A couple of articles caught my eye in recent days, both concerning unfavourable reviews of books. The first is from the writer’s POV; except rather than shrugging off the criticism novelist Kathleen Hale used it as a reason to start stalking the unfortunate blogger who happened to dislike her latest book. I read the article late on a Saturday night, and a bit drunk; even then I could scarcely believe what I was hearing, finishing the piece marvelling at just how distant from reality Hale sounded. The second piece is a lot more balanced, in all senses of the word. It’s written by former book blogger (and author) Suzanne McGee, who became the target of a disgruntled author’s ire and closed down her blog because of it.
Both pieces got me thinking on the notion of bad reviews, and why people leave them. In her piece, McGee mentions that she is an Amazon Vine member (if, like me, you didn’t know what this was you can find out here), and is therefore obliged to review everything that she is sent. This sounds somewhat relentless to me; but free books is free books, so if you’re going to step onto this particular treadmill I suppose the least you can do is to be honest.
I don’t have a review policy on this blog, although they seem popular elsewhere. If I had to come up with one, I suppose I’d sum up my approach by saying that I only review the books I like. I don’t read all the books I get sent. Hell, I don’t read all the books I borrow from the library. But since the world wise web is already chock full of negativity and scorn, I don’t think anyone needs another blog that just adds to that pile. I like a book, I review it. I don’t like it, I pass over it in silence and move on to something else.
I remember outlining this position to a couple of authors on Twitter. ‘But negative reviews are really important feedback,’ they both said – and I can completely see how useful they might be. To the author, anyway. I’m less convinced of their benefit to the reader, which is primarily what I am. Despite how good a book might be, and how much I never want it to end, there’s always – always – a small part of my brain thinking about what I’m going to read next, like the chain-smoker thinking about his next cigarette or the alcoholic his next bottle. To keep that fire burning, what I want to hear about is what you really like – what are you into, what are you enjoying, who do you rate?
Give me a positive review over a negative one any day of the week. Reading unqualified criticism of an author’s work, I’m always wondering what else is going on here – what history is there between reviewer and reviewee that has caused this dislike to erupt so violently? Such speculation only moves the reader’s eye away from the book itself, when in fact it should remain at the very centre of any review.