Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What I Read This Past Year

Last August, as an experiment, I decided I'd post candid reviews of the books I would read over the next year on Goodreads.com. For obvious reasons, I decided not to review current romance releases. It's impossible to be honest about friends' work and it's unwise to be honest about the work of competitors. But for almost everything else I read, I rated the book and wrote a few paragraphs explaining my rating, because if there's anything I hate as a reader, it's reviewers who don't explain why they liked--or didn't like a book.

Now that year is over, and I've completed 97 reviews. You can check them out here:

Jenny Brown's Goodreads.com Reviews

The best part of posting the reviews has been that it gives me the ability to go back months later and recall exactly how I responded to a given book. In the past, I might remember that I liked something, but the exact reasons would tend to fade away.

On the other hand, because I can't give every book a rave review, I'm probably piling up authorial karma for myself when I am completely honest about my responses to what I read. Being honest presents difficulties since I know people are out there reading and reviewing my work. I also know what a day-spoiler it is when they post harsh criticisms.

For that reason, as the year went on, I made the decision not to rate or review quite a few mediocre, but obscure, books I read this year. I knew the authors had received little from their books but the joy of publication, and I didn't want to ruin their days, especially if they were books that had little or no other reviews posted.

However, I felt no such compunctions in reviewing books whose authors received huge advances, massive publisher support, book tours, and sycophantic reviews that did not match up at all with what I found between the covers, especially when there were lots of other reviews repeating the judgements of whoever had anointed these authors as literary stars. I figured the authors of these kinds of books can survive a few discouraging words far better than most of us, and because I had read so many much better--and less hyped--books over this same year, I felt it worthwhile to warn readers who share my tastes that some of these books were a total waste of time and money.

What do you think? Do you review the books you read? If you do, how do you feel about what you do?


Michele said...

I review some books. I post some reviews on my web site. But I like to do what I call a "love sandwich." I tell something I like, then what I don't like, then something else I like about the book. The "bad" part is sandwiched between two good things! If I really hate a book, I just don't review it. Mom always told me if I couldn't say something good, don't say anything.

Alicia said...

I agree that it's a conundrum. I've decided with my new Regency site just to "rec" and not "review" because of the author karma situation-- and because I recall vividly (and you doubtlessly remember all my whines!) suffering with every bad Amazon review I got.

But as a reader, I really appreciate it when another reader points out that the book got boring in the middle, because I know I will just put the book down at that point, and so I probably shouldn't buy it as I won't enjoy it. I remember also being very glad one reader pointed out (with a very prominent author) that she indulged in this book her habit of killing children off in the end, which is something that I know will upset me. I like to be "warned off," I guess.

And I take unholy pleasure in the type of review you mean, where the publisher and author seem so arrogantly assured of bestsellerdom with a book that is immensely flawed or dumb. I like reading reviews that point out that the emperor indeed has no clothes.