Weekly Geeks 34 of 2009: On Reviewing

I haven’t participated in Weekly Geeks often lately but this week’s exercise got me thinking about reviewing. The exercise was prompted in part by Shannon Hale’s post on book evaluation in which she discusses her preference for genuine review over quick ratings. When I first read her post I started to take issue with her in my head as I do rate the books I read. But as I thought more about the points she made I realise I share some of her opinions about what is most useful in a review. So I thought I’d tackle her questions for myself:

Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?

I don’t think reviewing has changed my reading experience very much as I tend to tackle the book with the same tingly anticipation as I always have and read straight through. I don’t tend to take notes or scribble in the margins (I’ll occasionally stick a post-it on a page I think I might like to refer to but not very often).

However, reviewing has changed my after-read experience. Since I started this blog I have reviewed every book I’ve read. Rather than placing a just finished book on my shelves and immediately picking up the next one I spend an hour or two thinking about the book I’ve just read and examining my reaction to it so I can write a useful review. Introducing this discipline has provided me with a better recall of the books I’ve read and a clearer overall picture of what I’m reading and why I’m drawn to certain books over others.

Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up?

I wait until the end of a book to come up with a rating. In fact these days I usually don’t rate until I’ve finished writing my review. The ending of a book is such an integral part to the reading experience that it has never occurred to me to think about a rating before I’m finished.

Does knowing you’ll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place?

No. I read what I want to read or what my various book clubs are reading for discussion.

Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book?

I think sometimes it does as it helps clarify my thoughts. I tend to react very emotionally to books (in fact I react emotionally to most things which is a very problematic way to stumble through life but that’s a topic for another day). Writing a review helps me tease out what underlies the emotional reaction (the characters? the plot? the atmosphere created? the sense of place?). I can’t recall an occasion when writing a review made me change my mind completely about a book (e.g. from love to hate) but there have been times when I’ve been writing a review and realised I didn’t just like a book, I loved it.

What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world?

My primary goal for recording my thoughts about the books I read is to provide a resource for future me whose memory for books read, based on current experience, is going to be pretty flaky.

My motivation for sharing these thoughts with the world (in addition to future me) is that it is a good way to discover other people with similar tastes whom I can share recommendations and discussions with. I started by writing reviews on Good Reads but that doesn’t generate much discussion (unless you write a review of a very popular book and I don’t read very many of those) so I decided to blog (I have/have had blogs for other purposes so it seemed quite natural).

I still copy my reviews to Good Reads (as almost a backup of my blog) but I don’t post them elsewhere (e.g. Amazon) as there’s virtually no discussion generated there and that’s what I’m more interested it than just having my reviews ‘out there’.

If you review a book but don’t rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer?

I apply a rating to all the books I review. Even more than the review itself though the rating is really for me so that I can very roughly compare the enjoyment I received from each book. I have rated my books on the same sort of scale for far longer than I’ve been writing reviews and over time this has provided me with guidance on what books, authors, genres etc I am likely to enjoy. I honestly don’t see how other people could get too much value out of my rating as it is quite subjective and can mean little to them.

I see my role as a reviewer as declaring what I liked and didn’t like about a book or what worked and didn’t work for me. I tend to look at certain things for each book like the way the characters are drawn and depicted, whether the book offers a sense of place and how well the plot holds together as well as the ‘gut reaction’ I have to the book. All of this is to attempt to explain my love/hate/meh reaction to each book. I think (hope) this is more useful to readers of the review in helping them decide if the book is something they might like to read than basic ‘loved it’ or ‘hated it’ reviews or even a simple rating.

In short…

Ms Hale says that the reader is just as important a part of the reading experience as the book and I agree wholeheartedly. I know that my reactions to books apply only to me so don’t particularly try to be objective when reviewing. I tease out the things I reacted to and leave it to the review reader to determine if these things are likely to be things they’ll enjoy or not.

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8 Responses to Weekly Geeks 34 of 2009: On Reviewing

  1. Dorte H says:

    A really fine post which makes me think about my own reading & reviewing process.

    Usually I don´t use a rating system, but otherwise I agree on most of what you say, especially that a book should never be rated (or evaluated) until you have read the ending. That goes for crime fiction in particular, but is also true about most other novels.

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  2. Kristen says:

    I like how you defined yourself and what you do on your blog with this one.

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  3. Jovenus says:

    Good food for thought, might do this exercise myself. Although I must say I can be influenced by other reader’s reviews about the book I read. so best write a review oblivion about what other people might say about the book.

    Overall, blogging about books brings great value to the blogger and other readers. Making new friends and people that spurs you on to read much more and better quality stuff. It’s the best thing I ever did. 🙂

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  4. Kerrie says:

    You use Good Reads basically the way I use Library Thing Bernadette. I found myself nodding my head all the way through your post.

    I think the usefulness of your rating system to me, is that it tells me that you liked a particular book better than another, and that’s a useful yardstick, even though I know that we don’t always agree.

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  5. Trisha says:

    I love the idea of rating books against each other although I must admit I’ve never mastered that skill. My ratings, I recognize as time goes on, are rather arbitrary and conditional upon when I read the book and write the review.

    My post is at:http://eclectcentric.blogspot.com/2009/09/weekly-geeks-reviews.html

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  6. I also agree with Dorte – you have given me food for thought on how I log my reviews…

    I am also on the flaky side of remembering books I have read before – especially books that I have outgrown..

    I really like your positive stands on why you review – it’s your thing and I am liking it…

    Have a great weekend

    E.H>

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  7. Pingback: First Anniversary and Reviewing Thoughts « Bibliojunkie

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