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September 18, 2008



I really like your way of thinking about reading, especially the idea of an inner reader. =) Reading is so personal that it seems strange to say one story is 'good' for everyone and another is not.

Also, yay Tribbles!


"When I was younger, I didn’t feel like I had permission to dislike a book."

This sentence really struck me because I had the same feeling. More than that, I somehow got the idea that once I started a book I had to finish it before I could start another one. I felt like such a failure when I had to struggle through "Little Women" in 4th grade that I still cannot read and enjoy it, though I love and re-read most of the other Louisa May Alcott books, including "Little Men" and "Jo's Boys."

Rebecca Joy

I haven't written a book review in a long time. I just don't feel comfortable reviewing, everything sounds wrong, and doesn't really capture my actual thoughts on the book. So now I prefer to just occasionally voice my opinion (which might be one or two sentences) on this book or that book if I feel like my opinion is strong enough and fresh enough and valid enough to write about. And I also feel odd when I really like/dislike a book when others feel the exact opposite. Sometimes it makes me feel as if I need to reread the book and see where I went wrong, and then I think: hey, I didn't go wrong anywhere. My opinion is my opinion, and really shouldn't be based on what others think. Etcetera. :)


I too have always felt like I need to like a book and I have a hard time being okay with a book I hated or even just felt lukewarm too. Great post!

Also, I live in Austin and I saw your name on the list of authors coming to the Texas Book Festival in six weeks. I can't wait!


I've been thinking about writing to you for a while (actually I just tried to email, but it didn't work, stupid computer . . .) This post just reminded me. It's not about a specific book, but about your writing in general. Can I just say "Thanks!" I love knowing every one of your books will be clean, that I won't worry about recomending them to someone else because of content, and that I will have fun with them. I think you are a very talented author. Thanks for brightening my days. I just re-read the three Bayern books (and on a Shannon Hale Kick, I also checked out Austenland for the umpteenth time). I was again captured by the story, and sighed with the cute romance. So thanks. The world needs more authors that are willing to put smut free books out!

Jessica Day George

I'm particularly fascinated by the reviews that are totally polarized. I was just looking at reviews of a book where 50% of people HATED the book, and the other 50% LOVED it. Almost no reviews in between (at least not on Amazon). I'm on the verge of reading the book, just to see what camp I fall into. And no, negative reviews do NOT help an author, they are there to guide other readers so that they can decide whether not they want to try the book. Emailing an author and telling them they suck does absolutely nothing. Also, authors cannot recall thousands of copies of a book to change something that one person does not like. Sorry, but them's the breaks.

shannon hale

Hi Jessica, have you had your offspring yet? I read somewhere that books with polarized reviews sell better than books that get either all positive or all negative reviews. I guess the more people are talking about it, the more attention it gets and the more sales. LIke they say, there's no bad publicity. (Still, I'd rather sell fewer books and have kind readers than sell millions and be attacked and verbally assaulted by angry readers. But that's just me.)


Again, I agree with everything said above :) Thanks for doing this series of posts!


Apart from the innocuousness of online reviews, they also eliminate over 30% of language (i.e. body language and voice inflection). I think this increases the danger of sounding even ruder than face to face yelling. I guess that’s why the most effective of critiques/reviews will always include what is liked and then constructively identified points of concern (or things the reader didn’t like). I’ve found in my own critique groups that you have to be kinder when only your printed words are given as the critique to balance out the loss of body language and tone.

And I think I’ve heard you say before that reviews AFTER the book is in print do no good for the author because it’s too late to change anything. Perhaps if a reader takes that into consideration, that would also help to have an open mind? I certainly think about that now when I'm choosing a book…

Thanks for the reader’s series. I’ve seen links to it all over the blogosphere.


*seemingly innocuousness


I think that this post is REALLY good. It's amazing how we, as humans, can be so self conscious about so many things!
After reading a book, I form my opinion. Sometimes it will take a few days for me to mold my thoughts, sometimes it will be an automatic feeling. When talking to others about the book, I can feel a little sheepish if we have different opinions. I have found that I can even be influenced by the other reader and my thoughts take a total turn around. That doesn't happen all the time. There are times that I try to get others to be convinced of my thoughts of the book. We all feel good when we're right. I think that it's just a part of being human.
That's why we have people like you to set the record straight. People can get so caught up in their own feelings to take into consideration that people can agree to disagree! There are some things that don't have a "Right" or a "Wrong" side. It's just a difference of opinion.
I agree with your comments about the internet. It's like a mask people can hide behind. I have never really thought about the reviews though. Reviews ARE only for other readers out there. I'm curious, though, if you read other's reviews on Amazon about your books? Or do you just let them have their opinion and leave it at that?
This is another great post. You have a way of shedding light on so many simple things about reading. Great writing and great incite!


I really appreciate your insight in this post.

I sometimes write book reviews for print, and they have never been negative, because I review books (like poetry) that wouldn't get any attention at all if I didn't review them!

On the other hand, I do find negative (printed) reviews useful as a reader, because the reviewer will always tell me why he/she didn't like the book. Then I can decide if that same reason is something I would agree with or not.

To me, the best book review is one that analyzes the book's strengths and weaknesses without being over the top.


I meant insight, not incite. Sorry!

Dr. Sallie N. Cheinsteen

Just today my friend told me she hates Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. What! No, no no! It's incredible! One of the best books of all time! Such character and plot! She disagrees and thinks:
"It's about women who cannot help themselves and sit around drinking tea and gossiping."
Maybe you don't like Pride and Prejudice for this reason. But I love it for the very reason I believe the exact opposite! The whole story is about Elizabeth who doesn't just fall for society at every opportunity (ex. NOT marrying Mr. Collins). This post helped me be a little reconciled to the fact that everyone doesn't love this book, and people are allowed to have different opinions. That's the beauty of literature!!
P.S. I like the word Tibbles, though I have never seen Star Trek

Kate Strongin

Don't you think the post title should be : How to be a better critic/reviewer-that's my take, anyway.
I love hearing your perspective. I agree wholeheartedly. I was thinking about High School English and how many papers I wrote that my teachers didn't like, because I didn't get the same messages that they did. I didn't see the same themes they did- which makes perfect sense as I am a completely different person with different experiences.
As to the reviews, you are right, people can be downright cruel. I for example was a lot more judgemental of books before I started writing. That changed the way I thought about others work. It's like someone telling you that your brand new baby is disgusting. (And online, it is like they are hiding behind a barrier, unseen, speaking into a microphone) So now, when I read a book I don't like, I just put it down and forget about it. There are many bestsellers I can't stand, many that I adore and many unknowns that are among my favorites. It is all about who I personally connect with.
I like how you talked about negative and positive reviews from a writers POV. That is the part I dread (unpublished as of yet) How do you stay above it all? I am sure that it would feel like a personal attack. But at the same time, I guess you should feel at peace knowing you did your personal BEST. It's all about having a broader perspective.
BTW, I know you absolutely don't want to hear this, but I actually kinda enjoy your books. No, I'm kidding, I adore your books. And I am bummed that I missed meeting you! I discovered your name in a Writing Class at BYU and the class had all voted that Professor Crowe invite you to speak, but you were unable to make it. (This was back in 2005) Ah, well . . . some other time! But at least I discovered you- that got me to check out Goose Girl and I devoured it in probably a day or two. (Probably makes you sick to hear that I read it so quickly when you spent countless hours working on it) And I have read all of your books that have come out since then- so great to discover an author whose books I connect with.
In the meantime, keep up the beautiful writing! I can't wait for your next book.
(Sorry for the long post- I am putting off cleaning my kitchen!)


Thanks again for a wonderful series of posts regarding the rights and responsibilities of readers.

I agree that reviews are for the benefit of other readers. That is why I have loved joining goodreads on the internet because I get to find other readers and see what they thought about books we have in common. It makes it a lot easier to then find books I will probably like that I haven't read.

I used to read several book review sites...but quickly realized the limited function of those sites in terms of reading new books. While some people are good writers and enjoyable to read no matter what - book reviews are so subjective that I think you need to find people with a similar sensibility in order to find someone who can give a review that is helpful in determining whether you might want to read the book under review. Or, to switch it around - to know that your sensibility is completely different and reverse all book review advice that person may give.

Finished Austenland earlier this week and loved it. In the words of my husband, "what is so funny that it is making you cackle?" That would be the "ya!" scene (part 1 and 2) and the piano scene. Incredibly enjoyable - I cannot wait to read your next book!


Great post, Shannon! I really like the analogy comparing a guy who has a crush on you but you don't like him to a book you may not like, but others do.


I sometimes find that professional reviewers make the same error as anonymous online commenters: they forget, one, that the author they are criticizing is a human-being and two, that their own opinion depends on personal taste, and is not the final word. I don't always find reviews helpful, especially when I don't know if the reviewer has the same tastes I do. When I review something I didn't like, I usually try to note that it was just ME who didn't like it. And that ME person has absolutely no use for Lord of The Rings.

Angela Fielding

I don't know if you read the comments!But I think it is fabulous you have a blog! So I can tell you that I just read The Goose Girl! And loved it!You did such a great job! I look forward to reading your other books!


Thank you for your heartfelt words, Shannon. I wish that nicely asking people to play nicely worked on everyone. Of course it doesn't but you did your part; you put all your positive love and energy out there into the wide blogosphere. God bless your efforts.


That' really interesting what you said about good/bad reviews not helping authors. I never really thought about it that way, that reviews for your previous books don't help you write the one you're currently working on. But the positive reviews still feel good to read, and the bad ones make you feel bad.

I think one of the reasons I like your books so much is that I simply can't find fault with them... the plots, the characters, everything just works so well for me. Often times I'll be reading a book and my internal editor will be going nuts, saying, I would have phrased that differently! or Based on this character's personality, she would say this differently. But with your books, they're so tight and developed, it's obvious to me that you put everything you have into all of your books, because the amount of work you put into it really shows, and the final product is always, in my opinion, perfect. Because you are your own toughest critic, the books end up being strong enough as individual literary works that they can stand on their own once they're released and you don't ever have to defend them. (I'm trying to properly articulate what I mean... I hope that last bit made sense.)


I have great fun explaining why I love a book, especially to friends who I know will love it too. I will admit though, it is sometimes hard to put into words everything I loved about a book. Sometimes it's just a feeling and hard to quantify with words. On the other hand, I can usually tell you exactly what the problem was with a book I didn't like.

janette rallison

You are exactly right, which is why I always tell myself I'm not going to read my reviews--but somehow I always do. Curiousity not only kills cats, it also entraps authors too.


Hi! I've enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic (and those in previous posts)! I just wanted to point out, though, that some reviews--namely "professional" reviews like those found in School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly--are meant for booksellers and librarians and have a different purpose than more casual reviews meant purely for readers. A School Library Journal reviewer, for instance, is helping librarians with sometimes limited budgets make decisions about what books to buy. They often HAVE to be critical because they need to let librarians know if a book is worth buying compared to the hundreds of other books being published that year (or if the book is so great they should buy multiple copies!). Booksellers and librarians can't read everything being published, so they rely on professional reviewers to do the sifting for them. While professional reviewers are certainly not definitive sources on the quality of a given book, they should at least have enough experience with children's literature to be decent judges. (Well, for the most part--I've read my share of ridiculous professional reviews. :) ) And though I wholeheartedly agree that people will react differently to books based on their own likes and dislikes, there are some books being published that are simply poorly written or poorly executed--and that's what a professional reviewer has to take note of.

So I guess I'm just saying I see a difference between the purpose of professional reviews and reader reviews. Since professional reviews are posted on websites like Amazon.com for general readers to encounter, it seems significant enough to make the distinction.

Hope you don't mind my two cents!


I have passed this "How to be a reader" series on to all my book club friends. It should be mandatory reading for all clubs! I have been shamed many times by self proclaimed book critics for liking books that they deemed unworthy. I love stories! Thank you for helping me to see that it's ok. I hope that it will help those who are bullies look at reading not to criticize, but to enjoy. And if you don't? Pick up a new book. I would also like to know your feelings about people with English Literature Majors? Are they justified in the way they tear books apart because of their degree?


In defense of reviewers and English majors:

While reviewers may be the bane of writers' existence, they actually play an important role in the publishing world. (It is important to differentiate between professional reviewers and the “you suck” ones that people post on Amazon.) Not all reviews are written for the readers. Librarians and teachers don't have time to read every book out there and often depend on reviews to help them decide which ones to buy. In this case, they need to be able to judge quality and content. They need to know what age group the book is appropriate for in both content and reading level.

In response to Amy, English majors don't "tear books apart." We love books. Our job is not to find fault with books, it is to analyze them critically, to find their merit and the to explore the ways in which they reflect the human experience.

"Criticism" in this case doesn't mean to find fault with something. It means to "study, and evaluate" and there are a lot of different schools of criticism, including "reader-response criticism," which suggests that the reader makes meaning through his/her experience with the text. (Much of what the last several posts have talked about.) I believe that any work with literary merit (there are other types of merit besides literary) can stand up to such evaluation. The books that do are the ones that stick around for a long time and eventually become cannonized. And, personally, I think Shannon's books will be around for a long time.


Thanks for your explanation, Sandra. I agree with what you wrote. That is why I love to read. How do you respectfully disagree with someone who deems a book to have no value when you see just the opposite? If they have the degree, are they right? Have I not been educated in how to see value in a book?


Ah, I see what you mean. I would say that degrees definitely don't mean someone is "right", and someone who acts like they are (with or without a diploma) has a problem. I have several friends who, like me, have studied literature and/or creative writing. We don't always like the same books, but we do have a lot of fun at book club. Hearing other perspectives can enrich our own readings, even when they are different (or especially when they are different) from our own.

Oh, and I failed to notice that Shannon did, in fact, differentiate between professional reviewers and the "you suck" reviewers. Sorry.


My husband has told be that I need to go back to school to get my English Literature degree because I love to read. I told him no because I couldn't imagine having to sit in class and find fault with every book I read. I have a few friends who have literature degrees and they never enjoy anything they read. I couldn't fathom not being able to just sit and absorb a book. You have explained a lot! Maybe an English Literature degree wouldn't be bad after all? Thanks for the dialog, Sandra.


Personally, I don't write book reviews for other people, I write them for myself. Writing about a book helps me to think about it, to analyze it,and delve deeper. Writing about something is a really great way for me to get a handle on what I think about it. Also, I occasionally read my reviews later and enjoy remembering what I thought about a particular book at a particular time. It's fine with me if other people want to read my review and discuss it with me, but I try to keep all of that secondary.


I agree with Sasha (and you) that's why I use goodreads.com with lots of my friends and family. They know my taste in reading and can base their reading choices on my reviews and vice versa. I don't send the good or bad reviews directly to the author, but share them for others' benefit.


I like your blog it has a nice combination of text and pictures, keep up the good work

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