The Extra Cool Group! (of people Michael is experimenting on) discussion

Pertaining to the project > How reviews are evolving

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Many of them are focusing less on the content of the book and more on the experience of reading the book. Meaning, they're functionally blog entries using books as a springboard.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 77 comments In my general observational experience, this has been how most of the top reviewer's reviews function since joining the site over two years ago. I could be wrong but I'm pretty sure this has been the rule rather than the exception for quite some time. At least in my "circle" of goodreads friends, which happens to have many of the most voted for (and therefore presumably the most viewed) reviews. There's certainly a colloquial, personalized style to most of them, even if the focus does manage to stay fixed more on content than free-associatively recounting the reading experience itself.

message 3: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine | 199 comments one of my friends whose is only nominally on goodreads was harassing me about that. I think the personal stuff is totally relevant to most books, a good book connects to something in yourself and you talk about that.

also as I have said elsewhere, I don't really like book reviews that summarize books, I mean back covers already do that, as do professional reviews, I don't care what a book is about before I read it, I care if the experience of reading it is pleasant (except for the condition that I don't read books with dragons in them).

As far as my reviews, they evolved from "Why are you reading my review when you should be reading the book" to personal stuff, except on books I hated, where even in an old review about foucault my rant starts talking about philosophers I personally prefer and not really pointing out the content issues I had with the book.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 77 comments But yes, most of the reviews function more so as entertaining, avante garde performances of book reviews rather than writing meant to strike a balance between critical analysis and plot-teasers and sell books to a general audience.

I think it's all about balance. If someone can tell a story about themselves or make one up and can connect it to some salient points about the book or simply their reaction to the book then so be it. Some reviews find this know-it-when-I-see-it balance better than others.

message 5: by Michael, Sonic the Hegemon (new)

Michael | 183 comments Mod
Yes, that's definitely a part of what I've noticed as well. Looking at them from a formal angle, reviews are very likely to be personal, a response as a casual reader and not as an "owner" of the text, and there's a lot more emphasis on humor than you get in other reviewing contexts.

And, I think the threads that follow reviews add a dynamic that doesn't exist in most other places. Reviews are often more of a conversation STARTER than an attempt to encapsulate all the important parts of the book.

message 6: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine | 199 comments yeah I was agreeing with you, but I think you make a good point in that none of us are actually trying to sell the book in most cases. I mean when I reviewed caris' book I actively thought "what do I write to get people to buy this." whereas normally if I wanted to get karen or courtney to read something I'd just tell them to not try to convince them with a book review.

I also think that I suck at that balance, I'm just not that dedicated to writing amazing reviews. whereas you and greg tend to write extremely impressive reviews.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 77 comments We had a cross post up there, Jazz. No disagreements here.

Yeah, Greg and I are pretty great. I don't write reviews very often, so when I do they tend to be long and overwritten like I'm trying to say a lot about everything in my head at the moment. While I'll stand by my some of my reviews as being pretty good I think I'd be a better participant in the GR world if I wrote shorter, more compact ones. Maybe limit my word count or something. Anyway, I'll probably just start littering review boxes with snippets of fiction that I'm working on, just to up the avante garde ante...

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Also, several book reviews were chosen specifically as a springboard for completely unrelated issues. I'm talking here about Meredith's use of Twilight as a platform for discussing privacy and safety online, and the other reviews that followed. Eh! used a book on computer security to test a privacy security hole in the Goodreads 'recommended by' system.

message 9: by Jasmine (last edited Nov 22, 2010 12:38PM) (new)

Jasmine | 199 comments I think some of the really important parts of the site aren't the reviews.

I mean I didn't read william gaddis because greg reviewed it. His review got it on my radar and then several times after he read it, it came up in comments on books. Zweig and Wallace both happened the same way. When I decided I didn't like those books(gaddis, zweig, and magic mountain too actually) in comments I talked to people about whether anything was "coming up" that was going to change my mind or if it was a good idea to stop and let the book die by the side of the road. Not to mention (like what just happened on an mj nicholls review) where in comments you get into discussions about trends in literature and leave a review with 4 books to check out instead of one. I mean I'm spacing the book I was looking at a review of but I ended up deciding to buy a different book he brought up in the comments.

and I love the progress stuff. Last night when I was getting frustrated and wanted to quit a book, that I'm not pointing fingers at right now, I went back to look at someone's old status updates to see when they had started liking it because I knew that they had problems. That helped me judge if I wanted to keep going.

message 10: by Michael, Sonic the Hegemon (new)

Michael | 183 comments Mod
That helped me judge if I wanted to keep going.

Wow, I hadn't thought of that. I usually don't pay much attention to status updates, so that's interesting. Very often, I find the threads a hell of a lot more interesting than reviews..other than YOUR reviews, of course, person who is reading this thread. At one point, I was planning on looking at just specific books and how different people reviewed them, but I think that would limit my results too much. But, I still plan on looking at whether there's any substantial differences between fiction reviews versus non-fiction or poetry. I'm also interested in reading reviews from the romance side of the site...I haven't read many romance reviews, so I don't know what I'll discover over there.

Also, several book reviews were chosen specifically as a springboard for completely unrelated issues.

I agree that some reviews are like this, like my review of In the Night Kitchen, but I actually think there was some premeditation in Meredith's decision to make that a Twilight review. I don't know whether I'll be able to make an argument that it's actually a book review, though...premeditation doesn't necessarily make it a book review.

message 11: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine | 199 comments yeah I like status updates on my own books for myself, I look at other peoples for long book, and comment on recent ones a good amount I think. I like the process of reading

message 12: by Mir (new)

Mir | 51 comments Especially for non-fiction, I also use reviews to keep track of information I may want to come back to some day. Status updates are like notes for when I write the review later.

message 13: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine | 199 comments did you see the new notes box? it's cool only you can see it. it might be old and I just didn't know about it. I am using to remember short stories I like in a book.

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Don't forget to study these major GR groups for comparison and contrast:

teenage girl (or 'anything by Stephanie Meyer')
everyone else

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

I have a really hazy, old background in folklore, and I notice that Goodreads has at least two large, mostly non-interacting folk groups, to use that frusty old terminology: the romance readers, and the non-romance readers. I can break down the non-romance group a bit - there are those who read fiction and non-fiction, those who write book reports, those who get more personal, those who use it as a catalog and never interact, those who don't post reviews and hang out in private groups, etc etc, but I can't say much about what's going on on the other side of the genre wall.

message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Cross-post fight! Donkey punch! I win.

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Richard wrote: "Cross-post fight! Donkey punch! I win."


message 18: by Mir (new)

Mir | 51 comments Gosh, Ceridwen, I think I am a member of that group. I forgot all about (groups you all are in being so much more absorbing, you know).

message 19: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 22, 2010 04:03PM) (new)

Miriam wrote: "Gosh, Ceridwen, I think I am a member of that group. I forgot all about (groups you all are in being so much more absorbing, you know)."

You're one of the very few users on GR who interacts with both folk groups with ease, Miriam, and that's deeply cool. I'm just saying that the two groups rarely interact and don't tend to read each other's reviews. I know that romance isn't a monolith, and there are bound to be divisions like there are for the non-romancers, or whatever you call this other group. (And I think Richard's right - the Twilighters are a force unto their own.) I just don't want to assume the divisions are the same. They may be different. I don't know, is all I'm pointing out.

message 20: by Jacob (new)

Jacob (jacobaugust) Richard wrote: "Many of them are focusing less on the content of the book and more on the experience of reading the book. Meaning, they're functionally blog entries using books as a springboard."

That's been my reviewing method from the beginning. I kept a blog on LiveJournal from 2004-2007/8, with regular blog-like entries, and not much changed when I switched to GoodReads. Initially, I only joined GR to catalogue my (small but growing) library, and didn't really keep up with rating or reviewing what I read, but when I started reading Les Miserables in summer '08, I decided I should at least share some of my thoughts on the book. I made sure to state in my review that I was terrible at writing "ordinary" reviews, and that I found it easier to blog about it instead.

After that, I started reviewing books more often, and starting in 2009 I made sure to review every book I added here--especially since I started reading short story collections. Some are bloggish, some are more book-centered, and the kind of review I write really depends on how I feel about that particular book when I finish it. And maybe on what will get the most votes.

message 21: by Kat Kennedy (last edited Nov 22, 2010 07:37PM) (new)

Kat Kennedy (katkennedy) | 45 comments I doubt, if reviews were ever critically focussed here on GoodReads, that they stayed that way for very long.

I started writing very critical reviews breaking down a book from characterization, plot, pacing, writing style, enjoyment factor et cetera and had one person total 'like' my review.

Now I give those things a brief mention and a passing nod at most. People seem to connect more with blog-like reviews.

message 22: by karen (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 33 comments i enjoy pictures. i try to be more sparing with them, but because it is a feature that is offered, i just can't help myself from using them. but i try to bury them further down so as not to offend the feed-purists. but i think they can really enhance a review if used properly.

other than that, i try to write really helpful, academic reviews that really get to the heart of the book's import both now and to future generations.

message 23: by Kat Kennedy (new)

Kat Kennedy (katkennedy) | 45 comments I'm addicted to pictures. I usually put at least three in every review because I'm evil and don't care if I bugger up someone else's review feed.

other than that, i try to write really helpful, academic reviews that really get to the heart of the book's import both now and to future generations.

Oh, yeah... totally. Me too...

message 24: by karen (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 33 comments hahahahhaaa

i love your reviews. they are usually for books that i'm probably never going to read, but they have a really great energy about them.

message 25: by Kat Kennedy (new)

Kat Kennedy (katkennedy) | 45 comments I would agree that there are genres of books which have a gathering for critical reviews. Tatiana is a reviewer who never skips form or function in her reviews no matter what genre of books she reads.

It's probably just the circles I travel in.

they are usually for books that i'm probably never going to read...

I wish *I* hadn't read half those books!

message 26: by [deleted user] (new)


message 27: by Michael, Sonic the Hegemon (new)

Michael | 183 comments Mod
I think there's something a little dismissive about saying they are blog-like. I think the fact that we continually write these reviews as we continue reading gives them a certain bloggish..what is word...a certain bloggish something, but I think the responses are genuine and honest in a way that most professional reviewers aren't. Except for Jacob, who only writes reviews when payola is involved.

P.S. Please, everyone, invite people without discretion. I've invited EVERYONE on my friends list who hasn't totally abandoned the site, and I'm not trying to get responses from any one group or demographic. I want to hear from casual users as well as the celebrities and the romance peoples and the Twilight children. Ooooh, that sounds spooky.

message 28: by karen (new)

karen (karenbrissette) | 33 comments do you have specific questions?? i have to admit - i was away form this place for most of the day, and i basically skimmed everything here.

message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Michael wrote: "I think there's something a little dismissive about saying they are blog-like."

Yeah, I know. It seemed easier to just insult everyone than actually ask a question.

message 30: by Christy (new)

Christy (christymtidwell) | 18 comments I have to say that when I write reviews (which is less often these days than when I was reading for comprehensive exams) I do tend to write more critical and less personal reviews. That's in large part because I'm writing them to help myself remember and to help myself think through how I might want to use the books for teaching or writing. It's certainly nice when others like and comment on them, but that's not usually my primary motivation.

message 31: by Eric_W (new)

Eric_W (ericw) I started writing reviews about 30 years ago. I remember the moment precisely. I was at my Dad's house reading The Illusion of Peace by Tad Szulc (an excellent book.) I have been a very eclectic reader ever since I could talk, books were always special around my house. I would get morose and depressed about the amount of information I was forgetting so I decided with Szulc's book, I would start keeping journals of what I read that I could refer back to. When I became director of a college library, I started a library newsletter. The first one was the traditional format, you know, library hours, lists of recent purchases, stuff like that. Then I read through the first couple of issues and said to myself, "I wouldn't read this shit, so why should I expect others to." So I started a newsletter that consisted solely of my personal musings about the books I was reading or articles I had found interesting. Often, the books and opinions were controversial (deliberately so) especially since I would routinely pick on religion. Fortunately the little rag, which evolved into a bi-monthly of about 10 single-spaced pages, got to be reasonably popular which helped to insulate me from the less thoughtful readers whom I delighted in pissing off (and would occasionally complain to the president.) So my reviews became a way of agitating and promoting my personal biases.

After the arrival of Amazon and other review blogs, I started my own blog, especially as the mailing list had reached 500 people and was getting expensive for the college to reproduce and distribute, so I went electronic. Someone suggested Goodreads a couple of years ago and I've been here ever since. I find my reviews tend to be written for myself, reminders of content, although with lighter fare, consist of my personal reactions with little regard to plot since that's already abundantly available elsewhere.

I have met some really interesting people, some very special ones with whom I'd love to share a meal -- something we actually did with Tony and Linda in Ireland when we flew there this summer. Wonderful experience.

Before I die, I'd love to have a barbecue in my orchard inviting many of the special folks whose reviews I have really enjoyed reading on Goodreads. What a great conversation we would have!

I read lots of other review publications: NY Times Book Review, New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, Mystery Scene, Audiofile, etc., etc. but what I really love about Goodreads' writers is their passion for ideas and books.

message 32: by Mariel (new)

Mariel (fuchsiagroan) I'd say I write what I feel like but words don't do what I want 'em to.

I only started writing reviews about two months ago, despite having joined gr in 2007. I read loads of reviews, I just never wrote any. I felt bad about not being able to say what I wanted to say. The whole thing still stresses me out. I'm really in the habit of reviewing books like I used to review films (now that I did frequently). Feelings that struck me, overriding images in my mind to take away with me. "How they did it form" is a mystery to me.

message 33: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca (scribbleorca) | 123 comments Reviews are the bane of my existence. Everyone else's are jewels of lucidity and insight. Mine are the revelation of my meagre reading ability.

message 34: by Ryan (last edited Nov 23, 2010 04:06AM) (new)

Ryan Michael's review of Ship Breaker comes to mind...

This is one of the only social networks where I'm willing to add strangers, so I appreciate that people take the time to share their personal experiences and anecdotes that they connect to these books.

If I wanted to read a formal review, I'd read the New York Times.

Now, I will usually write a review if I feel like I've come up with an "angle."

message 35: by MJ (new)

MJ Nicholls (mjnicholls) Good reviewers are objective. The book is what matters.

message 36: by Michael, Sonic the Hegemon (new)

Michael | 183 comments Mod
do you have specific questions??

Yes. I didn't get a chance to post much on here yesterday because I was running around campus all day, but I'm going to start some new threads today with specific questions.

message 37: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 133 comments Most of my book reviews are written with an ideal audience in mind: that audience being one who has ALREADY READ the book I'm reviewing.

(the other implied audience is future-me, looking back and saying "I don't remember much about that book even though I know I've read it")

The reasoning is that I personally am like that. I rarely read reviews of a book until after I have finished reading a book. I don't want people's opinions to influence me too much, so I try to avoid that.

But writing reviews for a (mostly imagined) audience of people who have already read the book can be fun because then I'm not worried about the plot or trying to convince anyone to read the book, etc. Instead, I just dive into the ideas presented, and figuring out why I felt the way I did about certain things, etc.

There are exceptions to this of course, especially for books that most people have not read before.

message 38: by Alex (new)

Alex Richard wrote: "Many of them are focusing less on the content of the book and more on the experience of reading the book. Meaning, they're functionally blog entries using books as a springboard."

Agree, and well said.

message 39: by mark (new)

mark monday (majestic-plural) | 77 comments i like the personalized reviews. the only other sites in which i read any reviews are imdb and amazon. unfortunately most of the reviewers on both sites have some mental issues or are just reaching pubescence. not to be judgmental of course. but there are a lot of reviewers on both sites who are pretty great too. still, GR tends to have my favorite reviews. blogs make me impatient.

message 40: by Cathy (new)

Cathy Douglas (asymmetrical) I was surprised when I first encountered the blog-with-a-book phenomenon. Some of them are really well done, but they tend to be long and not have much to say about the book. If somebody is actually my friend, I'm already reading their blog elsewhere; I don't usually have time to read blogs by random strangers, whether bookish or not. On GR, I'm mostly interested in what people I like and/or respect have to say about the stuff they read. These reviews can be detailed or personal or simple, short blurbs; most people I know are moved to write different types of reviews for different books.

I realize there's a core of GR members for whom the site is primarily a social network, and that's fine. It's just not that for me.

message 41: by Aloha (new)

Aloha One of my favorite reviewer is Joel (member here), when he's at his most devil may care mood, and posted a bunch of pictures of cats. Actually, that's what drew me to his review in the first place, a huge picture of a cat above the review of China Mieville's Kraken. This particular review was intelligent but frank, so it wasn't all about the cat picture. But it did make me read his review. I friended him so that I can follow his reviews.

message 42: by Mariel (new)

Mariel (fuchsiagroan) The book blog is when someone will post the first sentence of their review and then tell you to visit their blog to read the rest of it? I never follow those links.

message 43: by Jason (last edited Nov 27, 2010 09:43AM) (new)

Jason Brown (Toastx2) (toastx2) | 120 comments alright, so above, i see two prevailing views.

- reviews as book reports,
- reviews as blogs

a lot of flack above for being forced into two buckets. i propose a third bucket.

- masturbatory reviews
i write a lot of reviews where i specifically call out the author with praise or hatred. i also mention things to the publishers for faults. when i am not doing this, the reviews are generally for myself, published with the intent that someone else may enjoy them.

these are masturbatory as the individual is doing it purely for their own pleasure. there is a level of desire for someone else (group/individual/company) to join in but in the end there is always going to be a moment of fulfillment.

i would have to say that three quarters of the GR reviews i read would fall in this category. they may have bloggish or reporty tendencies, but they are intended to serve no purpose than personal pleasure with a narcissistic belief that someone else out there is actually paying attention..


so there is a third bucket.
do we have a fourth? one i missed above or one that should be mentioned?

message 44: by Aloha (new)

Aloha Jason, I agree with your assessment of the masturbatory reviews. I review for my own selfish purpose, as a learning tool for myself. If somebody likes it, great. If s/he doesn't, I don't need to hear it.

Whoo! I am catching up via quick glances. I may be off the mark in answering the questions since I'm reading too quickly. I still haven't caught up with all the topics. Damn Mark for inviting me so late.

message 45: by mark (new)

mark monday (majestic-plural) | 77 comments damn me straight to hell! it has been far too long since i've visited my homeland.

i posted a bit ago that i write something akin to masturbatory reviews, but i don't think the style of 'masturbatory reviews' that i write is the kind identified by jason above. i do write in a style that i imagine is accessible to readers of reviews. but i don't mean my reviews to be providing any kind of input to the author or to the publisher, as jason mentioned re his own reviews.

now that i think about it, maybe the only truly masturbatory reviews are those that are really personal, almost diary-like, in their instant reaction to the novel, yet not invested in overly clarifying their feelings or expanding their point of view in detail to the public because they are indeed only writing diary-like blurbs and stream-of-conscious ramblings that would not make much sense to anyone besides the writer.

for me, i identified writing my reviews as "the brainiest form of mental masturbation i've come across in years" because, well, i'm really enchanted with my own thought process, including my own writing. now that is a very unflattering thing to say, i'm sure. i don't think i'm amazing or anything, but i do love stringing words together, in emails, in stories, in the paid work i do, and certainly in real life conversations i can talk a person's ear off.

writing and anything that requires some thought, some contemplation, and the creative use of language are activities that relax and satisfy me. again the jacking off parallel springs to mind. writing reviews is just another extension of something i like to do in general, which is to contemplate things and talk. pretty basic and pretty masturbatory when that is both the reason and the end result. a more public form of navel-gazing i suppose.

message 46: by Aloha (new)

Aloha With all the stringing you like to do, you'll probably enjoy knitting. Knitting, stringing, masturbation,'s the little things in life that gives us so much pleasure.

message 47: by mark (last edited Nov 27, 2010 01:28PM) (new)

mark monday (majestic-plural) | 77 comments what kind of mestizo filipino do you think i am? only ladyboys knit!

quick apologies to all the non-ladyboy knitters out there. also, i am very supportive of ladyboys. love 'em!

message 48: by Jason (new)

Jason Brown (Toastx2) (toastx2) | 120 comments HA!

message 49: by David (new)

David (david_giltinan) | 13 comments Though I understand the point Jason is making, I'm not sure that "masturbatory" is the word I would use. I find masturbation much easier than writing reviews.

I think of review-writing as a slightly higher-level activity than masturbating, eating or watching "Cash Cab". It's more along the lines of going to the gym or doing my piano practice - ultimately it's selfish in that I'm doing it primarily for my own benefit. But it's not instant gratification like a pint of Chunky Monkey. The important payoff is, by definition, long term -- I hope that the habit of writing reviews makes me a better reader.

I suspect that deep down we all know that writing reviews must be its own reward. But votes are like these distracting little gold stars, ultimately meaningless, but providing a smidgen of positive reinforcement on those days when our faith in the long-term value of writing reviews is shaky.

message 50: by Aloha (new)

Aloha Aw, come on, Mark. We know a real man will never be afraid to knit. A real man is so comfortable in his masculinity that he can do anything, cook, knit, change diapers, and carry a lady's purse. Wishful thinking, huh? Sometimes I wish somebody would carry my heavy purse.

mark wrote: "what kind of mestizo filipino do you think i am? only ladyboys knit!

quick apologies to all the non-ladyboy knitters out there. also, i am very supportive of ladyboys. love 'em!"

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