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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

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The Dreaded Negative Review

Recently my buddy Kaley wrote a blog post about when reading becomes a responsibility. If you haven’t read it yet… well, you should. You should go do it right now. Go on. No don’t worry about me, I’ll be here when you get back. 



Back? Okay. So today I’m going to go one further. 

A few months ago I picked up a book I intended to review for the blog. From the first page, I knew it was going to be trouble. The subject matter was interesting, but the language drove me nuts. So cliché, so redundant. I slogged through a chapter or two, determined I was going to make it to the end. Julia Zerr doesn’t give up that easily! 

Then I reached a sentence that was so devastatingly boring that it utterly broke me. I closed the book and went to the next one in my queue. 

I knew I would have to wrestle with this one day, and in that moment my first true book reviewer’s dilemma reared its ugly head. As a reviewer I am committed to reading a diverse array of books and giving my opinion honestly and earnestly. But what do I do when the book is terrible? A complete disaster? Has absolutely no redeeming qualities other than it’d probably make a good booster for an uneven table?

Fortunately this hasn’t really happened since that first incident, but it has been in the back of my mind since--I’m going to encounter books that I don’t like, and probably would never read if not for being a book reviewer. How do I handle writing a bad review? I suppose I should relish the opportunity. Negative reviews are often a chance to get colorful and snarky, and who doesn’t enjoy a clever jab now and then? On the Internet especially, the temptation can be strong 

But eventually, I remember I’m dealing with human beings. Real readers, and real authors. And my general policy, online and off, is to never say anything that I would mind someone saying to my face.

My perspective is that I’m providing a service. I’m helping readers connect with books that they might like, and helping authors find those readers. Regardless, I am still one human being. I like some types of stories and not others. Something I hate might be the perfect book for someone else. 

I owe it to readers and authors to be honest, but honesty doesn’t have to be mean. Negative criticism can be hard to receive and I’m sensitive to that. Certainly, just skipping the book is an option, as I’ve done in the past. I’m under no obligation to read every single book that crosses my desk. But there is merit to developing the skill of delivering negative criticism that is sincere but doesn’t tear down the work or the author. 

And really, I believe that even if I am not captivated by a story, I can find at least one thing to like about it.

The real aim of my reviews is to give you, the readers, a preview of the main event; to show you what's in store to the best of my abilities and give you the chance to decide if you'd like to stick around or wait for the next show. I can't promise that my opinions won't offend, but I do intend to always give my words a lot of thought before I release them into the wild.


  1. I've struggled with this as well. I have definitely read several books as a reviewer that I wouldn't have given the time of day as a normal reader. But like you said, I try to find at least the one good point, the silver lining of the book. And I too have to keep in mind that what I hate may be what someone else loves.

  2. PERFECT picture to go along with this.