Weekly Geeks 2010-32 Overly Critical Readers

She who loves acronyms (and designs beautiful blog headers like mine) Tara of 25 Hour books has posed this week’s discussion topic. Tara asks if we are Overly Critical Readers (O.C.R.s) which, she tells us, is identified by these symptoms

  • not liking characters in the beginning (needing the main character to prove themselves before you’ll respect them)
  • rolling your eyes while reading (needing things to be completely realistic)
  • shouting things such as “WTF?!” (needing every plot twist and turn to be foreseeable)

Tara then goes on to suggest some remedies to help you from becoming an O.C.R. but before we tackle that part of the equation I should ponder whether or not I am ‘one of them’.

I am certainly a critical reader. This blog is all about one person’s very subjective reactions to the things I read. Just as I’ve raved about the books I’ve loved I’ve ranted about the ones I didn’t love (should you wish to see check out the category listing for 0.5, 1 or 2 stars in the RH side bar). But am I overly critical?

I start each book expecting to like it. Actually at the start each book is a 5 on my personal scale and it loses points along the way for things that make me love it a little less. Some lose no points (the 5s), some lose a couple of points and some…well…require me to switch to a hundred point scale just so there would be more points to lose.

Sometimes points are lost due to lousy characters but I never think of them having to ‘prove themselves’. They don’t even have to be likable but I do want hem to be interesting in some way. Points are also lost for a lack of realism but not because I demand things are exactly like real life. I do however demand that if you create a world then you should be consistent within it. And if you make the claim that your world is realistic then I am going to be disappointed if you make silly mistakes (like using a technology that wasn’t invented until 50 years after your story setting). As for alarming plot twists well the more the merrier I say and I’m far more likely to be critical if the plot is totally foreseeable than when it isn’t.

Most of the reason I write reviews is so that people, including my future self who has a memory like a sieve, will get a sense of whether or not they want to read the book themselves. So there’s a bit of my personality in each review (so you know if your reading tastes are similar to mine and therefore whether the things I like and don’t like about the book will similarly influence you). Then I try to list my reasons for liking or not liking the book and give an overall reaction: love it, hate it or meh.

Personally, when I look for reviews to read I want some criticism. I intuitively ignore sites or Good Reads reviewers who are under-critical. I put them in the same category as people who think it’s OK to give every kid in the class a prize and play sport without keeping score. It just doesn’t feel right. And it’s not particularly helpful to me. If everything is presented as equal then how does that help me make a choice about what to read?

So I’m not sure if I am an O.C.R. or just a C.R. but I’m comfortable. And for myself I like to read reviews by fellow C.R.s and am likely to avoid the U.C.R. (Under Critical Reader).

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If you want to see what others are saying about being an O.C.R. head over to Weekly Geeks. If you have some thoughts on being critical, overly or otherwise, please leave a comment and if you want to be critical of my being critical feel free (the least I can do is take as good as I give).

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14 Responses to Weekly Geeks 2010-32 Overly Critical Readers

  1. Kerrie says:

    I alawys look to see what you thought of a book – you are one of my valued CRs


  2. Jose Ignacio says:

    Fully subscribe Kerrie’s comment.


  3. Norman says:

    Bernadette, you always give your fair and honest opinion.
    There is nothing that annoys me more than a sycophantic review of an awful book.
    There is nothing that pleases me more than to find that you agree with me about a book, because then I know I am not being an OCR.


  4. kathy durkin says:

    Your reviews are just right, Bernadette. Why would anyone want to read a glossed-over book review without critical thinking? That doesn’t help a reader decide what to read, a very important choice for many of us. Taste is subjective, yes, in many ways–genre, main character, plot, level of violence, so many things (including for many of us, sexism and portrayal of women). So the more one knows about a book, without there being spoilers, the better. One can choose if one wants a legal mystery or a suspense novel or a historical read or male or female protagonists or whatever and that is taste, but whether or not a book is a good read is important to know. Is it worth my time, one wonders.
    We may all look for some similar and some different things, but the more one can learn, the better. I surely get from this blog and from some trusted others, whether or not I want to read a book. When a review is full of pros and cons, it can be intriguing and pull in interest in the book–or not. But it’s all interesting to read and ponder. It’s challenging.
    So the more critical reviews, the better. I have gotten good book ideas here and also ideas of what I do not want to bother with. I’m very glad to read these reviews and then think further.


  5. Dorte H says:

    Some of the reviews I like very much are yours and Maxine´s. Not only because I share your taste to a large extent, but also because you are both so good at what you do. No doubt you express your criticism more openly than Maxine, but even when you are extremely annoyed by a book, you explain very clearly what you hated about it.

    So as your reader, I feel very free to agree or disagree with you – e.g. because it is easier for me to forgive boring characters if the plot grabs me. (I have always felt that I am far too boring a person to blame even fictional characters for being the same :D)
    I don´t tolerate boring plots very easily, though. If the action does not grab me, I can almost throw Kate Atkinson in the bin on a bad day.


  6. Bernadette – Your site is one of my must-read review sites. I would say that you are a critical reader but you are also fair. You always are willing and happy to let the author impress you, and when s/he does, you say so. What I also like about your reviews is that you are specific. It’s clear from your review what worked and didn’t work about a book, and that’s very helpful. Of course, what you’ve done to my TBR list…well….let’s not discuss that, shall we? 😉


  7. kathy durkin says:

    Yes, what has been done to the TBR list between this blog, Petrona and Eurocrime, well, is a scandal! All good, though.


  8. Tim says:

    CR rather than OCR, and valued for it. Your review of Mankell’s Man from Beijing was a good example of balance.
    Unless you know that a reviewer is free to express a critical view, you can’t really trust their opinion.


  9. Robin Spano says:

    I like reviews that focus on the reader/reviewer’s emotional reaction. It’s never overly critical if the focus is on how it hits you, and like you say – it throws the information out there so readers can decide if they have similar tastes.

    I think anyone who asks themselves the question is by definition NOT an over-critical reader. As long as your objective is to express your reaction so that you can share it with other people – and you’re not seeking out flaws just for the Aha factor – you can be comfortable that you’re doing the literary world a favor.


  10. I think we all appreciate a *critical* reviewer. An OCR is someone who purposely looks for things not to like or to complain about; the worst reviewers to me are the ones who try to make themselves look smart/sophisticated/funny by knocking down everything they read. In other words, they’re writing to create an image rather than to tell us about the books they’ve read (or purported to read).

    Neither you nor any of these commenters are like that!


  11. amy says:

    I love it when your reviews appear in my in-box. I think you review in a way that is fair and balanced (pardon my Fox), and you explain the reasons why. It would be one thing to say ‘this is crap’ and not explain, but you do explain. In fact, I have a TBR list that is completely impossible because I can’t seem to get all the titles that you and Kiwicraig mention.

    I’ve actually been pondering your topic before I read the post. I just finished a very good detective novel, that I enjoyed immensely. However, I had two issues with it, one being a procedural mistake and the other being a plot inconsistency. So I’m wondering if mentioning that in my review is inappropriate, as other readers may not catch that, while more experienced crime readers (like Maxine, Karen, Dorte, et al) would catch on immediately. And how do I do it without giving away a spoiler?

    I have to think on it a bit, but any suggestions are welcome!

    Love your blog!


  12. JoV says:

    The good point is that you started with a 5 point scale and see if it sustains.

    I think a OCR most likely start with a 1 and expect to be surprised along the way which is hard thing to do, because we know it’s hard to please a OCR who pretty much made up his or her mind to be an OCR. That for me is a person who has tunnel vision and kills the joy of reading diversely or non-judgementally.


  13. Thanks all for your thoughtful comments, I’m quite glad that I haven’t put too many people off (well I guess the ones I have offended have left which is fine too). Having had the odd author stop by the blog after I’ve reviewed their books I am very conscious of not wanting to offend or nit-pick just for the sake of it as I’m sure a lot of effort goes into most books (with the possible exception of the gazillion titles being released by J Patterson each year but he doesn’t need reviewing anyway).

    @Amy I don’t see why you can’t say it as you did here…”I spotted a niggling procedural error at one point but people less familiar with the genre might not pick it up” or something like that. It let’s people know what you personally had a problem with and why you might not be raving as much as others – I don’t think that’s being unreasonable (or O.C.R.)


  14. Pingback: Book news, reviews, and musings 30 September 2010 | Read in a Single Sitting - Book reviews and new books

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