21st Century Literature discussion

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Question of the Week > What Part Do Reviews Play In Your Reading? (8/26/18)

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message 1: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2872 comments Mod
Do you read reviews? If so, before or after reading a book? Do you have certain GR reviewers you swear by or book critics you can't live without? Is your own reviewing a book here on GR or elsewhere an essential part of your reading experience?


message 2: by Doug (last edited Aug 26, 2018 11:52PM) (new)

Doug I now usually only look at the ratings until I finish a book, since I have in the past come across inadvertent spoilers that aren't labeled as such. The one book critic I never miss, in particular his hilarious video 'Totally Hip Book Reviews', is Ron Charles of the Washington Post... now that Kakutani has retired from NYT.

After I've read a book, there are MANY GR friends whose reviews I will read and ponder - too many to list (and am afraid I'll miss and piss off someone!). They often also influence what books I will read or TBR.

And although my own reviews tend to be pithy (unless I am doing one of my infamous 2 star 'takedown' reviews), I always write SOMETHING - mainly so I can go back and remember what I thought of a book later.


message 3: by Robert (new)

Robert | 460 comments I agree with Doug. I think Ron Charles' totally hip book reviews are brilliant. On the whole I tend to avoid reviews until I have read the book and I feel I have a duty to review it, I know it's ridiculous but I do.

To be honest, I trust certain goodreads users a bit more than critics.

Now saying that I read a review last night about Normal People on the Sunday Times culture magazine and I wish I didn't


message 4: by Lily (last edited Aug 26, 2018 08:41PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments Doug wrote: "...The one book critic I never miss... is Ron Charles of the Washington Post... now that Kakutani has retired...."

You made me check; as far as I can tell, Kakutani was at NYT, but never(?) at WP. I also enjoyed Charles's predecessor, Michael Dirda, probably followed him more regularly than any other critic. Used him as a source to influence my own reading.

Can't always ignore James Wood, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, or Paris Review, but I don't follow any of them on a regular basis. Anything else is probably because something brought it to my attention in a particular instance. I like the perspectives provided by reader colleagues here on Goodreads.


message 5: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Lily wrote: "I also enjoyed Charles's predecessor, Michael Dirda, probably followed him more regularly than any other critic."

I loved Dirda as well. His were the only reviews / columns / books I read on a regular basis. Now I will definitely check out Ron Charles!


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments Other reviewers, from both here and Amazon, have played a huge part in my reading selections over the years--mostly in bringing to my attention authors and works of which I was ignorant. I don't really follow any established critics, though on occasion I'll pick up a compilation of a particular writer's reviews. I enjoy it when they fill me with a sense of enthusiasm for a work that I may have dismissed before, but a lot of times I wonder why I'm reading a book about books when I could just be reading the books themselves.

Having said that, I do like to post reviews of what I've read, mostly in the belief that somewhere out there are readers who have similar tastes to mine, and so I like to put in the review things I'd have wanted to know.


message 7: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments Bryan wrote: "...but a lot of times I wonder why I'm reading a book about books when I could just be reading the books themselves...."

!!! Know that feeling...


message 8: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Yes and no. I read some press reviews, mostly from The Guardian, but not as many as I should. I read a lot of friend reviews - in fact my newsfeed is set to top friend reviews only, but I do sometimes skim read them, particularly the longer ones.

After finishing a book, and usually after writing my review, I like to go through all of the friend reviews for a book because I often miss them when they are posted, and most of my friends were active here before I followed them.

I also use reviews of books I have read to decide whether to accept friend requests.


message 9: by Doug (new)

Doug Lily wrote: "Doug wrote: "...The one book critic I never miss... is Ron Charles of the Washington Post... now that Kakutani has retired...."

You made me check; as far as I can tell, Kakutani was at NYT, but ne..."


I MEANT that the only reviewer I now read is Charles at the WP, since Kakutani has retired from NYT ... sorry that wasn't clear to you - I edited the post! :-)


message 10: by Maggie (new)

Maggie Rotter (themagpie45) | 70 comments I read Amazon reviews when contemplating buying a bargain ebook. I'm looking for the reviewer's other book choices and reviews of books I've read. I've compiled a short list of reviewers who have led me to other books.


message 11: by Carol (last edited Aug 27, 2018 05:59PM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments I read a lot of reviews, and almost entirely before I select a book to read. I don’t believe, in principle, in the concept of spoilers or “spoiling” a book. In fact, it is rare for me to read a review after finishing a book. By then, there’s no point, in my opinion.

Yes, there are probably 50 GR reviewers whose ratings and impressions I can take to the bank as predictors of my experience. I read book critics’ reviews for fun, and because I appreciate the art of review-writing, but not so much guidance on what to read. OTOH, the joy and anticipation I experience when I pull the NYT Book Review from my Sunday Times is as predictable as the sunrise, and one of the best moments of each week.

Writing reviews isn’t a part of my reading experience; it’s its own experience and often a chore, but those writing muscles are good to exercise when I can.


message 12: by Lark (new)

Lark Benobi (larkbenobi) | 246 comments For fiction I don't usually read reviews until after I read a book, with the exception being a rave GR review from a friend for a book that I would not have heard of otherwise.

For non-fiction almost always it's because I've read a review and the topic sounds interesting.


message 13: by Maddie (new)

Maddie (ashelfofonesown) | 12 comments For books that are already on my radar for some reason, I most look at my GR friends rating, especially the people I know by now have similar tastes to mine, to decide if I really want to read it; after I read it, I like to cross-check my impressions of the book with reviews mostly out of curiosity. I especially like to read reviews that bring an opposite point of view to mine so I can see the text from a different angle (that is, if I rate a book 5 stars, I like to read 3 or 2 stars reviews to see why it worked for me but it didn't for someone else). In the end, I find the reading experience and, by proxy, the reviewing experience a very intimate and subjective thing so I like it, but more as a bonding exercise instead of a "decisive" one. But, like I said, I also let some opinions weigh in on whether or not I read the book, simply because there are so many books that I do want to read that I just don't want to waste time with them.

As for critics: I don't really follow anyone in particular but I tend to read the Guardian's reviews every now and then.


message 14: by Franky (new)

Franky | 119 comments I definitely peruse reviews before, during and after reading a book. Not that they affect whether I will read or not, I just like to read up on a book before jumping in most of the time. I do believe that things aren't complete until I write up a review and voice my thoughts about a book and the experience, good, bad, or other. I think it helps me feel a little more connected to the reading experience too.


message 15: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 292 comments I love reading reviews anytime, but usually avoid them for books I'm currently reading. I admire the art of the critic, but professional reviews are sometimes more than I want.

My favorite way to decide which books I want to read is a combination of critical recommendations and GR reviews. Rather than swearing by certain reviewers, I look for hints in what they say to tell me whether or not the book is for me.

Writing reviews is fun and provides a vent for the excitement (or disappointment) I feel after finishing a book. And it's part of the whole idea of sharing the experience of reading that we love about GR.


message 16: by Nadine in California (last edited Aug 28, 2018 06:59PM) (new)

Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments For books I haven't read yet, I'll read the first and last paragraphs of professional reviews - this gives me a sense of how the reviewer feels about the book without giving too much 'story' away. I also like Lithub's Bookmarks site because they aggregate reviews and provide a well-chosen snippet of each one - they give me a sense of the book without giving anything away. I'm not influenced much by the ratings ("rave", "good" "mixed" or "pan", which they combine to calculate an overall "rave", "positive" or "mixed"). There's been many a 'rave' book that was tepid to me. I know there was some criticism that the site heavily favors mainstream sources like major newspapers, but I think they have expanded to include smaller review journals and blogs. For my 5 star books, I will read reviews after I've written my own.


message 17: by Bernadette (new)

Bernadette Jansen op de Haar (bernadettejodh) | 23 comments Carol wrote: "I read a lot of reviews, and almost entirely before I select a book to read. I don’t believe, in principle, in the concept of spoilers or “spoiling” a book. In fact, it is rare for me to read a rev..."

Hello Carol, I totally agree with your opinion on spoilers.


message 18: by Bernadette (new)

Bernadette Jansen op de Haar (bernadettejodh) | 23 comments As a publisher it's very interesting to hear your views about reviews. I read a lot of reviews as part of my job and it's a task I enjoy. I'm also very grateful for all of you who take the time to write a review. For a small publisher like us all reviews are very important.


message 19: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2872 comments Mod
I'll often read reviews of books I'm not already planning on reading and these will sometimes inspire me to add them to my TBR list, especially if it's a GR friend whose tastes seem similar to mine. If I'm already planning on reading a book, I won't read the reviews until after I read it because I find it prevents me from thinking as critically as I like about a book--I won't think about the symbolism or make sense of what I'm reading on my own to the same degree since someone else will have already sort of guided my thinking. I then like to see how my own unprejudiced thoughts compared to reviews (professional and otherwise) thereafter. I especially like when my friends on GR have almost opposite reactions/critiques to the same book--usually, presents a perspective or ideas I hadn't thought of; rarely, changes my own opinion, but I like to have my thinking challenged.

This is going to sound horrible, but I used to pay so little attention to the bylines on newspapers and periodicals that I could almost never name an actual reviewer or print journalist. Michael Dirda was probably the only one I could name and maybe Dale Peck (not because I read him, but because he was known for hatchet jobs). Since then, I think Michiko Kakutani, James Woods, and Ron Charles are the only ones I visit with any regularity. Mostly, I read GR reviews and I like to hear about books and authors that my favorite authors are reading/praising. I also enjoy writing a review when I'm finished a book here on GR--kind of helps me gather my thoughts and further ties me to the book, so to speak.

I have a lot of trouble getting into BookTubers--I tend to like reading my reviews instead of watching them. No disrespect to anyone who likes the format or chooses it to do their reviews.


message 20: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Bernadette wrote: "As a publisher it's very interesting to hear your views about reviews. I read a lot of reviews as part of my job and it's a task I enjoy. I'm also very grateful for all of you who take the time to ..."

Do you shield your authors from bad reviews or advise them to ignore reviews? Or is this (authors being hurt or offended) less of an issue than some amateur reviewers believe?


message 21: by Lark (new)

Lark Benobi (larkbenobi) | 246 comments Carol wrote: "Do you shield your authors from bad reviews or advise them to ignore reviews? Or is this (authors being hurt or offended) less of an issue than some amateur reviewers believe? .."

I want to give my 2c on this, as an author of a book that mostly shocked the pants off of reviewers about a dozen years ago. My book was disturbing and I expected bad reviews, but I had a very different response to them depending on whether they landed in the category of "negative" or "unfair" to me.

"Negative" is fair--it focuses on writing, story, theme, and most especially whether the author delivers on the premise laid out in the beginning. These bad reviews didn't bother me at all. I learned from them.

"Unfair" included any reviewer who--and reviewers do this a lot I have since noticed--made assumptions about me as a human being, based on what my characters do and say. The Nation reviewer called me an anti-Semite for instance and she quoted what a character says in my novel to prove it. I know it's stupid, but I will never forgive her!


message 22: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Lark wrote: "Carol wrote: "Do you shield your authors from bad reviews or advise them to ignore reviews? Or is this (authors being hurt or offended) less of an issue than some amateur reviewers believe? .."

I ..."


And you shouldn’t.... I actually was also curious as to whether publishers even offer advice on this topic, or if authors are left to figure it out from mentors or bad experiences which
I imagine might be an awful way to learn about healthy ways to cope.


message 23: by Lark (new)

Lark Benobi (larkbenobi) | 246 comments Carol wrote: "I imagine might be an awful way to learn about healthy ways to cope..."

My editor called me up and talked about every review as it came out and he would always say things like "every review is a good review." I never believed it but I liked the sentiment.


message 24: by Robert (new)

Robert | 460 comments Lark wrote: "Carol wrote: "Do you shield your authors from bad reviews or advise them to ignore reviews? Or is this (authors being hurt or offended) less of an issue than some amateur reviewers believe? .."

I ..."


Such stupidity shouldn't be tolerated (the judgmental review I mean) .


message 25: by Bernadette (new)

Bernadette Jansen op de Haar (bernadettejodh) | 23 comments I don't shield my authors from bad reviews or advise them to ignore them.

I do tell them that people have different tastes and sometimes a bad review tells you more about the reviewer than the book.

Also I expect a really good book to generate a strong response and that can go both ways.

However, I do feel for my authors if they get a bad review, it's part and parcel of being an author but it's hard to have your work, your baby you've worked so hard on being criticized.

Lark, your editor was right to say "every review is a good review" because a) it talks about the book and b) a controversial review may actually trigger some people to read the book, I know I've done so.


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