This post is the first in a two-part series. All opinions are my own, and I am not speaking for the rest of the reviewers at The Readers Cafe, as we each (like everyone else) have our own individual approaches to choosing reading material.
Readers, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking. (A dangerous pastime, I know. ) I was struck, in Veronica’s latest review, by her stated dislike of writing “bad” book reviews. I understand why she feels the way she does (without putting words in her mouth, of course–this is my interpretation only); not everyone shares our individual tastes, and writing a negative review might turn someone away from a book that they might have otherwise really enjoyed, which would be an unfortunate thing to have happen. However, I want to expand on this idea somewhat, because as both a reviewer and, especially, a reader, I find negative reviews to often be just as helpful to me as positive ones. In this post, I’ll focus on my experience as a reader who actively seeks out negative reviews. In the next one, I’ll talk about my approach as a reviewer when I need to write them. Originally this was all going to be one post, but (not-at-all shockingly) I find I have quite a bit to say on this topic!
When I’m choosing my reading material, if I’m not spontaneously buying “whatever looks good” in the bookstore (which, let’s face it, happens fairly often) or something that is a new release, negative reviews are the first place I go. They’re not all created equal, of course: some people just have a sentence or two talking about how the book was horrible and not worth the
Here’s an example. I have not read, nor will I ever read, Marley & Me by John Grogan (ever.) Oh, I wanted to, back in the day: there was so much buzz about what a heartwarming, feel-good book it was that it was on my “to-read” list for quite some time. But when I got to the point of actually buying it, I read reviews from (and talked to) people for whom I have a ton of respect because they’ve done a lot of very good and necessary work in the pet rescue community. Their reviews made me realize that Marley’s owners’ behavior, attitudes, and motivations, as depicted in this book, would probably make me hate it and them as characters. On balance, the positive reviews I saw weren’t enough to swing the book back over into my “favorable” column. So I didn’t buy it, and decided not to read it.
Do I think anyone who has read and enjoyed Marley & Me is a bad person, and will I judge them based on that experience? No. (Which takes us off-topic, and I could do a whole other post about just this one very intricate and difficult subject, but I feel like I need to put this assertion in here.)
Might I have read this book and enjoyed it? Possibly.
Do I feel bad about that, like I’m missing out? No. There are so many other books that don’t send up red flags for me–more than I could ever read in a lifetime–that I’d prefer to be excited about reading them, than apprehensive about reading Marley & Me just on the off-chance that I might possibly like it. I’m 99.999% sure I wouldn’t love it, so the trade-off in potential reading time isn’t worth it to me.
And that, really, is the essence of my viewpoint: negative reviews help me, in my role of “Reader,” filter down the immensely huge number of books on offer, to hopefully identify the ones that I will love. It doesn’t always work out that way, of course–I’ve written my share of negative reviews here, after all–but I owe a debt of gratitude to other reviewers (especially Veronica and my other cohorts here, for whom I have the utmost respect) who take the time to thoughtfully document their reactions and opinions. I believe that their efforts help me to get the most enjoyment out of the reading time I have available.