Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Art of Reviewing Kindly

I was appalled, absolutely, utterly appalled the other day when Leah Stewart (author of Husband and Wife: A Novel, my favourite book of 2010 to date) mentioned on her Facebook page that one reviewer on Amazon wrote that "...the thought of trudging through the rest of this novel made me want to kill myself." Despite the fact that I have no intention of bringing attention to this particular person, this is their comment in its entirety:
"I read 100 pages of this novel and then had to drop it. This was the most insipidly depressing book I have encountered in some time. I didn't like the characters at all, and the thought of trudging through the rest of this novel made me want to kill myself. Stay away."
Now, I'm not in any way saying that this particular reviewer is not entitled to have a less than positive opinion of this book. I'm not saying that if you dislike a book, your review should be all sunshine and rainbows. It's a fact of life that we all have different opinions of different books, which is what makes blogging and reading others' book blogs so interesting to me. I can love a book, you can dislike it, and vice versa. That's part of what makes book blogging so interesting. If we all had the exact same opinion of the same book, that would get pretty boring.

What I am saying is that as reviewers, we have a responsibility. Whether we review books on Goodreads, Facebook, Amazon, or our blogs, these books are the product of a lot of hard work. From reading several authors' blogs, I've read that publishing a new book is a little like sending your child into the world and hoping that they will be loved and accepted by the masses. Writing a book takes a lot of time, energy, and frustration, and the tone of the above comment felt unnecessary.

I pride myself in the fact that my reviews are always honest. I may not love a book, but there is something that drew me to it in the first place, right? I can always find something positive to say, even if it's the fact that it ended, but I do try to link to other bloggers' more positive reviews if a book just didn't do it for me. Just because I didn't like the characters, or the setting, or the writing style doesn't mean that someone else out there didn't love the book, or that another reader felt that the author has written something beautiful and profound. The beauty of reviewing online is the vast variety of opinions out there and I enjoy reading them all, from the good to the bad, but I just don't need to see a book attacked. It's called constructive criticism people!

Thankfully, none of the wonderful bloggers whom I follow do this. I can honestly say that every one of you, even if you didn't love the book, has found something positive to say in your reviews, and I've never seen such a thoughtless comment as the one above in my blogging travels. Even your DNF posts are polite, and most of you will pass the book on to the library or a friend who will be able to enjoy it.

To the reviewer above? We book bloggers and reviewers are a community over here. You don't have to love it, you don't have to lie, you don't even need to find something positive about it, but the use of tact is appreciated. I think that the comment "This book just didn't do it for me" would have worked just as well.


  1. Wow! I can't believe that unnecessary comment - that is NOT something to joke about! Saying a book makes you want to harm yourself is not a laughing matter! Like you, I always try to find something admirable about a book too, even if I don't enjoy it. It's not like I've written a book so I give kudos to anyone who has and is willing to put their story out there for others to read. I hope that poster/commenter learns their lesson or finds a way to insert soap into his/her mouth in the future. Sure it's okay to not like something but if you don't say why or give a valid reason, other than to say it was awful, then just keep your mouth shut! ya know!

  2. Great post. I just wrote a review for a book that didn't do it for me. I was really trying to be sensitive to the fact that the author was passionate about her topic. I truly hope that I didn't make her feel the way that Leah did about this review.

  3. When I review books, I'm honest but respectful. If I didn't like a book, I'll say why and not crap on the author.

  4. i know what you mean. people can be a bit drastic in their reviews. especially on sites like amazon. i am in the same camp as you are. and if i have nothing nice to say, then i don't say it at all. i may post criticisms and things i'd change, but i want to show my honest opinion and being completely positive would almost show a bias, unless i'm totally in love with the book.

  5. I've noticed some really mean "reviews" on various sites lately. It really makes me pause and wonder if the "reviewer" has a particular ax to grind, you know? When one can be anonymous its really easy to throw tomatoes.
    Personally, I never place much value on those types of comments. I hope authors don't either.

  6. Great post. I couldn't agree more. Thankfully I don't run across reviews the the terrible one you quoted.

  7. Absolutely! There is a nice way to say everything. It just makes the reviewer look bad too, to slander in a way the author.