I don’t like them. Clarification: I don’t like reviewing books myself. I can’t always explain rationally why I like one book and not another. It’s those cases that make me certainly understand and even sympathize with an editor or agent who sends a rejection that says simply, this is not for me.
Book reviews to me seem like book reports and I never liked doing book reports, didn’t much like dissecting literature, because it took some of the magic away for me. If I loved a book, delving deeply into its themes took away some of the beauty and power of the work — I wanted to just love it, to let it resonate inside of me, to let it become a part of me. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t want to dwell on what the author did wrong, because, quite simply, it might not have been anything. It just, for whatever reason, didn’t touch me. That doesn’t mean it didn’t touch anyone else, or that it was poorly written or executed. Might have been, but that’s not my concern. In my own writing, it obviously is, but that’s whole other matter.
There are New York Times bestsellers that I absolutely and unequivocally did not like. Obviously, millions of people might disagree with me, based on the sales it takes to reach that list, glowing reviews and word-of-mouth buzz. But, again, that’s okay. I rarely read the Amazon or AAR reviews when I set off to buy a book. If I do, and if they’re all resoundingly negative, that might make me want to buy the book even more, since I’m contrary that way. Tell me I’m supposed to hate something and I’m going to set out to prove you wrong. Because book reviewers are not the end all of the book’s fate, and neither are agents or editors, especially when you look at the amazing amount of rejections certain books that are considered classics once received.
I purchased a book recently, not based on reviews, but rather, the author’s description of what it took for her to write the book, the struggles she endured, the times she was sure it wasn’t ever going to see the light of day, the many, many revisions she bravely faced in order for the publisher to finally accept it. Whether or not I love or hate that book, I’m going to appreciate it because of what I know she put into it.
I understand the need for book reviews. I understand why people enjoy them. But what I don’t understand is why I would have to necessarily agree with them or to start slanting the way I write or what I read accordingly to one person’s opinion. Sometimes, I like books about virgins. Sometimes, I like books that have a heroine doing something that might seems stupid to other people, because for whatever reason, I understand why she’s doing what she’s doing. Sometimes I heartily disagree with Mrs. Giggles and the way she perceives a novel, even though I might laugh my ass off at the way she discusses it. She’s honest and she makes good points, but I don’t have to always take what she says to heart. And I think that’s the problem with book reviewing. It’s not so much the reviews themselves, but the way they’re taken too much to heart by both authors and readers alike, and quite possibly the way they stop some people from enjoying a book that might have really spoken to them if not for the classifications cast upon it: Oh look, it’s another cowboy/secret baby/arranged marriage/TSTL heroine book.
Sometimes pulling a plot apart doesn’t do fantastic writing and characterization justice. Sometimes, we all need to remember there’s such a thing as suspension of disbelief. And sometimes, yes, a book just isn’t for you.
I think the best reviews come from the way you feel before, during and after you’ve read a book. The way you feel when you hold the book in your hands, the way the cover or the blurb or the first pages of that first chapter pull you in and just speak to you in a way that you know you’re not going to be able to put that book down once you pick it up.
Whether or not a book ends up on my keeper shelf or not depends on so many other things, and the way someone else feels about it is not one of those things.