Thursday, 25 November 2010
Thoughts on Negative v. Critical Reviews
I believe there is a difference between negative and critical reviews and find it unfortunate that they are lumped together. In most cases, less knowledgeable (or dare I say, lacking common sense) individuals tar them both with the 'mean' brush. I am biased in this scenario. I have often been branded harsh or mean because I choose to post reviews on titles that I find underwhelming on a critical level. While in some cases harsh (but truthful) might be applicable, mean is not.
And here's where I stand upon the soapbox. Reviewing is subjective ("...particular to a given person; persona") and as such won't please all readers. Rubbishing a novel based purely on one's emotions without evidence isn't critical and therefore isn't a worthwhile review. It is baseless. My choice to criticise a title on poor craftsmanship or lack of emotional heft and connectivity isn't baseless. It isn't negative for negativity’s sake.
Many bloggers declare they won't post negative reviews. I understand and respect that...if you review critically (introspection about what elements worked well.) I have chosen a different route. Though I receive review copies I do not feel obliged, nor wish, to represent all my reading material in a positive light when my feelings are to the contrary. Some titles just aren't that well written. Sometimes that is due to a premise heavy/ writing light approach. Sometimes it's due to the book being poorly constructed. Sometimes it is a heavy or light editing hand. Regardless, not all books are created equal and perfect.
To review something is "...1. To look over, study, or examine again. 2. To consider retrospectively; look back on. 3. To examine with an eye to criticism or correction." There is nothing there about publisher or author responsibility. Receiving a book for review, buying a title, doesn't not automatically equate to finding the positives. Sometimes they are there, sometimes you'll find yourself looking aimlessly for eternity. Having a book blogger, reviewing titles, means that you need to be reading critically. Whether you interpret that as identifying just the positives (or negatives) in a title is up to you. If you are wise, you'll try to portray both doing a service to those who put time and money into the book.
What angers me is when a review blogger writes a baseless review (positive or negative) based solely on their emotions. "It was awesome because the guy is soooooo hawt" or "I plan on using the pages of this title to wipe my butt the next time I visit the lavatory" - neither of these show critical thought. They are baseless. Neither do our community justice. Neither do the authors or publishers, editors or publicists, any favours. They reflect poorly on the blogger and their ability to read and write with thought. To review is to examine.
Conversation has turned on bloggers that review negatively e.g. those that review without critical thought to bash. Yes, they are awful. Yes, they do our community a disservice. But so do the baseless one paragraph glowing reviews that contain no examination at all outside of the hotness of a fictional character. If find both to be offensive.
We all should be aiming to be critical. While many people are lumping critical in with mean or negative, they are wrong. Critical reviewing means you are reviewing well. Critical means you are identifying the positive and/or negative aspects of a title. Critical means you are examining a book based on more than your gut or your need to please an author. Critical is “…involving skilful judgment as to truth, merit, etc.” In can also mean to judge something too severely (of which I can be accused). If you give reasoning, justify your opinion with solid evidence you aren't on the same level as a slap dash, hate reviewer. It is a line I have found hard to tread, sometimes losing my balance but something I've improved on with practise.
Lastly I would like to state that disliking a book, providing a well-constructed review on the reasons why, isn’t being "mean". The author might take it personally, it’s their baby after all, but the intent isn’t (generally) to wound the person behind it. The intent is to critical reflect thought on the effectiveness of the storytelling. Reading is subjective. Not everyone will like the book that you love but that doesn’t mean that they are mean.
If there is anything I wished to achieve by writing this post, it was to ask people to be more careful in assessment of critical bloggers as mean or negative. A negative review isn’t the same as a critical one. While they might both see the same book as lacking, their approach is very different. Also, critical does not automatically imply that the review is seeing a title as lacking. Writing a critical review of a book you adore is one of the hardest things to write as a reviewer. It is something I admire heartily in bloggers that choose to only review books that have experienced positively. It’s hard…but I am glad they keep pushing on.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Like everything we post on our blogs it is subjective, drawn from my own experiences so feel free to disagree.