I got to thinking yesterday after reading a rather brilliant but blunt review of a well-known and popular book. When reading a book, do we get swept away by popular consensus or are we true to ourselves?
The book in question has so many mixed reviews that I have been forced to reconsider my rating and my thoughts of the story. I loved the book and gave it 5* and I must admit to having read it more than once but after reading the contrasting opinions of another blogger I was forced to question my interpretation of the story. Was the story glossed over in my own mind? Did I really not see the violence and poor behaviour for what it was or did my mind just romanticise and create the story I wanted it to be?
I guess we’re all guilty of using our imagination when we read but at what cost to the author? Are some of us more able to switch off from reality and become immersed in the story and swept away by the characters and is this what an author is aiming for? I’ve never really paid attention to 1* reviews before but I found them fascinating for this particular book. I read the 5* reviews and then the 1* reviews, from bloggers and fans alike, and it was really interesting to see how half the readers loved the story and all of its emotional triggers, and how the other half saw it in a completely different light. One blogger even commented on how poorly written the book was and I was surprised to think that had not even crossed my mind. Had I really been blinded by my own imagination?
Along with most people I suspect, I may skim read a couple of reviews before purchasing a particular book but it’s only after I’ve read it that I will read other people’s reviews in detail. To my horror, though, I have to admit to only reading the top, positive, 5* reviews and not the lower rated ones. Is this my mind telling me it does not want to have the story tainted by what other people may think or am I just being lazy?
I know author’s love to see 5* reviews, and a number plead for them, but would they rather receive an accurate critique for their efforts or do they just seek out high ratings irrespective of what people think about their books. Okay, there are some unpleasant people out there who review books and authors in a cruel and unnecessary manner and I can appreciate an author steering away from them but do authors even read those reviews with less than 4 or 5* or are they afraid of what they will find?
With all of the social media around now, it is easy to reach an author with your views but how many of us take the time to contact an author directly to tell them what we liked and didn’t like about their story? I’ve been guilty of glossing over flaws in my reviews with the attitude that less is more but is that me deceiving myself or just flattering the authors. The blogger who caught my attention was brutally honest but generally fair in her observations. I commend her for being true to herself but how many of us are willing to follow suit or is the risk of abuse from unhappy fans, or even authors, too much to bear?
After discussing this point in a popular FB group it became clear that so many of us turn books into what we want them to be. One reviewer admitted to looking for a “fantasy land” and I guess that’s probably why we all read; to escape daily life. After discussing our thoughts and feelings, we all started to openly and honestly admit to not necessarily liking some of the more popular books but were too afraid to say at the risk of receiving the inevitable backlash. Another blogger/reviewer told me she “cherry-picks” books to avoid the inevitable 1 or 2*. I don’t restrict my reading that much but at the same time, I feel that no author deserves a 1* review and a 2* from me is very rare but I never leave a rating without a comment. Also, some people restrict their published reviews to those of 3.5* and above.
There is clearly no common pattern here where reviews and reviewers are concerned. I openly admit to only giving out 5* reviews to books I would read again and these are probably ones that fall into a particular genre, eg music based or YA/NA, but that also makes me less than honest when I review books outside of this genre.
All in all, this has been an eye-opening experience. I’m definitely going to reconsider my reviewing style in future and ensure that I treat every book and every author with the same level of respect. Let’s face it, they are our heroes and our idols so don’t we owe it to them to think carefully how we review, where we review and to be true to ourselves.