibbles I may have with the science, or I am in awe of the author’s craft even though I didn’t particularly care for the subject matter. Also keep in mind that I do not rate books I did not finish, as I do not feel that is fair. If I decide to abandon a work completely, I will note that, and I will sometimes give a reason. Sometimes the reason is simply a vague “meh” that I can tell will prevent me from ever picking it up again.

Bottom line, regardless of whether I finish the book or not: sometimes it’s the book; sometimes it’s me. And we don’t have to agree on which it is.


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