Largely due to social media, it seems like everyone has something to say about everything and, in their own minds, their thoughts are absolute. What does that say for book reviews? Should we take the word of the novice reader/reviewer who simply says, “It sucks.” Or, should we only trust the mind of the literary scholar and frequent reviewer? I’m starting to think they’re both useful, if you can get through the paid-for-by-author fluff–which I’d just like to say bothers me to no end. I know they can say what they want, but I’d suggest a little dignity in their work. I realize your work can be misunderstood, making you feel the need to speak out, but take to social media for that.
The way I understand them, book reviews are meant to debrief the potential audience and highlight the work’s ups, while giving constructive criticism when needed. If you go to Amazon and skim through the reviews of your favorite book/author, this is probably not the kind of review you will find without actively looking. If you search Twitter hashtags, I’m 98% sure you won’t find this, at all. On the other hand, if you are a pleasure/leisure reader, the standard It sucked or alternative I liked it might be just what you are looking for. Depending on my intentions for reading, I use both, but reviews have become so unreliable thanks to author’s anonymously hyping their own work that when I’m in a hurry, I’ll just check the star rating counts without reading a single word of a review.
People are basing their reviews on anything now: plot, integrity, literary comparison, like or didn’t like, reminded me of…, character highlight, genre only, “it’s great because someone paid me to say so.” One reviewer admitted to changing her initial rating due to disapproving of the author’s personal life. While I disagree with this practice as a whole, I can understand not wanting to monetarily support an author when you don’t support their values. With that said, I would suggest adding a statement to the end of the review along the lines of, “Regardless, I cannot support the book because I do not support the author.” If the person reading the review is also the type of reader who feels strongly about supporting the author, that should be enough incentive to get them to do the research themselves. This way, you’ve done your job properly and expressed your opinion. I do believe in freedom of speech, but I also agree with “everything in moderation.” Plus, we should really adhere to the following rule: If you won’t say it in person, don’t say it online.
With that in mind, do we review things we don’t like? Of course! It’s something to be smart about, sure, but at the same time, if we only review things we like, what is the point in reading them? No one would. We would all just check the number of “likes” and be done with it. However, it is also a waste of time to solely trash someone’s work. If you don’t like it, tell me why. You can be nice about this, I was looking for… or I didn’t see enough…. Offer constructive criticism and highlight what you do like. I can all but guarantee you that if you do this, the author will be more likely to take the review seriously and the reader will give your review merit and they would be able to tell if the reasons you didn’t like the book are things that matter to them.