Lynn suggested that we open up discussions on what makes a good negative review.
nrlymrtl is going to take on this task on Tuesday. This post is a discussion starter, and explains a little about why I don’t review very often and rarely offer a negative review.
I think it’s crucial to have negative reviews, as in “this book was very bad and this is why.” But they are hard to write, much harder than writing a complimentary review.
A negative review is not a party-pooper, a joy-stealer. It’s a thoughtful analysis of something you read. Nine times out of ten, I’ll bet that your negative experience with a book (let’s pick on 50 Shades because it’s the hot topic right now) is largely driven by your vast reading experience, and very simply, you’ve read better.
My experience with reading is extremely polar: enjoy immensely or complete flail.
Either I find that I’ve “read” the last page and a half while thinking about an email I need to send–what did I just read? …
Or, I am so completely transported to another existence that someone has to physically shake me to drop me back into this one.
There is a middle ground, reserved for books that reach into that College Textbook frame of mind. Something that I should read, and want to have read, but I don’t find it transporting, and I need to make time to read every day. These are usually the classics, very old science fiction, and those occasional non-fictions in my line-up.
So where does this leave me with reviews?
First, I believe it’s bad form to review a book I haven’t finished. 90% of what I pick up is going to be a non-winner, and I’m very not worried about finishing every book I start. Life’s short, there’s lots of excellent books to read, and I’ve got better things to do.
Second, I simply don’t have that drive to review that some readers have. It’s a skill that must be developed, this business of being able to critique with one eye and read with the other. That’s *work* for me, and I’m lazy. It ruins my enjoyment of reading, that transportative experience, that transcendence.
I don’t feel –for me–that anyone out there in the wide world would really benefit (read: give a shit) about why I got bored with a book within the first few pages. These reasons are so common that I can cover them all in a single post. Why am I going to devote so much energy to outlining the same reasons over and over again for different books, much less finishing something I’m not interested in. Again with the I’ve got better things to do.
I do critiques, though, and I’ve been told that I do them well. But it is an utterly draining experience, and I save that craftsmanship for when it’s asked of me.
Lastly, I’m generally a happy and cheerful person (you can call that shallow if it makes you feel better) and when I read something that just makes my heart soar, I want to share that book with you.
Sometimes I pick up a book and then put it down and forget that it exists: Alif the Unseen g. Willow Wilson. Sometimes I’ve read something so…immense? that I am still thinking about it two months later and am not yet ready to articulate what I thought about it: Troll, A Love Story Johanna Sinsalo. Sometimes the plot devices are laid out like little toy soldiers and I’m thinking about this and not the story: Something From the Nightside, Simon R. Green. Sometimes I really really super huge enjoy something but equally have a tough time believing anyone else would enjoy it. Mostly, though, thinking about the review ruins my enjoyment of the book. Sometimes the book was technically competent, innovative and radical in its ideas, but just didn’t carry me away from ->;here<;- : Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne Valente. Sometimes a book is really well-loved and critically acclaimed and yet it just didn’t leave my panties in a twist. I don’t want to and don’t have the skills for breaking it down and talking on its acclaimers. That’s a really boring task to me: Song of Ice and Fire series, George RR Martin.
Most of the time, “it’s not you, it’s me”.
Daniel Abraham wrote an article in the most recent issue of Clarksworld, outlining his experience with reviewing books. Read it, it’s interesting. He’s very complimentary to you awesome reviewers, and explains why it’s ok for the slackers like me to be let off the hook.
So, for a book to get a review from me it’s not got to be in the 90% of stuff I don’t bother to finish, but in the 0.01% of stuff that killed me with joy.