Thursday, July 30, 2009

Book reviews

Speaking of criticism, my Dad once told me I should review movies because whenever I came back from the movies I always had something to say. I'm much the same with books.

I love reading passionately. If I didn't, I wouldn't spend all this time trying to create books and stories. But that also means I can feel betrayed by books, disappointed, or even angry. I'll put my cards on the table right now: one of my guilty pleasures used to be reading bad reviews on Amazon*. Not for books I loved, that would be too painful. But for books I felt lukewarm about, or even books I hated. I wanted to see if anyone agreed with me, shared my frustrations. And of course the crazy reviewers are always good for a laugh.

Also, I read constantly. And I want to know what's good, what I might like. Of course reviewers can be wrong. I just finished a fantasy I quite enjoyed, even though others said it was just a Harry Potter rip-off. But frequently reviews can highlight for me things that might frustrate me. Like, if 50 reviewers says a book has weak characters--well, I read for characters.

But as I've more actively followed the children's book world, the more I've found that most (nearly all) authors do not review books. Look at authors' pages on Goodreads if you doubt me! Every book there will be ranked with 5 stars, or no score at all. Why? Well, for starters the YA and MG (young adult and middle grade) community is very small. You could easily slam someone's book today and end up meeting them at a conference or with your editor or at a signing the next day. The second reason is that authors know how very difficult writing is, the years it can take, the way your novels are like your babies. And nasty reviews hurt.

So I've been thinking about this a lot lately, changing some of my own practices on Goodreads, relying on torrents of good reviews rather than torrents of bad ones to chose books. But I miss being able to say what I really think about some books. And part of me wants to warn people, if a book is truly a betrayal (I've only read 1 book like this in my life, but I still remember it and regret it).

What do you think as a writer? As a reader? For more thoughts on this, Sarah Prineas (author of The Magic Thief and a fellow Carleton grad!) has an excellent blog post, with lots of discussion in the comments as well.

*Amazon and I have had a falling out as of late. That's all I'll say about it for the moment. =)

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