The past couple of weeks I’ve read quite some blogposts, tweets and discussions about ‘the art’ of reviewing and book ratings, that were supposedly bad or negative ones (even if they were 4 stars or higher). There were a few little riots in blogland in which some authors and readers/reviewers sort of became ‘opponents’. Everybody seemed to have an opinion and I read it all with fascination and admiration for the bravery and intelligence that spoke from some of these blogposts and discussions. Personally, I’m never good at voicing my opinion on matters of such topicality. Simply because I’m not eloquent enough in English and, more importantly, I rarely stick to one opinion after hearing other arguments, so in the end it’s very likely that I want to change my earlier comment, while that’s not possible once you put it out there. In general I need sufficient time to process it all and organize my thoughts and by then the discussion thread is already ‘dead’. Yeah, I’m slow like that, lol.
Anyhow, on the topic of reviews and ratings: It’s an explosive subject, apparently. And I don’t want to add fuel to the fire in any way. But I’ve given it some thought and I want to try to say something about the subjectivity of the art of reviewing. See, I’m of the opinion that ‘objective’ reviews don’t exist (as some authors are demanding). A reader/reviewer can’t help but bring his/her own preferences and personality to the book s/he is reading. However, it’s his/her responsibility - or if you wish ‘job’ - to be aware of the personal values s/he uses when judging a book (and -in a perfect world- to point them out to the readers of the reviews). I admit this is difficult and I am guilty myself of presuming mine to be known. But since I’ve actually never uttered them clearly and separately on my blog I think it’s time to give it a try…
To keep myself sharp and aware of my preferences and prejudices, I go back every now and then to the list below of seven most common arguments that we use to form our opinion on a book. And I attempt to get clear again which of these arguments are more important to me than other arguments (because this can change over time and with the genre I’m reading).
The seven arguments:
A book is good (or bad) when it’s projecting the world (un)realistically, when the story’s reality is (un)believable.
A book is good (or bad) when it contains certain ideas about sex, religion, morals or politics.
A book is good (or bad) when its structure is (not) solid, when the story is (not) built/paced well, when there’s (no) consistency.
A book is written in a good (or poor) writing style.
You can learn something from the story. The book contains original ideas and provocative thoughts.
A book has to touch you emotionally. It has to entertain you, move you and captivate you.
The reader/reviewer assumes that the writer has a certain purpose/intention with his story and assesses whether the author has managed to achieve that goal.
Of course, I try to consider all of these aspects when I’m writing a review but I’m fairly sure none of my reviews contain all these arguments with detailed examples to prove the point *g*. I’m pretty certain though that most of my reviews say something along the line of the emotivistic argument. When reading romance books the emotional argument is very, very important for me, and I’m guessing for most other romance readers too. And especially this argument is one of the most subjective ones. A lot of factors can influence the emotional experience of a reader, including external ones (like the level of distraction while reading, your age and reading experience, the recent events in your life, etc).
Personally, I’m also rather focused on the structural argument and – especially when I’m reading Dutch books – on the stylistic argument. The more I read the more unforgiving I become when structural elements aren’t solid, for example when the plot has holes or the choice of narration isn’t consistent.
On the other hand, I’m not looking for a lot of thought-provoking ideas in my romances (innovation argument) although a little originality won’t hurt, and I’m quite good at suspending disbelief (realistic argument) as long as things don’t pull me out of the story and the characterization is done well (with more showing than telling). I’m not easily offended (moral argument) when a novel showcases somewhat extreme sexual, religious or political ideas, although I can’t stomach injustice, hate and inequality very well.
I guess, you can say that I’m quite easy to please, or at least that’s how I like to think of myself. ;) I give a lot of 4 star ratings and according to Goodreads my average is 3.74 stars (Kris and Kassa's recent posts gave me the idea to look at it). But when I look back at the books I first read in this genre (a little over one and a half year ago) I see that I was much more generous with the five star ratings than I am now. Simply because I hadn't read a lot in the same genre to compare these books with, so I was easily awed. (And somehow I’ve never felt the urge to compare them with the general fiction books I read and reviewed until then). Now that I have read a few more books in the romance genre though, I’m way more economical with handing out the five stars. Lol.
Okay, time to round up. You’ve probably fallen asleep by now anyway. If not, I’m curious which of the above arguments count most for you when rating (or reviewing) a book. Are #6 en #3 outweighing the other arguments for you as they are for me? Or are different arguments more important for your judgment?
Happy Gay Friday!