Fuse #8

Saturday, October 07, 2006

In Support of Negative Reviews

To run a blog that reviews books, particularly those written with child readers in mind, that never includes a negative review of a title is a peculiar business. Obviously a person shouldn't go out of their way to thwap an innocent book into powder and the feelings of the author must always be kept in the back of the mind. That said, some books can't be avoided. If I read a book, find it terrible, and then produce a slap-happy bubbles n' ice cream review I'm going to feel slightly ill for weeks. At the same time, I don't like taking to task first-time authors. We all have our Achilles heel. That's mine. Best is the book that's almost perfect but flawed. Reviews of those titles are the easiest and most interesting to write.

I say all this since I was recently reading this piece on Blog From the Windowsill about reviewing and honesty. We all discuss books in different ways. And the plethora of strong children's titles this year could conceivably mean that a person could read and review only the best of the batch. Still, when you write one review a day you're going to have to talk about the less than inspired. It constitutes a delicate balance.


At 2:02 PM , Blogger Little Willow said...

I read a book a day, but I don't review every single one at my blog because I also post a lot of booklists, news and interviews. I'd review every last book but since it's not solely a review blog (and since I'm busy, plus I can't post at work), I tend only post my strongest recommendations and reviews. There are plenty of titles I found passable, others that were less interesting, but I always finish a book once I start it, no matter how horrible it is.

At 2:19 PM , Blogger MotherReader said...

When this first came up, I was going to post about it, but didn't do so. To me, it comes down to how you position your blog. If you put forward your blog as primarily a collection of suggested reading, then fine. If you position your blog as an online book diary, then you should be honest about what you thought. If you are accepting ARC's, I think it gets pretty tricky. If you're accepting ARC's with the idea of reviewing them, but then not reveiwing them if you don't like them, that doesn't seem like a great policy. Also there is something to be said for adding opinions to the mix. What if you and I had stood silent during the whole Tulane debate? Readers everywhere who hated the book would have thought they were crazy. Sometimes bad reviews are as important as good reviews.

At 3:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's an interesting conversation going on here and at the other blogs. I'm with you, Fuse; I do think negative reviews have their place. If a certain book is dreck, I hope someone will tell me so.

Publishers are not doing reviewers favors by sending ARCS; as much as I'd like to think they love us bloggers dearly, they are looking for publicity for their products. It's all part of the business.

At 5:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you are to be commended for your kindness towards new authors, but doesn't it undercut the kindness a little to mention it? Now all of those authors will wonder if the good reviews you gave them were because you liked the book, or because you felt sorry for them

At 9:29 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you can take either path - to include bad reviews or not - as long as you're honest about the books you do choose to review. Julie and I struggled with that decision when we first decided to start a book-review blog, and ultimately chose to include negative reviews, as long as we were constructive and not just mean. For one thing, we aren't reviewing ARCs, so the books are already published and have already had a round of professional reviews - we can't do that much damage on our lil' blog. And Edward Tulane was actually the book that convinced us that we should include negative reviews - we felt like sometimes a dissenting opinion really needs to be expressed, in order to make readers feel not-so-all-alone or to possibly save them the trouble if they haven't read something yet. There are so many books out there - good, bad, and mediocre - it's nice to get a heads-up about what might not be your cup of tea so you can move on to a book that is.

At 11:14 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, let me add to my already-too-long comment that, like MotherReader said, it depends how you position your blog, too. Blogs by individuals who are just blogging for the fun of it, not as professional reviewers or in some other job-related capacity, have no obligation to be kind or constructive, and enjoy the right to say whatever they want, however they want. It's all about personal expression.

At 11:35 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

I should mention too that when I said I don't like to give negative reviews to first-time authors, that doesn't necessarily mean that I won't. If a first-time author wrote a hugely successful story that ripped off, oh say, The Dragonriders of Pern AND Tolkein (ahem) I wouldn't hesitate to point out that their book performed such atrocities as beginnning 17 chapters with the hero waking up.

As it stands, if I don't like a first-time author's book, I just don't post a review for it. I would NEVER NEVER NEVER write a positive review for the sake of a review. As I mentioned before, it makes me physically ill. And none of us need that.

At 3:16 PM , Blogger Meghan McCarthy said...

No one should ever write a nice review for something they don't like! I think it is a great idea to not write a nasty review of a first time author's work. It could crush them. If their books don't get any reviews, I think all involved will get the same message that a bad review would give--that no one is interested in the book.

Since I'm an author I obviously would love it if I never read a bad review of my book. I've mostly gotten good reviews for my books but of course I occasionally get a bad one. I can handle a bad review if it MAKES SENSE and if it's obvious that the reviewer read the story and really thought about it! A review that isn't constructive and just blasts a book isn't helpful and in my opinion, isn't intelligent.

All of that said, I think it's great that blogging is becoming an important venue for book reviews! I wish I could write them myself, and did a few on my website, but I only feel comfortable writing good reviews. As an author I'm going to leave the criticism to someone else.


At 7:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

see my last blog update for a really negative review that HAD to be done. I hated doing it, it was exhausting, but sometimes, when it comes to children and what they what they DON'T get in their libraries is something that has to be brought out into the open to be dissected, discussed, and diagnosed.

P.S. The book's been around for a while, so I didn't feel like I was "picking" on any one particularly needy.

At 11:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a kiddie lit writer, I'd love you bright, innovative kiddie lit reviewers to discuss several books within the larger context of a thought piece.

For instance:

You could take like three or four children---like the eight year-old protagonist in MANNY FILES, the five to twelve year-old in KIRA KIRA, and the what-have-you teenager in CRISS CROSS, and compare their voices, write about the "adultification" of the child's point of view.

(Admittedly, this is my latest hobby horse. I'm blown away by explosion of the kid-as-wise-adult-voice which is growing like kudzu in our genre---you know: the thoughtful, innovative, funny, creative college-educated, memorish voice. The one that sounds more like my me than my kid.)

Or how about a good review featuring three or four mid-grade chick lit titles?

As for dinging a first book? Aw, c'mon. My first book got dinged, and I'm a better person for it.(*whimper*)

Publishing is not for the faint-hearted.

"Disjointed. Lacks synergy."

"The dog is not a credible character."
(Publisher's Weekly)

"This is not a first purchase."

At 11:32 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


So GLAD you are commenting on cover art---this would make such a wonderful review piece---thoughts about cover art; what works, what doesn't, and mucho examples to go along with it!


At 12:08 PM , Blogger Stefan said...

Although I spend my time reviewing kids' music, not kids' lit, I think the issues at hand are generally the same. In my reviews, I:

a) would never write a review that does not reflect my actual opinion;
b) tend toward writing about stuff I like, because I don't enjoy writing stuff I don't; and
c) because the field of kids' music isn't nearly as oversaturated as that of kid-lit, do try to outline why somebody might enjoy something I didn't.

I think the tendency to write more positive reviews is also dependent upon the fact that I (and I'm sure many kid-lit bloggers) get way more stuff than they could possibly dream of reviewing given their time constraints. And if I'm trying to talk about how great some kids' music can be, what do you think I'm going to spend most of my time on?

Stefan (http://www.zooglobble.com)


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