I was inspired to write this after reading a couple of intriguing posts about negative reviews by Re-enchantment Of The World and Weighing A Pig Doesn’t Fatten It. Clicking on the links will take you to each post. Please read the comments, too, as there are some great points brought up there.
Thinking over the past year of blogging book reviews, I’m pressed to remember a truly negative review I posted. I was disappointed with Stephen King’s IT because I thought it was overlong and suffered from King’s tendency to waffle. Also, it was surprisingly dull in parts and had me almost skipping pages. Despite these flaws, I still rated it 2 stars. Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation wasn’t a great read for me either, but I initially gave it 3 stars, mainly because I liked the weird atmosphere and some of the writing style. After thinking more about it, I’ve amended that rating to 2 stars. But if you follow the Goodreads rating system, “2 stars” means the book was “okay.” Is “okay” a negative review? Not really.
I don’t consciously follow the Goodreads system, but I guess it has kind of seeped into my own thoughts on rating books. For me, “2 stars” means I was disappointed with the book. It wasn’t “1 star” terrible, but there were factors which prevented it from being an enjoyable read. Obviously this is subjective to me and my tastes. My “3 stars” means I enjoyed the book but wouldn’t recommend it to a friend unless they were a big fan of the author. It also means that I probably wouldn’t seek out more by the same author. My “4 stars” means I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to a friend if I thought it matched their tastes. I’d be very likely to read more by this author. Finally, my “5 stars” means that as well as really enjoying the book, there was something extra which really worked for me or impressed me about it. I would certainly recommend it to a friend and I would definitely read more by the same author. I don’t often hand out 5 star ratings, so it needs to be something special to garner those full fathom five stars.
Having just checked on Goodreads, in 2020 I rated only four books “5 stars”: The Fellowship of the Ring; Dune; The Stand; and A Christmas Carol. Interestingly, three of those were rereads. Next, a surprising forty-seven books “4 stars”. Following on, I rated twenty-one books “3 stars”, eight books “2 stars”, and nothing “1 star”. My average rating was 3.6 stars. And it appears that “4 stars” is my most popular rating, which has surprised me. I thought I handed out more “3 stars” than 4s.
I’ve never posted a “DNF review.” There was one book I DNF’d last year after reading 150 pages. It was Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. I might post a review of it this year. In fact, I may pick it up again and finish reading it, especially after Piotrek’s recent review over at Re-enchantment Of The World. I don’t know, though. I’m not really sure why, but I’ve always thought that I shouldn’t review a book I didn’t finish–like, if I did, I was breaking some kind of review-etiquette. What do you think? Is it okay to publish a review of something you didn’t finish reading?
One of the reasons I don’t post negative reviews is because of the books I choose to read. At this stage in my life, I usually base a lot of my reading choices on books that my friends and blogging buddies have recommended and which sound appealing to me based on their reviews. Or I select books by author’s whose work I’ve already read and enjoyed in the past. I can generally predict which books will work well for me based on these factors. This tends to keep me from picking up what I’d consider to be a badly written book.
Also, I don’t read ARCs anymore. I used to be a member of NetGalley and I would sometimes request advanced reading copies of books that interested me. After they changed their request policy, and because of my location in Japan, I could no longer receive ARCs written in English by authors I wanted to read. At first, this was disappointing because it prevented me from reading something brand new and unpublished by an author I liked. But with hindsight I believe this has turned out to be a good thing because, as we all know, there are so many great books to read and so little relative time to read them.
And finally, thanks again to Borgmans over at Weighing A Pig Doesn’t Fatten It for reminding me of the classic Sturgeon’s Law: “ninety percent of everything is crap.” Even though I may sometimes worry that I am missing out on a lot of good new books, the majority of them will probably follow old Sturgeon’s Law anyway.
What do you think? What is your approach to negative reviews?
Thanks for reading!