Ergh! I didn't like this book!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sarah McCarry's post about women faking niceness in the blogosphere has definitely raised a lot of eyebrows and severely thinned a lot of the reading lips. I can't say I was impressed either, and really, just for how long will we bring gender into every picture?

Anyways, the point of this post isn't Sarah McCarry's questionable and disputable analysis about 'faking niceness' = women. Rather, it is about a tangential thought that slipped into my mind as I was reading her post.

How do you write a negative review?

When I read a book, my reactions are, well, very sharp. If I am reading a WTH scene, I will respond exactly like that. I will even have conversations with the bookish characters, questioning their actions or decisions. In fact, an alternate storyline will already be forming in my mind, where I am part of the book and talking to the characters. Be it a great plotline or a ridiculous one, my reactions can be very emphatic. If I didn't like the book at all, I will fake throwing it across the room (Of course, my conscience won't let me to really throw it).

And then I try to review it a few days later, when my reactions have simmered down. So that, no matter how much of an issue I had with the book, I am able to present my thoughts coherently and not emotionally. Because, no matter how awful the book is, or even that it may not be geared towards me, the book is still someone's baby, a result of someone toiling for months, maybe even years. Which brings me to wonder, is it wrong to post a negative review? I guess not. In that case, how nicely can you write a negative review?

As I was growing up, one of the most useful lessons I've learnt is that if you really want someone to correct a mistake, be nice about it. Instead of saying "You were clumsy on stage today" (which is the truth), you could say "Try not to shift too much on your legs while standing on a stage" or many such variants. If a friend of mine walked up to me and told me rudely that I am an annoying bug and a very bad person, I will be really upset at first, then offended, and finally angry. Why? Didn't she give me an honest opinion? Shouldn't I appreciate it and thank her for having told me what others were too shy to tell me? Maybe if she sugar-coated her words, I may not feel angry. Probably still upset, but I would be in better control of my emotions. Is that what we should do in reviews?

Which brings me to this - there is a thin line between not liking a book and really hating it. I'm sure we all have our list of books that no matter what, we can't bring ourselves to talk about nicely. In such a case, is it justifiable to just give vent to your emotions and rant all you want? After all, you just spent some valuable time on something that didn't justify it.

I doubt there's really a right way to do this. When I watch a movie, I rarely worry about how vehemently I express my opinion, since I'm sure that the director is not sitting in my living room, gauging my reaction. I think it's a good thing that we struggle to write negative reviews. That shows we have big hearts. Ha!

I'm curious about what you think. How do you review a book you didn't like? And what about a book you hated?

Did you sign-up for the Glorious giveaway?

16 comments:

Jen G. said...

Good question! I'm usually pretty upfront, but I try to explain exactly what I disliked rather than just a general, "I hated this book and it should never have been published!"

I just had to write a negative review of a book that an author sent me, and he seemed really nice, so I felt bad and tried to be honest but still be nice. I'm sure I erred on one side or the other. It was a pretty uncomfortable feeling and I was relieved when that review was written and posted.

bermudaonion said...

It might be the Southerner in me, but I think it's fine to say you didn't like a book and why, but it's not okay to attack the author. I agree with you that you can get your point across without being mean. Great post!

Nadia said...

When I don't like a book I just say I didn't like it and why ( but I do not attack the author). At the end of the day, just because its not my cup of tea, doesn't mean that someone else won't love it. Case in point - Little Bee ( I hated this book, but loads of other peopl loved it). I try not to be too harsh about the reasons for not liking it, but clear as to what parts did not suit me. Its my blog, so its my personal opinion, right? Anyhow, great post Aths!

Helen's Book Blog said...

Great question, Aths! If I really hate a book I just don't read it so that solves that review problem. I'll just list it as a did not finish on a wrap-up post.

What if I just don't like it much but I do finish it...I write an okay review. I point out that this book wasn't for me and why, but I also try to find some positives because I think there are always people who will like a book. I am so embarrassed to admit I couldn't finish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but obviously, others love it. So, I don't trash a book in a review.

Paper Cut Reviewer said...

I like this topic:) I always write honest reviews but even if I don't care for a book I can almost always find something good or something I did like. I think giving positive along with the negative is a good way to write a review. It also gives the writer feed back for what worked and what didn't. I never read a book I just hated and couldn't find some good in it. Well at least not yet, lol!

Thanks!
Steph

Wendy said...

I use the sandwich method - I sandwich the negative things about the book between two positive things (because almost always I can find something good to say about a book I didn't like...even if it is just to say who else besides me might like it).

Very, very rarely do I hate a book...and then I usually do not finish it. Then I don't really write a review - I just share my thoughts as to why I couldn't get through the book - often it is a style I just didn't enjoy.

Writing about books we don't like can be tricky, but I think it can be done with respect to the author ...and as someone else said, focus on the book, not the author.

WonderBunny said...

I think it is important to be honest, professional and sticking to why you didn't like the book. Never attack the author and make sure that a less the positive review is well said. If the book just didn't work for you and these are the reasons why you think. I think that is acceptable. If you hate the book, be sure to back it up with why. I think it is important to post the good and bad. Why you write reviews is up to you and if all you. If you write reviews to let others know what you think of a book, then I think you should say when you love or hate a book. I would almost say that you owe people who read your blog to post the good and the bad. I always wonder about bloggers who never ever have a bad book because I don't believe that really happens. It may not be very often but we can't love everything we read (or at least, I can't).

I think that it is wonderful that so many people have put their work out there to be judged by others...but they also make money from it. Because of that, I think I also should be able to say that a book is good or bad. I spent money/time/energy reading the book too and while it isn't as much as the author did, I did put something into it and if I find something I really love, I want everyone to know about. When I find a book that I can barely stomach, I post the review and consider it done. I don't feel the urge to mention about how much I dislike a certain well loved authors books everytime someone mentions her. If someone asked me personally I would respond but I think after posting a review of a book you didn't like, discussion of the book is over. At least it is for me. I think more good can be done from telling people about authors you love then continuing to harp on books you dislike. If people don't talk about an book beyond the first, "I didn't like it" I think those books die just as easy as books that keep getting talked about succeed. And the book I really like talking about, are the ones I loved.

Emidy said...

Excellent post! When it comes to posting negative reviews, I don't shy away from speaking my mind. But, I try not be harsh. When I write about the negative things, I always include aspects of the book that I did enjoy.

Roseann's 1001 Books said...

I do not think it is just women who write "mushy" reviews. Some of the harshest reviews I have read in Publisher's Weekly have been by women.

For me, I do not like being harsh in my reviews, but I am willing to say what I didn't like. There are very few books that I have read and hated, usually it's either a character or style that bothers me. Coming from a management background I like to look at both the good and the bad in a book and note both accordingly.

Us gals can't win,if we are nice, then we are weak, if we are harsh, then we are b**ches.

J.G. said...

Great post and comments on an interesting topic here, y'all!

My reviews are more personal than professional, but whatever my opinion, I try to give more details than "It was stupid and I hated it" or "I just love this book." I think the specifics are helpful for readers who're deciding whether to read it themselves. When I'm reading a review I always want to know WHY the reviewer feels the way they do. (And if I read that reviewer a lot, I know what their taste is and can factor that in.)

Also, I'm always willing to acknowledge that the "problem" might be me and my perspective!

mummazappa said...

that was an interesting article and a great post, but really i think my type of reviews are actually just my personal opinion on what i liked or didn't like about a book, i can't say i'm a professional reviewer analysing the literary aspects of a body of work and its impact on society etc etc etc. i try to write honestly about what i thought, but i don't think there's any need to get snarky or rude. except for one book i reviewed that i gave only 1 star to, i think i was a bit rude about how much it hurt me to read that one :-)

Ash said...

If I don't like a book I usually come out and say it right away. But I try to find reasons why I didn't like the book and find reasons why other people might like it. I'll say why the book didn't work for me, but sometimes there are other reasons I don't like books that might not happen to other people. Like maybe a character reminds me of someone I went to high school with who I really didn't like, and this hangs me up for the whole book. Does that mean the book was dribble? Not necessarily. Book reviewing is so subjective and so I think it's okay to be honest, but also to search for the reasons why you don't like something instead of just saying "I hate this!"

Also, just to harp for a minute, it is so not true that "faking niceness" is women's sport. My boyfriend does it all the time. He is a male, just to clarify. So do most of the men in my family, come to think of it.

Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

I agree with the other commenters. I think it's O.K. to write a negative review of a book but not to attack the author personally. I also think it's important to emphasize the positive as well as the negative aspects of the book. A person should be able to read a review and get a somewhat balanced discussion of the book's strengths and weaknesses so she can decide for herself which aspects of the books appeal to her or make her want to steer clear of it.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I definitely do negative reviews but only if I can bear to finish it. I feel like its unfair to review something I couldn't finish.

I try to point out what works for me and what doesn't.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

PS I don't like the article. I think being nice is good. Just 'cause I didn't love something doesn't mean some one else won't. I would like to blow a big wet raspberry to that writer/blogger.

Erisian (FNORDinc.com) said...

when i read a review, i am hoping to get the honest opinion of the book. good, bad, and ugly.

as such, i have no trouble telling people what i think of a book. though very very rare, i have even personally lambasted a couple authors (eg. sloane crosley).

the reason i do this is for balance. There are too many people out there tiptoeing through a review, trying not to be too harsh. as such, in many cases, a review reader ends up with the "maybe it will be different with me" feeling. i have been one of these people.

~~

essentially, i am a firm believer that if 9 people say jumping off a building is a great idea, a 10th person should say, "lets wait just a second.. here is why". people can still jump off the building, but they are given a bit more info/emotion to base their decision off.

much like your comment about being vocal regarding films, let it go with books as well. if you have something to say, say it. its very unlikely anyone else will...

(great question! thanks for opening the forum on it :) )