Positive or Negative?

As most of readers of my website know, I try very hard not to make negative comments about books that I’ve read. If I don’t like a book, or don’t find it good, or even if I don’t find it as good as the rave reviews given by others… I just don’t mention it. I also have to say that just because I haven’t mentioned a book doesn’t mean it’s not good. It also might mean that I haven’t read it, because my reading time is limited.

That said, I’m getting very tired of reviewers, particularly online reviewers, who feel that they have a “duty” to warn people off of the books that don’t meet their criteria. I don’t have a problem with those reviewers, few as they are, who will say that a particular book is well-written, but not their cup of tea, so to speak, but there’s enough negativism in the world today, and it’s hard enough to find really good books, that it seems like a waste of time to point out books one doesn’t like, especially since a great number of such negative reviews, I’ve noticed, often seem to reflect a particular reviewer’s dislike of a specific author, usually an author that other readers and reviewers like and read.

Now… one could say, and someone will at least likely think it, that I’m being hypocritical because I can be very negative about politicians, but there’s a huge difference between authors and politicians. We all have to live under the laws promulgated by elected officials, or we might have to live under rules they propose. No one has to live under the policies or laws I hypothecate in a novel, and no one has to buy any book I, or any other author, may write.

Also, given the ever-increasing number of books being published, it’s far more helpful — at least it seems that way to me – to see recommendations about what to read as opposed to what not to read. Then again, maybe that’s just my mindset, but when I read a negative review about a book, my initial reaction is to wonder what’s wrong with the reviewer, not the book, possibly because I want to like and enjoy every book I pick up.

Again, maybe I’m greatly mistaken, but it seems to me that most people are more interested in knowing what’s good and enjoyable than what’s not.

8 thoughts on “Positive or Negative?”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    I think that’s a very fair point where fiction is concerned, unless it has heavy-handed political overtones*. It also reflects a level of decency and perhaps some sympathy for those who at least make the attempt to write.

    For all else, unless it’s subject to simple mathematical proof, I think that the distinction between disagreeing vs more objective measure of merits of the content will often get lost, depending on both the provocativeness of the topic and the integrity of the reader; and that’s a normal hazard that comes with working in such realms.

    * to be clear, not a shot at you at all; your stories seem to abound in internal consistency, logistics, and consequences, even for the protagonist; perhaps that’s what leaves the reader (or me, at any rate) the freedom to see at least as much that they agree with as not in them, even if those who have read your nonfiction commentary might suspect there’s some of both implied.

  2. Robert A Vowell says:

    I always appreciate a review saying something along the lines of if you liked this book or that book you will like the reviewed book. I’ve been reading for more than a few years and I have a pretty good idea of what I find worthwhile to read.

  3. Hanneke says:

    I used to enjoy Harriet Klausner’s extensive reviews on Amazon. She didn’t write negative things, but she did go into some detail about the story. Since the rule for reviews became spoiler-averse I’ve not seen any more of her reviews. So I’ve become dependant on a few bookblogs I’ve learned to trust for my recommendations, and as a consequence read less widely than I might.
    I’m not spoiler-averse, but I hate bad endings, grimdark atmosphere, dystopias, horror, scary thrillers, nasty protagonists who don’t improve substantially, and things that leave a nasty aftertaste. With a new author, or one I don’t trust to reliably leave a positive aftertaste at the end, I will almost
    always read the ending before committing to buying and reading the books. The trouble is, that in a brick bookstore one can do that, but not online, and I seldom manage to travel to the big city for the bookstore anymore.

    Online stores never give a preview of the last chapter or 10-20 pages. With all the spoiler-averse people out there that may be good policy, but it puts me off trying new stuff.

    Harriet’s detailed reviews gave me exactly what I needed to decide if I might like the books, and thus encouraged me to try new authors and new books by authors I doubted.
    I really miss those kinds of reviews; and since I can’t review a book without talking about the story itself, which aspects I liked (and sometimes what I didn’t like), I’ve stopped writing reviews myself – keeping my recommendation general was too difficult and seemed to put people off rather than encourage them to try.

    Nowadays all the book reviews I see appear to avoid almost all mention of the actual content and often even the tone of the story, and to stick with generalities, to avoid any hint of a possible spoiler. Saying “This is a good book, you should read this” or “Don’t read this, I hated it” doesn’t tell me anything useful, unless I already know your tastes are exactly the same as mine – which I’m pretty sure they are not!

    A lot of reviews aren’t even clear about the exact category/trend a book fits into, like all those YA grimdark paranormal romance dystopias with lots of sex just being called fantasy or SF, no further information given. Those are not what I want when I’m looking for fantasy or SF.

    For another instance, when I want a mild romance (like Mary Stewart’s old one’s, or Jane Austen) I don’t want a book with a lot of explicit sex scenes. It’s actively discouraging me, after being burned a few times, from trying anything else in this genre that I don’t know well, that Amazon won’t allow reviews of romance books to mention if they do contain a lot of scary thriller stuff and end badly, or if they contain lots of explicit scenes, for fear/disapproval of people seeking out erotica; thereby making it harder to avoid if you don’t want to read that.

    1. Alison says:

      Just a note: Harriet Klausner passed away in 2015, that’s why you don’t see her reviews. I like the way GoodReads handles spoilers — spoilers are hidden unless you click on the “spoiler alert” button to view the spoiler. While I like knowing the general information about the book, I don’t necessarily want to read the spoilers, particularly for mysteries.

  4. Tom says:

    I enjoyed your suggestion “what if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions”.

    There is a social theory on positivism. Over the last 30 an more years since I first read about such a method of socializing I have tried it every so often. If socially busy I may last in that mode an hour or two! Most conversations are easier to maintain with a contrasting and that usually means a negative view. Saying nothing to avoid a negative comment leads to an awkward pause and frequently the end of conversation.

    That is quite different from offering unsolicited negative comments.

    I wonder if critics have to review certain authors and then end up having to say negative things. Criticism is itself an art and a science. Difficult; as is everything without an agreed on set of rules.

    1. Tim says:

      @Tom. My problem recently is the reverse: the reviews of some books I have looked at recently are 100% enthusiastic. Almost overly so. So I ask myself : do I believe this?

      Maybe I become too used to negative reviews.

  5. Tom says:

    @Tim. I usually depend on the blurb about the content or the introduction to decide the purchase. All most always in an airport situation.

    If you know the critic; that might help make the decision, but usually it is the author or the described perspective of the subject matter, that helps me. The enthusiastic review and the negative opinion are irrelevant because as readers we all have individual preferences.

    Looking for the next great read is in of itself somewhat thrilling.

  6. Tom says:

    @Tim. Perhaps knowing how the critic rates books would help in that situation.

    I usually ignore enthusiastic reviews and negative reports because of what this blog has noted about readers having individual preferences. I do note comments about the perspective of the subject that the book deals with. Experience with the author’s works also makes the choice simpler.

    These days we might also have to watch out for “fake” reviews 😉

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