Sunday, May 1, 2011

Shall I ever write a negative book review?

Benjamin D’Israeli said, “When I want to read a good book, I write one.” But even D’Israeli, I am sure, also read books written by others—and enjoyed them.

As an author, I am often asked for recommendations of books I’ve read and enjoyed. I am also asked to read works-in-progress. Unfortunately, I do more of the latter than the former, but I enjoy both processes.

Reviewing published books is different from reviewing unpublished manuscripts. When I review a writing buddy's work-in-progress (or even when she believes it is all done,) I can offer constructive suggestions which she may or may not follow, but there is still time for corrections before the manuscript gets into the hands of an agent, publisher--and finally a reader. The critiquing—a constructive process that is not criticizing—is challenging as I am inserting myself into the creative thinking of the development of characterization and plot, or the use of language and voice. I can advise about setting and pace, or dialogue vs. exposition.

In reviewing published books, my perspective is different: It is too late to change the book, while my readers look to me for recommendations of books I appreciate. They've enjoyed reading mine and hope to have that emotional high we all get when we are carried away by a great read. Therefore, I must offer them my honest opinion.

That said, I rarely read anything I don't like. Why should I? I drop the book after 2-50 pages and therefore would not write a review. However, there have been times when I was coaxed into reading on in the context of a book group or was pressed by a friend to read a particular bestseller. In one case, my original reluctance proved wrong as the book improved greatly. In other cases though, I gained enough familiarity with the work to explain what I perceived to be objective flaws. In these cases, each of the authors was extremely successful, so my less-than-top starry review could not adversely affect his career.

That leaves a gray area in between: When I am asked to review a published book of an unknown author. If the book has problems, I may just find an excuse not to write a review. Recently, after reading 50 pages, I wrote back to the publicist and explained the reasons I would not endorse the book, but I volunteered to read the author’s next manuscript in order to help her avoid some serious lapses.

In one case, an author I knew failed to get enough reviews. I read the whole book, found it wanting, but nevertheless was pressured to give it 5 stars. For a few weeks I flinched each time I thought about my false endorsement. Finally, I went back and changed my rating to 4 stars, but was still unhappy because I had not express in writing where the book fell short. After some time, I just deleted the review and promised myself I would not go this route again.

And then there is the real pleasure, when I read a book that is great. What a wonderful honor it is to be the one to "discover" that author! And that’s also when I enjoy sharing my finds with other book lovers.

Here is the link to my Amazon Listmanias:

And here is the link to my book reviews (I am backed up, but will add more soon):

Have a good reading experience!


1 comment:

  1. Talia,

    I have met you in person and it would be a tremendous pleasure to have you review (hopefully it'll be a good review...) my newly published book Standing Above the Crowd: Executing Your Game Plan to be the Best You Can Be.

    I'll send you a copy!


    James Donaldson, Author
    Standing Above the Crowd