Reviewing, Honesty, and Personal Preference

Source: Luana Spinetti
Source: Luana Spinetti

The other day I began reading a book with the intent to review it for the blog. But…I hated it from the very first page. Reading it was a misery and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy the story. It got me thinking about reviews and how personal preferences shape the choices we make when deciding to write them.

I tend to critique movies more harshly by virtue of the fact that once I’m sitting in the theater, it’s frustrating to be forced between the choice of suffering through a stinker or throwing out my plans for the night. I’m there, comfy in my seat, and nomming on popcorn and sipping beer, so I’m darn well going to finish the movie and tell people what I think about it.

With a book, it’s a lot less trouble to just return one I’m not enjoying, so mostly I only end up reviewing books I enjoy for the most part. Not to say I don’t have anything bad to say about the books I review, but they do very much tend to lean to the positive side.

I’m left wondering which is the more honest approach for reviewers to take.

As a writer who aspires to be a published novelist, part of me leans towards wanting reviewers to lay off books they know aren’t for them. But the reader in me, who often spends hundreds of dollars a year on books, wants to see both good and bad reviews before I make purchases. It would certainly be hard to get even a rough idea of what a book is like if nobody who disliked it bothered to review it. Yet another part of me chafes when I see a book, movie, or show I really enjoy torn apart by someone who obviously isn’t a fan of the genre.

There’s also the unfortunate tendency for some writers to make a name for themselves specifically by ripping apart films or books with (supposedly) clever snark that entertains more than it informs. They gain followings who tune in not to get an idea about whether or not they should see or read something for themselves, but to enjoy watching someone’s hard work get ruthlessly mocked in front of an audience.

This phenomenon is always at the front of my mind when I write a really negative review. I try to tone down the tendency to inject clever put-downs, because while I’ll admit to wanting a decently sized audience someday (what blogger honestly doesn’t dream of that, deep down?), that’s absolutely not how I want to build a readership.

At this point, I have the luxury pick and choose whatever I feel like reviewing. But I’d like to eventually progress to getting paid to write for other sites. It’s part and parcel of the job description of a content creator to report on what the editors tell them to. Writers have to come to terms with the idea of occasionally sitting through something they detest while trying to pick out at least a few redeeming qualities.

I suppose the solution in that case is to put oneself in the shoes of both the artist who made it and the paying customers who want to know the pros and cons of something before making a purchase, and to try to strike a balance between the two.

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