Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ten Reasons Why I Don't Review Romances

I admire reviewers, and I certainly benefit from those sites that include reviews. All About Romance, Dear Author, Monkey Bear Reviews, and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books have supplied me with great recommendations that lead to reading experiences I would not otherwise have had.  In my mind, that's the same as giving someone the perfect present:  She loves it, didn't know she had to have it, and never could have gotten it for herself.  So thank you to all those reviewers!

But I can't review books.  Well, that's not quite accurate -- if the fate of the world hung in the balance I daresay I could muster up the strength to review a few books -- so let me explain why I don't review books.  The first reason should seem pretty obvious:
  1. I'm lazy.  Reading review books is a bit like baking cookies for money: it takes an activity I enjoy and makes it an obligation or assignment.  Suddenly, I don't enjoy it as much.  I value my free time enough that even if I do spend a lot of it reading, I don't want to commit any of it to reading.  Is that laziness, or selfishness?  Whichever:  I'm guilty as charged.
  2. I don't like enough books.  Or -- I don't like some books enough.  I realize that reviewing books is all about the reasoned explanation for why a book worked or didn't work for the reviewer.  Reviewers are not a monolithic entity, joined at the hip and working in lock-step so that they all agree about all books.  But I suspect I'm really off in left field sometimes.  I didn't love The Thief series by Megan Turner Whalen even though seemingly everyone else did.  I have my reasons for my opinion.  I don't think I'm wrong: I think I'm just different.  Being different, absent other characteristics, is not a good basis for being a reviewer.
  3. I believe in De gustibus non est disputandum, meaning why argue about taste?  I can like a book and the next reader can dislike it -- what's there to discuss?  I understand that reviewers work very hard to determine what they like about a book and why they like it, thus forming the basis for their review and/or grade.  But for me, I keep thinking, "Well, would the next reader be wrong to dislike this book?" and the answer is often, "No."  Of course, arguing with another reader about the book's qualities or faults is not really the reasons for reviews -- letting people know about the book is.  But that gets to my next reason . . .
  4. I'm not convinced that what I like others will like, and what I dislike others will dislike as well.  So if I give a book a favorable review and someone buys it and reads it and hates it, I'd feel bad.  Worse yet is the situation where I read a book and dislike it thus preventing a reader from buying it when in fact she'd love it -- now I feel even worse because I've screwed that reader out of a satisfying read and the author out of a sale.  And that gets to Reason # 5:
  5. I don't like people uh, complaining to me.  Oh, I don't mind if someone posts a comment here and says, "I don't agree with you," or even "Well, that was an annoying post," but reviewers have to have an extra-strong sense of security and certainty -- not that they are never wrong, but that they are always entitled to their opinion.  I'm more apt in the face of complaints to see all the sides of the argument.  I also don't enjoy controversy and would rather find common ground.  All of which makes me not so much fun in a spirited debate.
  6. I would probably do a bad job as a reviewer.  I can think about books, and I can write about books.  But reviewing is a fine art of conveying what a book is about (plot, characters, etc.) and also what the book is like (fast-paced, layered characterizations, etc.).  And then saying what worked, what didn't, and whether it's a good book and finally how good.  I'm not sure I'd be very good at all that.  And certainly others do it better!
  7. I own enough books as it is.  In theory one of the perks of reviewing is having the option to get advance review copies of books.  I see the appeal, but then I look at my TBR pile (not to mention my SBR pile:  books I should be reading!) and I don't find the prospect of getting more books -- even free ones! -- in the mail that appealing.
  8. I'm cranky.  Well, I just am.  I get a bee in my bonnet, and I'm apt to sound like that nasty unmarried cousin whom you have to invite to holiday dinners but who's just a whiny nabob of negativism the whole time.  Not my best personality trait, to be sure.  And applied to books that people have written, and others have read & enjoyed?  It's not pretty.  I could tell you I was going to try to be reasonable, pleasant and fair, but I know my cranky-pants persona is lurking around and she can be hard to stop when she gets torqued up.
  9. The DNF conundrum.  I have a couple books on my bedside tables that are DNF at present.  But I got them because some reviewer raved about them.  Why haven't I finished them?  Because they didn't suit me at the time.  And because they made me cranky (see #8).  If I had to review those books, I would have to work hard to finish them -- which means I'd be both sloppy and cranky.  Those books deserve better.  All of the foregoing isn't to say there aren't books out there that deserve a balanced and considered determination that they were not worth finishing.  But would I be able to tell the difference between the book that objectively is not worth finishing, and the ones I'm too cranky and bored to finish?  I doubt it.
  10. I genuine worry I would make a mistake.  This is a personal reason, but sadly it's very real.  Reason #6 was that I probably wouldn't be good -- and that's a bit like saying, "Oh, I don't think I'd be a very good bridge painter because I'm afraid of heights," because it entails a reasonable analysis of the fit between the job and the worker.  But this reason is much more about the worry of getting a specific review wrong.  Oh, not just that I might hate a book that others love -- I've discussed that.  But that I would be harsh about a book that its author loves.  Some of my opinions I can justify and discuss calmly and firmly.  If Megan Turner Whalen shows up and says, in effect, "Why didn't you like The Thief?" I can tell her and feel fine about it.  But what if I review a book in a hurry and make a mistake?  This particular worry is one I also have about being a lawyer -- and while it's made me a better lawyer, I think it would just make me an anxious and stressed-out reviewer.
All of this makes me appreciate even more the work that good reviewers -- the sort of reviewer I wouldn't be! -- do on a daily basis.

10 comments:

  1. IMO, a good review isn't really about what the reviewer likes (although that's a handy framing device); it's about providing enough info that the reader can figure out whether s/he will like a thing. Which makes points 3 & 4 less important. I can definitely understand choosing not to review, though; while I love reviewing books, I would never choose to review, say, movies, or music, for various reasons that add up to your reason #6---I just wouldn't be good at it!

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  2. Thanks for your honesty. I would have very similar reasons.

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  3. I don't think reviewing is for everyone. If you don't feel comfortable doing it, you definitely shouldn't bother. There's plenty of room to discuss books you've read without writing up a formal review.

    I'm beginning to suspect that I'm an atypical reviewer in the sense that I rarely accept and review ARCs. I have neither the time nor the inclination to read a book which isn't already on my radar, or recommended to me by someone with similar tastes to mine. So far, I've only accepted ARCs of a couple of books which I was genuinely interested in reading. I have every respect for bloggers who regularly review ARCs, even of books which they wouldn't have chosen to read otherwise. That would make reviewing a chore for me.

    Every blogger should decide for herself what she wants to do with her blog and not feel pressured into following whatever seems to be the trendy thing to do.

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  4. I couldn't do it: the pressure of being "a reviewer" would turn a recreational pleasure (OK, full-time obsession -- thinking about books) into something resembling work. No interest in free anything because for me, free is never free, it always comes with strings. It would makes me question my ability to separate my opinion from the method of delivery -- and that would be MY problem, not other reviewers.

    For now, just putzing along and commenting and working my way up to an occasional guest blog is about as committed as I'm ever likely to be. Hey, I need time to pursue my quest of every pre-1999 pubbed Regency out there :D

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  5. @Heather -- I see what you're saying, but I don't know really whether reviewers rely on what they themselves like or not. Would they give a good grade to a book they only sort of liked but could otherwise see was a good book? If so, then I really wouldn't be a good reviewer!

    Dori -- You're welcome! Self-awareness and honesty about my faults: That I can do!

    @Monkey Bear -- Oh, I agree that bloggers need to stick to their strengths. This post was as much about the good job you all do, as it was about my feelings about reviewing. As for my strengths: well, I can definitely think about things -- even things I personally know I'm not good at.

    @Janet -- I love the idea of "thinking about books" being a full-time obsession. And buying them, too. (I do happen to know you are a champion shopper at used book stores...)

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  6. It depends on the reviewer, but I know that I always ask myself, when I don't like a book, "would this work for a different audience?" If I think the answer is yes, then I make sure to say so.

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  7. I've gotta say -- I'm a reviewer. Oh, I don't do it fulltime and I definitely didn't get into it thinking -- hey, free books! Although that's definitely a perk. But honestly, I got into it because I thought initially it would improve my writing skill. And since I've now given up the ghost in regards to actually writing a book -- now I use it for something to do, somewhere I can constructively talk about a book (I've been reviewing longer than I've been blogging). And honestly, it's taught me to look at books from a different angle and instead of simply saying "two thumbs up" or "this book blows", I'm better equipped to stay the course and reason out what did or didn't work for me in a book.

    Just my $0.02...

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  8. Forgot to mention -- great post! I found myself nodding and agreeing with you for a few of them, because I still think like that as well, sometimes. When I do, I usually let The Boss know that it's time for a break for me.

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  9. @Heather -- I agree that reviewers can (and perhaps should) be extra vigilant in the event that the same book could be a delight to another reader. But is there ever a book that doesn't meet that criterion? Obviously I don't know (as a non-reviewer), so tell me: Are there books you disliked but could see how other readers might feel differently versus books you just plain think aren't very good?

    @Amy -- You make a great point -- reviewing books can be an excellent way to look at other authors' craft and learn from that. I'll add that to my (very short) list of reasons I should be reviewing! :-)

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  10. Thanks! I think the question of different tastes is a big one. When I write a review, I try to explain why I like something or why I don't so that people with different tastes can still get ideas about a book. Don't know if I'm always successful, but that's what I try to do!

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