Friday, December 15, 2017

The Plight of the Too-Nice Book Reviewer

It happens more than I would like to admit.
I write a review and find myself pausing.
Am I being too mean?

I understand that the author of even the worst book spent years of their life writing and re-writing, creating and refining characters, planning and dreaming and working. There is a distinction between literary criticism and cruelty. I want to be the kind of reviewer who stays way over on one side of that line. A bad writer can improve. A good writer can and will occasionally write a dud. And can we just take a minute to mention the subjectivity of enjoying a book?

On the other hand, my job as someone who reviews books is to distinguish between good writing and bad writing, and to guide anyone who reads my reviews towards the books they should spend their precious time reading.

So I often find myself reading a snippet aloud to my husband to double check that it's insightful instead of insulting. I can point out both the good and the bad in a book without stomping on anyone's hard work. It's easy to write a zinger that is a bit funny and a bit cruel, but it's harder to point out places where the narrative could have been smoother or the characters written more vividly while also writing about the strengths of a particular book.

How about you? Do you sometimes find it hard to navigate between critical and mean?


  1. I rarely write reviews anymore, but when I did, I usually just skipped writing reviews for books I didn't love. I know that's a cop-out, but as you say, that line is really hard to walk!

  2. I certainly never think your reviews come across as too harsh! Personally, I worry I err too much on the side of being nice or easy to please. My ratings tend to average around 4 out of 5 stars every year, which seems high to me. Hopefully this reflects the fact that I'm good at picking out books I'll like rather than meaning I'm not a critical enough reader :)

  3. I don't think your reviews are EVER mean, Lindsey. You do a very good job of being honest and fair. :)

  4. I've found my reviewing style has really shifted over the years - I think I used to be meaner! Now, I can't help but think an author may see my review. But I'm starting to worry that leads to less than honest reviews... As you mention, it can be tricky to find the line between acknowledging the bad vs. being too critical.

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