“Reviewing Books”

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Here I am sitting on an outdoor throne reading a book and contemplating my review. It looks as if the book is passing muster and I will recommend it to other three year olds. I occasionally receive advance reader’s copies of books and write reviews about them. Reviewing books challenges any writer to try to be fair, concise, and to not spoil the book for the reader by divulging too many plot details. Similarly it helps if enough details are provided to let the reader decide for herself whether the book looks worth reading. A totally scathing review, too colored by the viewpoint of the critic, can make that decision difficult.

I had finished reading the 2019 Frank Lloyd Wright biography, Plagued By Fire by Paul Hendrickson last week. That had led me to explore the Oak Park neighborhood where he lived and realize he was  my grandmother’ neighbor. The book was reviewed in yesterday’s  New York Times book section and I was eager to see the critic’s view on the book. The same aspects of the writing that I had enjoyed were roundly panned by the reviewer. The complexity I found showing that Wright was, like the rest of us, sometimes a cad and sometimes empathic, was disregarded. Instead the reviewer believed the entire book was an attempt to redeem Lloyd’s reputation by showing him to be compassionate.

The book is very long and takes many–to me–delightful side tracks as it unfolds. Those same discursive sections were seen as unnecessary, while I found them enlightening. In the end, I was glad that I had already finished the book. It’s possible that the review would have kept me away from it. I was reminded that I should take all reviews with more than a grain of salt. I need to let reviews alert me to books I might otherwise miss, but I shouldn’t let them keep me from books altogether.

25 thoughts on ““Reviewing Books”

  1. I have only recently started to review books. I am aware how hard it is to write them, and reluctant to be negative. If I really dislike a book, I avoid giving it any review, rather than a bad one.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. All reviews are more or less subjective — even those by professional critics. If the reader doesn’t “know” the critic (which is usually the case), it’s hard to tell if the critic is biased one way or the other. It would be nice, in the interest of full disclosure, if a critic would include such disclaimers with his or her reviews so a reader can take that into account.

  3. Reviews are just an opinion, and why they hold some credibility, I’ve disagreed many times with others (both good and not so good) when it comes to movies, books, restaurants, etc. Now if the review comes from a source that I trust and respect, it’s going to carry more weight.

    1. Sometimes a bad review actually makes something more appealing to me when I can tell the bias of the reviewer. This one just seemed off base and missing the point of the book.

  4. One of my favorite books by an author who has a huge following, was given bad review after bad review. Why? Because he dared to write out of his normal genre. I love deciding for myself. Of all the books I have read, I only regretted reading one through to the end.

    1. I guess the readers didn’t realize he could try something different. Too bad. I enjoy when a writer tries something different. William Krueger, who I started reading as a mystery writer, just wrote a lovely update on “Huckleberry Finn” called “This Tender Land.” Of course some panned it as being a copy of Twain without realizing it was his own version.

  5. Your comments are most interesting to me, Elizabeth. I read a review a lot of books and I always try to give a well-rounded review, even if the book is not my genre or I didn’t enjoy aspects of it. Most books have good points as well as bad and vice versa.

    1. I think your reviews are excellent examples of giving enough of your opinions as well as excerpts from the books to allow the reader to decide for herself. I have been able to do that from reading your reviews.

  6. I agree that sometimes reviews can put one off reading a book that one really should. However, once or twice I have read really vitriolic reviews by reviewers, with whom I usually disagree, and the negative reviews acted as a pointer to try the book. I think this is how I discovered Michel Houellebecq; one review was so adamant that the book be avoided that I just had to read it.

    1. Reverse psychology at work. I get intrigued when a reviewer takes issue with the premise of the book instead of responding to what the author wrote. That would lead me to the book too.

  7. I loved reading this post😊, and I agree with your point about reviews making you aware of certain books without allowing negative reviews to deter you from books you are curious to read. I’ve had the same experience with some films, where I thoroughly enjoyed a film that was panned, or was totally bored by a film that received a lot of advance hype.

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