In the past year-and-a-bit since I stared this blog, I’ve written about 40 book reviews. Almost half have been for books that I rated five stars. Not one has been for a book rated under three stars.
In fact, let’s break this down.
Maybe this looks like I only read really good books. Maybe it even looks like I’m lying about how much I like these books.
I don’t write a review for every book I read, which means I don’t post a ton of reviews on this blog. Forty reviews in a year comes out to less than one review per week, whereas I typically read 2-3 books each week, so I only review about a third of the books that I read. The simple fact of the matter is that, if given the choice between writing a review for a 2-star book and a 5-star book, I’ll choose the 5-star book.
Why? People like complaining about things, right?
Of course, but it really comes down to this: I like talking about books that I like.
The whole reason I started this blog, the reason that I like talking about books, is because I want to talk about books that I love, books that I want to share with the world. I do talk about every book that I read, usually in my monthly wrap-ups, but if I’m going to put the effort into writing a full review, I’d rather do it for a book that I’m excited about.
When I read a book that I don’t like, there’s always a small part of me that feels like I’ve failed in some way. I expected to like this book and I didn’t, which means I wasted time (and possibly money) being excited about and reading it. It’s disappointing to feel that way. I don’t want to spend more time than I have to thinking about and writing about it, so I want to move on to something that makes me happier.
Luckily, I tend to have a good sense of which books I will and won’t like, so I don’t read a lot of books that I rate below 3 stars. And if I feel like I’m on that trajectory with a book, I have no qualms about putting it down. Why waste time with something I know I’m not going to like?
Writing reviews takes time and effort, both of which I have a limited supply. I would much rather spend that time telling people which books they should read than which they shouldn’t. Besides, who says I’m the expert on that?
The problem with reading and book reviews are that everything is so subjective. I might rate a book lower because it includes a trope that I don’t like, but that trope might be a favorite of someone else. Still, they’ll see my low rating and think that means they shouldn’t read the book. And maybe they missed out on a new favorite.
I believe that there is a reader out there for every book, and just because I wasn’t that reader doesn’t mean no one else is or should be. I’m always going to rate books based on what I think of them, not what I think other people will think of them, which means my own biases and preferences are going to come into play. If I don’t connect to a character, it doesn’t always mean that the character is flat or poorly written; it might just mean that I personally couldn’t relate to said character.
It’s basically impossible to objectively say “this book is good” or “this book is bad” because those judgements are so rooted in our own preferences and experiences, however subconscious. And every time I say something negative about a book, I can’t help but think about the people who might have loved it if I didn’t turn them away.
Right now, I work as a bookseller, and an interaction I had recently made me think about this even more. I was talking to a customer who brought up a fairly popular book, which I mentioned I hadn’t enjoyed. Without hesitation, she said, “Oh, I guess I won’t read it then.”
It didn’t matter to her that we probably have different reading tastes or that I was younger than her. The small amount of authority I had in that situation, because I was a bookseller and she was a customer, meant that she took my opinion as fact. Plenty of people have enjoyed that book and it could have been a new favorite of hers, but because I said I didn’t like it, she decided not to read it. I was taken aback by the influence that I had in that situation.
Of course, online reviews are different than face-to-face interactions, and it can be hard to feel like I have any influence at all when I’m writing book reviews in my pajamas. But I can think of plenty of times that I’ve been influenced by a review I saw, sometimes even simply by the number of followers a reviewer has or the fact that I like their writing (neither of which have anything to do with how good or bad a book actually is).
The fact is, reviewers do make a difference. We might only have a small sphere of influence, but the fact that we spend our time reading and writing reviews means people listen to our opinions. Especially when it comes to ARCs, the modicum of authority that publishers grant to us by accepting our requests can make people take our opinions more seriously.
If I have this kind of influence, I would much rather draw people toward the books that I love than away from the books I don’t love.
To be clear, I have nothing against negative reviews or the people who write them. In fact, I often enjoy gleefully reading them for the books that I dislike. Plus, when it comes to problematic aspects in books, it’s important to call those out.
I’m also never going to pretend to like a book more than I did because I don’t want to turn people away from it. I’m just going to be more aware about the influence that I have as a reviewer, and I’m not going to dedicate time to writing negative reviews. I would much prefer to spend my time and energy sharing my excitement about books than my disappointment.
I know that rant reviews are popular and tend to get more views and attention than positive reviews (not sure what that says about the internet in general), but that’s not what I want to contribute to the community. I love being excited about books. I love raving about the characters and the writing, and struggling to find words to express how it made me feel. I love how this helps me find other people who also loved these books.
If I can help someone find a new favorite book by talking about how much I love it, I will consider myself successful. And that’s only going to happen if I continue to prioritize talking about books that I love.
Do you prefer writing positive or negative book reviews? What’s a book you’ve read recently that you’re excited about?