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Monday, October 8, 2012

On Book Reviews

By J.R. Wagner

I'm not pretentious enough to believe that my opinion matters when helping others choose what to read or what not to read.

It shouldn't matter is what I am trying to say.

In truth, I believe one should never base their reading choices on the reviews but on the synopsis.  If they find it interesting, give it a try.

Think about it -what if people interacted with you based solely upon the opinions of others?  Books are so personal because they touch each and every reader differently.  What one reader dislikes, another could love.

I'm not saying if someone recommends a book you shouldn't consider reading it -this is directed at those who are recommended a book and then go about reading reviews before they make a decision.  Or those who won't consider reading a book because it has bad reviews even though something drew them to it. Books are not kitchen appliances or televisions. They are the heart and soul of an artist (usually) and designed to touch the readers in a way that nothing else can.

What inspired me to write this?

I just finished The Giver and was marking it as read on my Goodreads profile and, of course, it asked me to give it a review.

Many people love that book (I'm one of them).  Many people were disappointed by it -specifically, the ending and how what happened to the main character wasn't clear but left up to the reader to decide.  As a result, there are several negative reviews.

One reviewer wrote...

Keely rated it 1 of 5 stars false

Lowry's book is a piece of nationalist propaganda, using oversimplification, emotional appeals, and dualistic morality to shut down her readers' minds. More troubling is that it is aimed at children, who don't yet have the critical faculties to defend themselves from such underhanded methods.

Unsurprisingly, Lowry adopts the structure of the monomyth, equating a spiritual journey with a moral one. Her Christ-figure uses literal magic powers to rebel against his society. This rebellion and the morality behind it are presented as 'natural', to contrast with the 'abnormal morality' around him.

And this goes on for quite a while.  Read the entire thing HERE if you'd like.

The Giver received 8,138 one star reviews. The first Harry Potter received 21,000+ one star reviews on Goodreads FYI

I was saddened by the notion that someone wouldn't decide to read this amazing novel simply because another person didn't like the ending.  In essence, if someone bases their opinion  upon a review like this, they're letting someone else make their decision for them. Is that really what you want?  Don't you want to formulate your own opinion?

One of the core traits that makes us human is our ability to choose.  I suppose one could argue that you are making a choice based upon the collective opinions of others but that really isn't an unbiased decision.

Then again, is there such a thing as an unbiased decision?  Someone had to decide to put those books in the bookstore on the shelf by the entrance so it catches our eye. Someone had to do something to make their book stand out from the rest.

Am I being realistic?

Maybe si, maybe no. (thank you Stephen King)

Right now my author peers are thinking if not saying something like...Are you out of your effing mind!

Mostly because, in theory, a review plays a big role in getting a book's sales off the ground. Reviewers love to review (they get free books) and authors love good reviews (I do!).

A good (I'm not talking positive or glowing, I'm talking good with respect to quality) review can, and often does offer insight into what a book is all about -it delves deeper into plot, character development, pacing etc. than a synopsis ever could (because they are limited in length).

 A good review also explains the specific issues the reviewer may have with the book (if it isn't all praise).  If they didn't like something, they'll tell you what and why.

This can be a good thing because it allows the reader of the review to decide for themselves if  whatever the reviewer disliked would also bother them enough not to bother picking up the book so, in theory, they're making their own decision...sorta.

The down side: Most reviewers are not good reviewers -they're normal people...like me. And they'll say something like; couldn't get past the first ten pages, and offer no explanation whatsoever.

As a reader, will you take that review into account?  Maybe. 

Or, even worse, they're an author...a knit-picky author who is hardened to his or her own individual style and can't understand how another writer could deviate from it. So, for those reasons, and several others, I don't like to write reviews.

Feeling a desperate need to wrap this up so I'll say this:

Books change lives -they simply do.  I challenge anyone to offer me one other item you can purchase at the store that can have and historically has had as profound an impact on people's lives as a book. Music, movies? They have their own merits but I bet most people are more likely to remember a profound book from their childhood rather than a song or movie.

Do songs get reviewed?  Well, yes they do...BUT when is the last time you purchased a song or album based on a review? A movie? Probably more so but, I'd be willing to bet the deciding factor was more than likely a trailer or word of mouth.

Why let the purchase of a potentially life-altering thing be influenced by anyone other than yourself?

Why indeed.

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