One of my amazing and thoughtful readers left me a comment recently stating that I am going to have to start posting reviews of books that I don’t like. She jokingly said that her “To Be Read” pile was getting too big based on the number of positive book recommendations here on my blog. This really got me thinking about my reasons behind the lack of negative reviews. Of course every blogger has the right to choose the content for his or her own blog, whether it be positive, negative or neutral. I know there have been countless posts, discussions and debates from bloggers about publishing negative reviews, so I thought I would throw in my two cents and explain the lack of negative reviews on The Book Binder’s Daughter.
First, I am an extremely picky reader. I only like certain genres, the style of prose in a book has to be just right, I have to be in the right mood, the planets have to be aligned and so on and so forth. When a book is recommended or sent to me my first stop is always Goodreads where I will read both positive and negative reviews of books. I hate to admit it, but I do often judge a book by its cover. If the cover is terrible, than what am I going to find in between the pages? So, before I even crack open a book I have done a lot of research, reading, meditation, et cetera about the book.
That is not to say that I don’t exclusively write reviews for books I absolutely love and gave 5 star reviews to on Goodreads or Amazon. If I claimed that every book I read was fantastic and a “must read” then you wouldn’t trust me, nor should you because such a carnival of hyperbole is insincere. Sometimes a book will have positive elements mixed with negative but I still review it here on the blog. For instance, I might like the prose of a novel but think that the storyline isn’t quite right. In this case I will post my review and carefully lay out for the reader specific reasons I didn’t like parts of a book. With most of the books that I choose to read, I find something positive to say even if I didn’t absolutely love it and I then post a carefully written review.
But what happens when I do come across a book that I absolutely disliked for which I could find no redeeming aspects? Since I put a lot of time and thought into writing my reviews, I decided when I started my blog that I did not want to put my energy into writing pieces that are completely negative. I also understand that literature, like music or any other art form, is subjective and a matter of personal taste. A book that I despise, might be someone’s most beloved book and I certainly don’t want to offend anyone by condemning his or her favorite book.
I would like to give two examples of books that I did not like recently and, although I finished reading both of them, I chose not to post reviews of them on my blog. I know what you are thinking: “But Melissa, you just said you don’t post negative reviews and now you are going to post two of them! You hypocrite!” But I think that using these books as an example will help to further explain my philosophy about negative reviews. So please bear with me.
The first of my examples is a book entitled A Lifetime On Clouds by Gerald Murnane. In this novel, Adrian Sherd is a teenager in Australia who is coming of age in a middle class Catholic family in the 1950’s. Like many of his friends he spends his time thinking about girls and ways to pleasure himself. That’s right, there was a LOT of dialogue about masturbation in this book. I am embarrassed to even type that word. My parents read this blog! I thoroughly enjoy reading a love scene in a book when it is appropriate to the plot and well-done. But the amount of discussion about personal gratification in A Lifetime On Clouds was just ridiculous. And on top of that, there were many parts of the book where the storyline lagged and I was bored. Finally, the ending was unsatisfactory and the book turned from being funny and lighthearted to serious and pessimistic. The beginning and ending of the story did not seem to fit together.
My second example is a book entitled Lucky Us by Amy Bloom. This book has received a lot of press and has been on many “Must Read” book lists for summer. But when I read the book, I just couldn’t find anything positive about it that would justify recommending it to my readers. The novel was depressing and uninteresting, the characters led sad lives and the ending was disappointing. A lot has been made about the opening lines of the book which states that the main character’s father had another wife and another child. The fact that the husband ended up with two families was a major part of the plot but it was never explained!
So now you understand some of the reasons that make me dislike a book; inappropriate content, boring characters and major flaws in the plot. I do still rate all of the books I read on Goodreads, even those that only get 1 or 2 stars like the ones I described above. But the few negative things I wrote above about each book are all the comments I could muster in the minimal amount of time I was willing to spend on articulating my thoughts. Why do I want to put my energy into writing at length about a work that I would recommend that you not read. Wouldn’t you rather read thoughtful reviews about good, or great or fantastic books that you should read?
I will add that, if I decide that a book falls into the category of my two examples above, I will send an email to the author or publisher if they have specifically requested a book review. Many bloggers will not extend this courtesy in order to avoid any awkward situations. But I feel that authors, for all of their hard work and dedication to their craft, are owed at least a small piece of communication .
If you are a book blogger, what is your policy about negative reviews? If you are one of my readers, what do you think about reading negative reviews? If you are an author, do you read reviews whether they are negative or positive?
*A special thanks for my reader Janey for inspiring this post.