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Question of the Week > Do You Find It Easier To Praise Or Critique Books? (9/1/19)

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message 1: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
If you're discussing or reviewing a book after reading it, do you find either praising or critiquing a book to be more natural or easier than the opposite? (E.g., Are you likely to have more to say about a book you disliked or a book you liked?) Why do you think this is the case?


message 2: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2576 comments Mod
I will freely admit that my reviews tend to err on the side of generosity, but at least part of that is a recognition that mine is only one insignificant and untrained opinion, and I can't always be sure I am not missing something important.


message 3: by Robert (new)

Robert | 406 comments Praise - definitely


message 4: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) It's weird, but I often know why I don't like a book, but I'm much less clear on why I like books. If I really love a book, I am horrible at putting it into words - especially b/c there are usually numerous reasons for it. If a book's bad, it's easy to point out why usually.

The books I have the most trouble with are those that are fine. Good. OK.

Though, in person, I have been known to actively campaign for books (ask anyone who knows me if they have a copy of...Oreo by Fran Ross, for instance), I am a technical writer, and waxing lyrically is not my thing, so I have trouble writing reviews in general and often just don't.


message 5: by Ellie (new)

Ellie (elliearcher) | 143 comments It's easier to say I like something but harder to pinpoint why. i usually know much more clearly why I don't like something. But writing praise helps me think more deeply about the book, especially when I'm recommending it to others.


message 6: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2576 comments Mod
Ellie wrote: "It's easier to say I like something but harder to pinpoint why. i usually know much more clearly why I don't like something. But writing praise helps me think more deeply about the book, especially..."
I agree - it is often very hard to say why one book works when another superficially similar one doesn't. I often find reviewing difficult.


message 7: by Marc (last edited Sep 03, 2019 12:33PM) (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
I don't enjoy coming down hard on a book I didn't like or I had major issues with, but I find it much easier to put into words my criticism of a book than my praise. I even feel more motivated to do so as if providing examples and logical analysis will somehow better warn others. Whereas, the books I love the most feel like either they can't be explained (at least, by me) or that the act of doing so lessens them instead of speaks to their true greatness. Plus, I feel like I have a lot to say if I've been disappointed, upset, etc.

Then I wonder if some of this doesn't have a bit to do with evolution and that for survival purposes, it makes a lot more sense that we have stronger reactions to pain/discomfort. I find it much easier to remember and sort of re-feel bad memories than I do good ones (and I generally think I'm a pretty positive and optimistic type of person). In hindsight, this seems fairly obvious--I don't tend to stop and analyze things when they make me happy.


message 8: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 137 comments I primarily write reviews to put in words my own feelings about the book I just read. I review immediately after completing it and it's for my own benefit, to capture exactly what the book meant to me, how it affected me, what I felt like when I was done with it, what the author did that was interesting or not. If I hated something I have no problem writing that, and vice versa.

It's only lately I've thought about people reading my reviews and whether I need to curb my reviews out of respect for their sensibilities. I've had bad experiences with people reacting to my bad reviews, I mean, very unpleasantly telling me I'm a bad person.

I'm still in a kerfluffle about this phenomenon of going after a reviewer for not loving a book, and I find it very unpleasant, so now and then I think about making my reviews private.

But then again, I get a lot out of people disagreeing with me without attacking me personally, so I leave them public.


message 9: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 221 comments I write book reviews because it helps me to remember what books I've read and why I liked or disliked them. I find it easier to review books I like since I generally know why I liked them.

I can usually figure out why I think a book is weak. My challenge is figuring out a way of saying it diplomatically in case the author comes across the review. I know that sounds silly. But I also know how much effort is involved in writing a book, so I try to say something positive while also addressing what I thought were its weaknesses.

I think that comes from years of grading undergraduate student papers. You never want to tell a student his/her paper is a piece of junk even if it is a piece of junk. Doing so may shatter a student's confidence and he/she will walk away from your class convinced there is no room for improvement. So I always tried to say something positive even while pointing out the weaknesses in their papers and suggesting improvements.

It's hard to get two decades of being an English prof out of my system :)


message 10: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 221 comments Lark wrote: "I've had bad experiences with people reacting to my bad reviews, I mean, very unpleasantly telling me I'm a bad person. .."

That's just awful, Lark. I'm really sorry that happened to you.

We don't all share the same taste in books--and thank goodness for that! Otherwise, it would make for a very dull reading world. But to assume that just because you disliked a book that a zillion other people may have liked means you're a bad person is down right ridiculous. It says a lot about the people accusing you--and none of it is positive.

I've read some of your reviews and I've enjoyed them. So hang in there and don't let the nastiness get you down.


message 11: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments Lark wrote: "I primarily write reviews to put in words my own feelings about the book I just read. I review immediately after completing it and it's for my own benefit, to capture exactly what the book meant to..."

You know what, Lark? I delete those comments. My review. My space. Disagreement and conflict don't upset me in the least. people who still can't get over my 4 star review of [unidentified British mid-century classic] because it isn't 5-stars and is insufficiently respectful of [author of same]? Life's too short to humor the humorless outside of work or family.

That's just me, though. I come to GR for joy and learning only. Ugliness I can't avoid elsewhere, but I can here.

To the question - it's easier for me to write critical reviews because it's easier for me to identify what was flawed or didn't work. I find myself being repetitive in how I talk about good and great books, and I won't publish a review along the lines of, "i liked it," so on balance I publish more 1 and 2 star reviews than i do 4 and 5 star reviews.


message 12: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 137 comments Tamara, thanks for your thoughts. I have to say I don't think as much about what a writer thinks about my review as you do...I figure that this author had their book published, and a lot of people need to believe in a book to have that happen, so any author coming across my bad review is likely to think it reflects on the boneheaded-ness of the reviewer (me) rather than on any defect in their book.

Carol, that's a great idea. I've been deleting my reviews when this happened, instead of the comments, but now I think I'll reclaim my territory--"my review, my space!"


message 13: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments Lark wrote: "Tamara, thanks for your thoughts. I have to say I don't think as much about what a writer thinks about my review as you do...I figure that this author had their book published, and a lot of people ..."

oh, no! you can't let the haters win. Mute them, I say!


message 14: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) For what it's worth, I'd much rather you delete the hater's comments b/c I really love your reviews.


message 15: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
Sounds like 21CL is here for backup if you ever need reinforcements, Lark!

Some people seem to equate their self-identity with their cultural tastes and seem to think a negative review must therefor say something negative about them. And then some people are just arses...


message 16: by Robert (new)

Robert | 406 comments Lark wrote: "Tamara, thanks for your thoughts. I have to say I don't think as much about what a writer thinks about my review as you do...I figure that this author had their book published, and a lot of people ..."

Nooo I like your reviews. Just delete the stupid negative comments (if someone justifies intelligently why they disliked the book I'll keep them), that's what I do.


message 17: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2576 comments Mod
More often than not I leave the negative comments or ask questions back. Sometimes people post short comments out of nowhere in ways that are frankly baffling.

Lark - I value your reviews too - don't give in to them.

I must admit that I worry more about the author's reactions if the book is a niche small press book that has very few reviews. Anything published by big mainstream publishers is fair game other than personal attacks.


message 18: by Tamara (last edited Sep 04, 2019 04:11AM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 221 comments Hugh wrote: "I must admit that I worry more about the author's reactions if the book is a niche small press book that has very few reviews. Anything published by big mainstream publishers is fair game other than personal attacks. .."

A good distinction to make--and one I hadn't thought of before.
Thanks, Hugh.


message 19: by Ellie (new)

Ellie (elliearcher) | 143 comments Lark wrote: "I primarily write reviews to put in words my own feelings about the book I just read. I review immediately after completing it and it's for my own benefit, to capture exactly what the book meant to..."

Lark, I'm sorry you've had such negative experiences. I never understand why people take such personal affront to others who disagree with their opinion of a book. I like the suggestion of just deleting the negative comments: who needs bad energies? But why should you stop expressing your ideas because some people can't (for whatever reason) take it?


message 20: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
It can be tricky to do a negative or so-so reviews if you know the author or the author is a friend...


message 21: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
I run into the same problem with positive reviews/praise that Carol mentioned: "I find myself being repetitive in how I talk about good and great books... "

It's difficult not to reach for the same adjectives or phrases sometimes. I try to remind myself I don't have to say anything if I'm not feeling inspired. I was blown away by The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning--I took pages and pages of notes... I never had the energy to wrangle all that enthusiasm and inspiration into something coherent...


message 22: by lark (last edited Sep 04, 2019 08:40AM) (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 137 comments Hugh wrote: "I must admit that I worry more about the author's reactions if the book is a niche small press book that has very few reviews. Anything published by big mainstream publishers is fair game other than personal attacks. ..."

This sounds about right although I don't think of it as being worried about the author's reaction--it's more the feeling that I'm writing the review with a different set of considerations altogether.

When it's an obscure or small-press book then part of my built-in goal is boosterism--"this book, which you may not have heard of before, deserves your attention."

Also a big mainstream 'literary bestseller' kind of book has different goals, where, for instance, pointing out plot inconsistencies or logical incoherences seems fair to do in my review , whereas a small press book might be plotless and incoherent on purpose, part of a deliberate artistic vision. I'm only a little bit kidding.


message 23: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 137 comments This thread makes me realize I'm far more circumspect when talking about a given book in a GR group where I'm a member, than I might be in my review of that book.

I'm not sure if that's logical, when the review is there for all to see, and has the possibility of being read by a lot more people. But in a threaded conversation I'll never go full-bore with either my hatred or my love--it always feels more about give-and-take there.


message 24: by David (new)

David | 242 comments Writing I don't like is often easy to say why I don't like it. This character's actions are not believable because.... That attempt to say something profound made me laugh.... This bit was confusing.... Writing that bores me and fails to engage me is more difficult to write about because often little of it really sticks and also I am a lot less motivated to even want to talk about it.

With writing I like it can sometimes be harder to find things to say that don't just amount to "I liked it". When an author does something that is both good and unique, then it can be a lot more easy to explain praise. But sometimes I can't get past "beautifully expressed" or "very engaging story" or some such other banal compliment.


message 25: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
Seems logical to me, Lark. When you're in a discussion, if you come out too strongly, it can discourage others from participating. There's been a couple of books I had a very strong negative reactions to (most recently, All the Birds in the Sky and We That Are Young)... I chose the if-you-don't-have-anything-nice-to-say-don't-say-anything-at-all approaches in our group discussions.


message 26: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 221 comments Lark wrote: "This thread makes me realize I'm far more circumspect when talking about a given book in a GR group where I'm a member, than I might be in my review of that book..."

I have the same experience.

I'm in a group where several people whose opinions I respect sang high praises for a specific book. I finally read the book and thought it was pretty awful for a great many reasons. I forced myself to finish it, hoping to see what all the fuss was about.

I didn't want to turn people off a book so many seem to love, and I didn't want to risk offending the people in the group I've come to know and like by telling them I thought it was a piece of junk. So I didn't write a review. All I said was, "This book just wasn't for me."

I left it at that.


message 27: by Nadine (last edited Sep 04, 2019 01:40PM) (new)

Nadine (nadinekc) | 405 comments When I write a negative review, I tend to put a lot of "I" in it ("I think.... I feel...etc.) which sounds lame (who else but me is writing the review), but it emphasizes that my review is subjective, and not a definitive statement on the quality of the book.


message 28: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments Lark wrote: "This thread makes me realize I'm far more circumspect when talking about a given book in a GR group where I'm a member, than I might be in my review of that book.

I'm not sure if that's logical, ..."


Discussion threads are different. I pull my punches on the negatives, at least until later in the month.


message 29: by David (last edited Sep 04, 2019 03:29PM) (new)

David | 242 comments The last several comments reminded me of a quotation from the Aaron Sorkin show Sports Night that I like a lot. One character says, "If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you." My version of that for book discussions would be if you were not sure what to think of a book, surround yourself with readers with strong views. If you do have a strong view of a book, surround your self with readers with strong views who disagree with you.

I find discussions where there are strong disagreements about books to be ones that can be the most productive because they challenge me to think more deeply about what I think and why and can give me new ways to think about books. As a result, I am the person who is much more likely to present a strong view, when I have one, even of it is a negative assessment and others have positive assessments. I can understand why others might not want engage in discussion like this, but I am always mystified by people who take disagreement personally and who are annoyed by it. There should be room in the discussion for the different point of view, even of it is more critical. People should not feel they have to self-censor to avoid angering others just because they did not like a book. After all, what is the point in discussing a book if people don't say what they really think?


message 30: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments David wrote: "The last several comments reminded me of a quotation from the Aaron Sorkin show Sports Night that I like a lot. One character says, "If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you're s..."

I agree with you, David, with one caveat — know your group. Some groups are not comfortable with direct disagreement and strong views. I code switch between groups in the same manner we all do in real life.

Where I do pull punches, generally, it’s in the early days of a discussion and primarily because I’ve seen discussions die because one person came on strong in a negative way about a book. There seem to be quite a few members of many groups who decide based on early comments whether to read the book and all it takes is a single negative early report to create silence. It’s not fair to a group to be That Member. Wait a week or so and one is only one of several and the impact on the discussion thread is reduced substantially.


message 31: by David (new)

David | 242 comments Carol, I take your point that no one wants to (or should want to) be the person who rains on everyone else's parade, but, to be honest, if I know a group is composed of people who I think I have to walk on eggshells to not put off by sharing my view of a book, I'd probably withdraw from discussions with that group altogether and find another one where expressing any view is welcomed.


message 32: by Carol (last edited Sep 05, 2019 05:22PM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments David wrote: "Carol, I take your point that no one wants to (or should want to) be the person who rains on everyone else's parade, but, to be honest, if I know a group is composed of people who I think I have to..."

I understand. Book groups are like churches, though, in my opinion. None are perfect, because .... people. :)


message 33: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
So many of the world's problems would be solved if there just weren't people... :o


message 34: by David (new)

David | 242 comments Marc wrote: "So many of the world's problems would be solved if there just weren't people... :o"

Every time I lock eyes with a squirrel or a deer I'm pretty sure that's what they are thinking.


message 35: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
David wrote: "Every time I lock eyes with a squirrel or a deer I'm pretty sure that's what they are thinking."

Ha! They'd just move on shortly and there'd be a new apex-predator-non-grata.


message 36: by Adrian (new)

Adrian Alvarez (adrianasturalvarez) | 19 comments If I have issues with a book I've likely been practicing my complaints for the duration of the read so by the time I come to review I know exactly what I want to express... and if the issue wasn't the whole book but a disappointing end, well that's pretty fresh, too.

Like Lark, I also review immediately after reading. For me the review is where I try and assemble whatever meaning I'm going to take away. If I fall into it's good/it's bad I know I'm failing to get what I want out of the experience and, ironically, the review runs out of steam quickly and comes out less naturally. If I push to make some kind of meaning with even a sentence or two not only can I usually tease out something interesting but my thoughts tend to flow more naturally, as well.

All that to say, if a review is very easy I've probably lost focus.


message 37: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments David wrote: "Marc wrote: "So many of the world's problems would be solved if there just weren't people... :o"

Every time I lock eyes with a squirrel or a deer I'm pretty sure that's what they are thinking."


They are. I’m certain of it.


message 38: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2066 comments Mod
I love these discussions and hearing about how varied people's attitudes towards these things can be. For myself, I find it's easier to rant about things I don't like, but like others I hesitate to post negative reviews. These days, I mostly just post actual reviews for books that may benefit from a signal boost. Not that I'm much of GR trendsetter...

On a related note, who do people think of as their 'audience' when posting a review? The way GR originated as a social site, one's review is straight up personal opinion. But as it's become tied in to marketing to some extent, the line has blurred. When someone give a one star review to a book, they are officially saying "I didn't like this book", which is inarguable. But frequently they mean, or get interpreted as meaning "this is a bad book", which is a whole other thing.

Then there's the writers reading their own reviews thing that came up. Almost every writer I hear asked that question says they stopped reading their Amazon and GR reviews. Most of them seem sincere. There are ongoing rants on Twitter about people tagging writers in links to bad reviews about their books. (Etiquette note, consensus is "don't do it you effing troll".)


message 39: by Carol (last edited Sep 08, 2019 05:12PM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments Whitney wrote: "I love these discussions and hearing about how varied people's attitudes towards these things can be. For myself, I find it's easier to rant about things I don't like, but like others I hesitate to..."

Reviews are for other readers, who may or may not purchase a book. They are no more for authors than movie reviews are for actors and directors. All reviews are personal opinions. Depending on the credibility or eloquence of the review, they may support marketing efforts but that doesn’t change their character as an opinion. When I give a one-star review, I am indeed saying this is a crappy piece of junk, not “I didn’t like it.” YMMV, of course.


message 40: by lark (last edited Sep 08, 2019 08:53AM) (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 137 comments Whitney wrote: "On a related note, who do people think of as their 'audience' when posting a review? ..."

I think I'm in the "it's my personal take" camp. If I have a very visceral hatred for a book, but still read to the end, then it has to be "well written" on some level or I wouldn't have finished it.

I write reviews for myself mostly, to capture what I thought at that moment. I do like getting feedback from other readers with different takes, though, which is why I like to read along with others here in GR groups. But what I write in GR reviews is more or less what I used to write in my personal book log and isn't meant usually to persuade anyone of anything. One exception I can think of is Season of the Shadow though which I thought was so extraordinary and so unfairly overlooked that I boostered it in my review.

Re: authors getting upset about reviews--there's a fundamental misunderstanding there, because a book review is about a book, and not about the author. The minute a book is published it's a separate thing, with its own life and its own relationships with readers, and it's no longer about the author at all.

The only time it feels legitimate for a writer to get upset about a review is when a reviewer starts attacking the author instead of the book, as in: "this book has a character who says odious thing "x," and therefore the author must also believe odious thing "x," and so the author is obviously a bad person whom I must now personally expose and attack viciously online."


message 41: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2066 comments Mod
Lark wrote: "Re: authors getting upset about reviews--there's a fundamental misunderstanding there, because a book review is about a book, and not about the author. .."

I agree, writers who look at their reviews and have a hissy fit are obnoxious. With some exceptions, such as those who roll their eyes at reviews critical because a book had gay characters &c. The twitter rants are about something different, which is people writing a bad GR, Amazon, blog etc. review, then tweeting a link to their review and tagging the writer in their tweet. "Hey, look, I wrote a bad review of your book! I will at you, because obviously you and all your friends will want to see it!"


message 42: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
I think people tag (or @) writers on Twitter because it draws more attention/views, not because they are necessarily baiting or trolling the writer. At least, in some cases. It's similar to adding hyperlinks here on GR to an extent...


message 43: by Robert (new)

Robert | 406 comments I never @ a writer if I criticise their book negatively. I feel guilty. Plus authors do say on twitter that they find it rude when they are tagged.

When you put out stuff for public consumption you will be criticised - When I was a music critic I had ex belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell call me an a**hole on facebook because I said I thought that her best collaboration record with Mark Lanegan was her first one, while she said all three were great! - I hate it but you just have to lump it.


message 44: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
I will @ a writer if someone asked me who my favorite writers are, nominations for Women in Translation month, etc. but those are all positive/praise type of comments. In some cases, I've had authors comment or thank me, but my intention was just to bring attention to them and let others know they're on Twitter.

Seems pretty crappy to write a negative review and then tag the writer no matter the platform. You could just link to their book or other reviews.


message 45: by David (new)

David | 242 comments I would think that if you use the full title of the book and the author's full name in a tweet without @ing them it will get the attention of people who search for tweets about that author or their work without specifically @ing the author. If the author finds your tweet, it means they were doing a vanity search and, well, that's on them if they don't like what you said.


message 46: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments David wrote: "I would think that if you use the full title of the book and the author's full name in a tweet without @ing them it will get the attention of people who search for tweets about that author or their..."

Agreed.


message 47: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2066 comments Mod
Yep.


message 48: by Adrian (new)

Adrian Alvarez (adrianasturalvarez) | 19 comments Whitney wrote: "On a related note, who do people think of as their 'audience' when posting a review?..."

I've come to understand when I'm writing a review I'm talking to my past tense self, the one who hasn't read the book yet. That is the one person who would care the most about what I have to say. :-D


message 49: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 137 comments Adrian wrote: "I've come to understand when I'm writing a review I'm talking to my past tense self, the one who hasn't read the book yet. That is the one person who would care the most about what I have to say. :-D .."

This is so cool.

If i did that, all my bad reviews would be in my mean-mom inner voice, and written in second person ("I can't believe you didn't stop reading this book on page 5! You should have listened to me!)


message 50: by Adrian (new)

Adrian Alvarez (adrianasturalvarez) | 19 comments Lark wrote: "Adrian wrote: "I've come to understand when I'm writing a review I'm talking to my past tense self, the one who hasn't read the book yet. That is the one person who would care the most about what I..."

Haha well I suggest you be nicer to yourself. Until time travel is more of a thing. Then you really have no excuse.


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