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August 13, 2009

Thoughts on reviewing - some people think too much in absolutes

As many of you know, I'm a book reviewer. Thankfully, I've never really received any harsh criticism regarding these reviews, which makes me think either I'm doing a good job or that nobody really cares. For my own sanity, I'm counting on the former. But I have had one rather harsh response to my reviews. I posted this sometime last year, and I've just edited it enough so that the time references make sense, along with adding a point or two.

Sometime last year, my editor at Curled Up With a Good Book received a complaint about me and my reviewing style. I laughed it off, but was thinking about the reviewing process and decided 'this would make a good topic to blog about.' It was so cool to see I actually have a fan!

So, in that vein, here is the letter (obviously the name is withheld):

"I accidently found your web site whilst searching for a few books I haven't read yet."

So far, so good. We love it when you come to the site to look for books you haven't read yet.

"Lets just say I was extremely disappointed with nearly all of the reviews I have read by by David Roy. This reviewer looks to be at the point where reading is more of a job and less of a joy for him. It seems that unless the book has an amount of sex or titillation in it, he reviews it with a large degree of distaste or boredom. I read more than a dozens reviews where I thought the books were extremely enjoyable, and he shot them down with comments of boredom or poor writing. It seems he is writing the only intent of conveying what a literary adept he thinks he is."

This is where it starts getting off-base. 'more of a job?' Because I gave some books negative reviews? And what's this about 'sex or titillation?' If that was my main criteria for liking a book, then I wouldn't like much of what I read. There isn't a lot of it in the books I read, though I don't consciously avoid it. In fact, I was pretty lukewarm toward a book last year that had a *lot* of sex in it!

I have mentioned that some of the non-fiction books I've read have been boring, as some of the history books have been very dry. But even those books, I've complimented as being of some interest, though I do wish the author had been able to write it so it didn't put me to sleep every couple of pages. I can't recall too many fiction books that I've said that about, though, and none of them have been because there wasn't any sex in it.

I have to seriously doubt that he read 'dozens' of my reviews. First, on Curled Up, there is no way you can find a list of all the reviews a reviewer has done. So he and I must have similar tastes that he kept on stumbling upon my reviews. More than a dozen that he thought were pretty good that I didn't like??? Hyperbole much?

"The other factor that stands out like a sore thumb, is that he is very biased towards certain authors. It seems that he has rubbished a couple of authors from their first book to their last, when I have read entire series and there have been some absolute jewels amongst the sets. Even if a couple of the filler novels have been disappointing. On the flip side if its an author he likes, he gives glowing reviews, even to the stinkers of their series."

First, 'stinker' and 'jewels' are always in the eye of the beholder. There is a lot of crap out there that people really like. And I like a lot of stuff that others would look at me and wonder 'are you on drugs?' I can think of only two authors who I have even come close to 'rubbishing' (Terry Brooks and Harry Turtledove), and I've stated in my reviews of their books why I still read their books, and I've been quite complimentary to them as well, when I've felt it was called for.

I always quite clearly state my reasons for not liking some of their stuff, and I like to think my reviews are detailed enough that even if you disagree with me, you'll be able to tell whether or not you'll like a book from my review, even if I'm ripping it.

As for favourite authors, I fully admit that I do have them. Jennifer Fallon and Kage Baker are two of my faves. However, I savaged two of Baker's books and I admit that I've loved every Fallon book I've read, with only one exception that I "really liked" though it had some big problems. So what? There were faults in all of them and I mentioned them in my reviews. One hint, and this isn't just about my reviews, but reviews in general. Don't just look at the star ratings...even a 5-star review can acknowledge faults in books.

I would love to know what 'stinkers' he's talking about. I love how he seems to think subjective opinions can be wrong.

"So in short I am sorry I will not be revisiting this site. Reviewers such as this provide very poor references on which to search for books, and I am surprised the reviewers are not themselves edited, or held accountable for some very poor reviewing work."

I don't really have a response to this, other than to say that the editor at Curled Up has always been excellent, and I do know that she edits these reviews. And again with those absolute subjective opinions. Because he thinks they're poor, they automatically are? Interesting.

I don't really care what *one* reader thinks of my reviews. As long as my editor's happy, then I'm happy, and she's made it clear that she is.

But it does bring to mind just what people expect out of reviews. To me, a good review gives you enough information so that even if you don't agree with the reviewer generally, you'll still have an idea whether or not you'll like what's being reviewed. Just saying 'this book was great!' or something like that doesn't help at all unless you know the person and know what they like.

So this guy won't be coming back to Curled Up. That's too bad, but you can't please everybody. Some people just really need to realize that people have different tastes, and just because you don't agree with those tastes doesn't make them wrong.

(My Facebook friends may have already seen this, as it was posted back in March, though I've changed the intro)


  1. And before anybody says anything about the "you've seen this before" being at the bottom, I didn't want that to show up in the Twitter stream. So my apologies if you read the whole thing going "this looks familiar" before getting to that part.

  2. I think I read that guys comments before. I don't care what that nut says,your reviews are great. I told you once that I read a review about something that I wouln't really ever read. But after reading your review I told you it sounded like I might like it. If you remember right you wrote back & said I could get it at the library. Keep up the good work.


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