Reviews – what should I do?

Reviewing is taking up a fair bit of my time lately. I think I should probably spend more time writing my own stuff than writing about others, but I love reading, and when I find something brilliant I really want to share.
Anyway, I pride myself on integrity and honesty and all that good stuff.
Yes, but.
I am not putting up reviews of books I don’t like.
I feel concerned for the author; they may be offended, they spent time writing the book, who the fuck am I to trample on their words?
And yet…

A lot of the books I recently read were proof copies. I read 9 proofs in the last few months, and of the 9 I thought that 1 was good. Not my kind of book, but good. I expect it to do well and I will be glad when it does. The other 8 were varying degrees of not good. From disappointing to utterly shite. Now they are appearing in the bookshop, being reviewed in the papers and online. I am feeling a wee bit disgruntled actually. There is definitely a jealousy thing going on. A “this crap is published whilst I struggle” feeling.

I read a review on a respected blog yesterday that said one was ‘a cracker’. I found it trite, obvious, dull. I was going to post a reply to that effect, but then the publisher posted, said how pleased they were with it, how hopeful they were for its success. I’d be wrong to damn it, not that I think loads of people listen to me, but…

What if that was my book? What if finally I finished my novel, and it was published, and someone influential said it was ace, and then someone else said, no, actually I though it was caca? How would I feel?

So. What do you think? Is it best just to keep my mouth shut?

3 thoughts on “Reviews – what should I do?”

  1. Ah, the eternal dilemma. I can see it from two sides.ONE: I’m a book publicist (non-fiction). Of course I don’t want to see negative reviews of the books I work on, whether it be in print, online, on blogs, on Radio 4. The medium is irrelevent. A review is a review. If it’s bad, it sucks. For the author AND the PR. I’m naturally defensive of the books I work on all day long.TWO: I’m a blogger. I get a handful of review copies from other publishers, but not many, and by far the majority of what I review on my blog has been bought by me, from my own pocket. Do I not have the right, as a reader, to say what I do and don’t like? So, I reached myself a compromise:(a) If it’s a review copy, and I don’t like it, I’ll just mention it briefly in my sidebars and not review.(b) If I bought it, and it’s AWFUL and the bad things I could say far outweigh the good, same as the above.(c) If it’s fairly even good and bad things, then I’ll talk about it fairly.As long as the review isn’t needlessly bitchy, is considered, and well written, then I say go for it. :)Sorry. Long winded.

  2. At the moment I’m getting caught up in what I think of as second-wave reviews, where the book has been out a wee while and I’m trying to stir up a bit of interest again. I’ve just finished one, although it’s not posted yet, for Dan Rhodes’ Gold which, to be fair, got reasonable reviews when it first came out. But there were a couple of papers that pretty much panned it. Having read those reviews and now read the book I’m tempted to think that they didn’t read the book right. I suppose that’s the problem being a professional book reviewer that you have to read whatever gets dumped in your lap even if it’s not to your taste. I’m not a professional. The most I can hope for is a free copy of the book and that’s fine by me. Critics in the past have a lot to answer for (like the death of Tchaikovsky) but it’s one of those jobs where pretty much anyone can set up shop and call themselves a critic. I mean, I don’t have an O-Level in Book Reviewing or anything and I wouldn’t even say I’m especially well read – the list of writers I haven’t read is substantially longer than the list of those I have. I’ve never had to review a book yet that I’ve hated but if I did I’d try and remember I’m not a three year-old who won’t eat his cabbage. I need to present reasons why I’m not recommending it.In the case of Gold most of the negative comments were of the could-do-better variety. Thankfully I’d never read anything else by him so I could look at the book on its own merits. From what I have read this book is a bit of a departure from his previous work but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad. Different is not bad.I’ve also just posted a review of Woody Allen’s latest collection of short stories and prefaced my review by revealing that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Woody Allen fan; it’s only fair to the readers to be aware of that. As I say in the review, “If he released a set of knitting patterns I’d buy it.” I’ve tried to be objective – the book is really only going to be loved by people like me – but since pretty much nobody else writes like him the only thing you can compare him to is his work of twenty-plus years ago.To answer your question though: yes, by all means publish your review. If I were you I would reference the good reviews and explain where your reservations lie. I’m always wary of a product – and you see this especially on a site like Amazon – that gets nothing but glowing reviews. Nothing’s that perfect. The only question is whether the imperfections matter that much.Just to add a wee comment on what Kirsty said, I hated William McIlvanney’s last book. I was just not in the mood for the book. I simply could not get into it and I’m a devoted fan of the man’s writing. I did post a short review of the book on Goodreads but not on my main blog. I have no doubt I will pick the book up in a few years and probably love it. Thankfully books don’t go off although whether they improve with age is open to debate.

  3. I’ve had a bit of a quandary about the very same thing – I review for Vulpes but I had a stop for a while because I felt so bad. I am not sure what the answer is, but I think making up a set of rules for yourself that help you sleep at night is the way forward. I’m not there yet.

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