In Praise of the Negative Review, but Only if It is Honest

 

Today nearly every newly published book is sent off on its bright cheery way with its glowing encomiums on the back cover and sometimes even on the front cover. The readers are already aware of the book’s existence through various on-line lists of What To Read This Month.

Then we get the warm-hearted reviews who first point out all the wonderful aspects of this book and perhaps add some quite mild criticisms near the end of the article. Most of us surfeited users of the Internet will never get to that end of an article anyway.

Thus the minds of we readers are filled to overflowing with Books to Read, yet we are given next to no guidance as to Books to Not Read.

When every book is marketed and discussed as the next ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or the next ‘War and Peace’, it really becomes difficult for a potential reader to separate the wheat from the chaff.

In the olden days thirty years ago, there were curmudgeonly critics who were known not to like much of anything. Their negative sometimes nasty reviews would be fun to read if only to imagine their impact in spoiling the hopes and dreams of the books’ publishers. Since these, usually guys, didn’t like much of anything or only one narrow favorite genre of book, these curmudgeons weren’t very helpful for the readers either.

I guess what it comes down to is that if a reviewer likes everything, then it’s about the same as not liking anything, not very helpful. An occasional negative review would restore some balance.

Most of the books I don’t particularly like, I give up on and quit reading and I won’t ever review a book I haven’t entirely read, so the majority of books I complete get positive reviews. However there are still degrees of liking which is why I use an ABC rating. Unfortunately publishers seem to feel that a grade of B is a death-knell for a book.

Basically my opinion has nothing to do with the actual quality of a book, but I am still entitled to my opinion.

Of course if you or I write a negative review, there is a chance we could be wrong, God forbid. Imagine some poor fool of a reviewer criticizing and tearing apart ‘Pride and Prejudice’ over 200 years ago.

But there’s nothing wrong with sticking one’s neck out once in awhile either.

14 responses to this post.

  1. You raise some interesting points regarding reviews. My own method for determining how much weight to give a particular review is to “know” the reviewer, i.e., some critics have tastes similar to mine, some don’t; I pay more attention to the former. I admit this is a pretty cumbersome method but . . . what else is there? I pay absolutely no attention to the blurbs on book covers, or endorsements from fellow writers. My own pet peeves for reviews are (1) reviewers who don’t finish the book (common with certain segments of the online community) and (2) reviewers who can’t distinguish between their own reactions and the objective quality of the work, i.e., if the subject or main character isn’t their cup of tea, they automatically pan the book, even if it’s well done (this is closely akin to judging a book’s merit based on whether one identifies with, or finds the main character, “likable.”)

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply

    • Hi Janakay,
      Not being able to distinguish between one’s own reactions to a work and the objective quality of the work, that’s a problem I’ve noticed. We all tend to believe the stuff we like is high quality

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  2. Amen to that. I am not interested in wishy-washy reviews by people who care more about the feelings of the author or the book’s agenda than they do about the hapless reader who invests time and money in the book.
    I write the kind of reviews I want to read, i.e. honest opinions with reasons for holding those opinions. I try not to be mean or spiteful or nasty but I say what I think. I can’t see the point in doing anything else.
    Conversely, I know whose opinions I can trust, I know who has the same taste in books as me, and I know who doesn’t. I still buy books with flaws recognised by the reviewer, but I know what they are before I part with my money and reading time.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, an honest review means not withholding criticisms of a work. I appreciate that you do not hold back on your opinions on just about everything.

      Like

      Reply

      • LOL Actually, you’d be wrong about that. There’s a lot of issues where I don’t have an opinion at all, and there’s even more where I keep them entirely to myself.

        Like

        Reply

  3. Agreed! If I get a reasonable way into a book before giving up, I will blog some notes as to why I gave up usually. The majority of my reviews are pretty favourable, as I feel lucky to be able to mostly pick books that I know I’ll enjoy, but there has been the occasional stinker over the years. What’s more important to me is to distinguish a good read from an OK read and prioritise the former, and that’s where knowing the reviewer really helps as Lisa says.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  4. I don’t think it even has to be termed negative – the word ‘critical’ is just as good, and I’ve posted today about a book I didn’t like and said why. I think that’s helpful for other readers debating whether to pick up a book, and I do check around other blogs and reviews. Like Annabel and Lisa say, knowing your reviewer is crucial, which is why I tend to listen to those whose blogs I follow!

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply

    • Hi kaggsy,
      OK critical, not negative.
      “and the eventual love interest, Dawsey, could have been a lump of wood…”
      Thanks for providing me with a fine specimen of a critical (or negative) review today.

      Like

      Reply

  5. Sometimes a negative review can still pique my interest and make me read a book. I find that the most interesting books are ones that provoke different reactions.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Cathy,
      When I read a not-positive review of an author whom I have liked up to that point, I have to decide whether or not to read the book. Usually I’ll wind up finding some positive reviews of the book and read it anyway.

      Like

      Reply

  6. Posted by Charles Behlen on April 27, 2021 at 1:45 AM

    Collogues favorably reviewing collogues is epidemic in the poetry network. Negative reviews are levelled at poets who aren’t part of the system. Therefore, the proliferation of middling work.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Charles,
      Lately I have rarely found poems that have really affected me beyond your “Failing Heaven” collection. There are the old reliables like Philip Larkin, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost. I read two collections by Tony Hoagland which I really like, but was disappointed by the collection he published just before he died. I see I also liked the collections ‘Elegy Owed’ by Bob Hicok, ’99 Poems’ by Dana Gioia, and ‘A Thousand Mornings’ by Mary Oliver. I would always like to find more.

      Like

      Reply

  7. I’m afraid this business of only giving positive reviews is on the rise and stems from the business of giving free copies in return for a review. It’s very hard to be critical of a book in those circumstances.
    Personally I see little merit in giving every book a glowing review.

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: