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August 21, 2009

Comments

Elizabeth Lefebvre

I just started blogging this summer and I think that the anticipation of reviewing a book has changed my reading experience but in a very good way. I find that instead of saying I like a book or don't like a book I will analyze my decision more than in the past and find out what exactly it was that made me feel that way before committing it to words. Instead of a quick summing up or terse short comment like I would leave on goodreads I found I'd analyze aspects of each book and not even write my review for over a week so I could think it over. For example I was reading 84, Charing Cross Road and I found the sending of presents by the author to the bookshop annoying, and after thinking about it for some time I realized it annoyed me because it's something I do. She was sending presents because she herself could not be there, and I do that and I'd never even really thought about it before. I really don't think I would have ever really come to this conclusion if I didn't write a blog.

Also as to the ratings, originally I didn't rate my book reviews but a rating system has wormed it's way in, mainly due to convenience for my readers, which are few, and I'm trying to give them a sense of familiarity to they world of reviews they know. Perhaps in the future once I have people hooked then I can go back to eliminating the stars and concentrating on the book discussion more.

And finally, while I think sometimes the categorization and classification of books on sites like goodreads can be looked upon negatively, I think on the whole it's good. Because with the groups and with the friends you create you are more like to open up a discussion and delve into the book deeper than you would in the past sitting at home on your own, if you don't have any bookaholics around.

Meg Lyman

I think that is a great insight - I appreciate your thoughts. When I write, those are certainly the questions I ask my reader. I do have the habit of looking at ratings (like the grade that E Weekly gives a movie or the number of stars I give on Netflix), and I'll think more about it now.

It does often happen to me when I watch movies that "liking" the movie is not what it's about. Revolutionary Road, District 9, Derailed all are movies one does not like or dislike. Honestly, The Actor and the Housewife was not about whether or not I liked it. It was good, it made me think, it affected me. Isn't that what it's about?

Christen

I think that argument has a lot of merit. I used to rely quite heavily on a rating from Amazon and book reviews until I was let down by them through my later high school years. Now I'm much more into the whole "read a chapter" test.

I don't really think I read to review. I think reviews are helpful tools, but because everybody reads things differently and likes to read different things, people shouldn't rely too much on reviews. Generally, I'm so caught up in a story, I don't notice or really think about if I've liked it, until I'm done reading it. :)

amanda

Shannon, what books have you read that you don't like?

Mrs. Mordecai

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, too! I found myself wondering what I'd rate a book on Goodreads—while I was still in the middle of the book! I felt pretty disgusted with myself and tried to stop thinking about it.

I never knew at first when I joined Goodreads whether to rate a book on what I considered to be its literary merit, or on how much I liked it. Actually, that question has plagued me for years—what's more important in reading, merit or enjoyment? I still don't know, so I'm guessing the answer is some sort of balance.

My motivation for rating books is to give back to others. When I notice that friends with similar taste in books have rated a book highly, I check it out. My reading satisfaction has definitely gone up since I started networking that way, because I can get recommendations from my friends instead of just aimlessly wandering through library shelves.

I generally don't do reviews, even though I find reviews far, far, far more helpful than ratings. Partly because I'm lazy, and partly because, although I have figured out how, it's hard typing while nursing a baby.

Becky Williams

Yes, my experience in reading has changed since I've taken on the role of star designation. I find myself frustrated by having to just pick an overall grade. I've been tempted to just right my feelings and views on Goodreads and ditch the star section. Maybe I could just have a "would you recommend this book to someone..." section. I love reading because I too love to experience something so different from reality and yet see reality and personal reflection in those stories. Thinking about the whole rating thing is probably unavoidable in any form, even before all of the internet venting sources. It's hard not to constantly evaluate what you're doing, reading, seeing, etc. if you look away from the thing or stop for a second of non-stimulous time (a hard place to get to by the way). But, in its official "share-my-opinion-with-the-cyber-world" I think we are losing some of the enjoyment of the reading process. I could go on...blah, blah, blah, but I'll stop here before I run out of characters.

Brynne Annae

When I ask people about books, I don't say anything about liking or disliking. I ask

"What did you think?"

Which can be read to mean the same as "did you like it", but the subtly different meaning just seems to spark more interesting conversation (and a more in-depth review).

Emilie

On the historical fiction blog I share with two writing friends, we make it a point to only review books we "liked" on some level because we want to promote compelling historical fiction and its authors, not be one more sound-off-type blog out there. So if you see a review on our blog, we already answered the "Did we like it?" question. I find that this gives us great freedom to discuss the characters, plot, use of the time period, etc. and showing what worked in the book without worrying about star ratings, because we don't use them. It's been a lot of fun to review books that way without depending on an objective scale, and it's challenged us all.

Danylle

I'm reminded of that book "You are Special" where the Wimmicks hand out stars and dots to each other based on popularity. With book reviews stars and lack of stars are used to rate said books value.
When I write reviews I tend to tell the story of how said book make me smile, giggle, squirm, blush, or throw up. I look for other reader's reactions in the reviews I read. I'm not concerned with the literary strengths & weaknesses defined by some English professor. I could care less concerning intended or unintended symbolism. I'm interested in the mood I will be in when I read this book. Will I be a happier person, or will it make me more depressed? Will I feel dirty and embarrassed for eager for adventure having read said book.
But most importantly the more a book has reviews spanning both positive and negative remarks, the more interested I am in reading it, because obviously a book that is being talked about with passion definitely left it's mark on the reader who was prompted to review it in the first place.

Miss Erin

I've never posted ratings of a book on my blog - no stars or A-pluses or any of that. How I feel about a book is always more complicated than a letter or a number. Always.

When I review a book - and I generally only review books I feel strongly about, ones that I feel I have something to say about - I use that as an exploration to answer some of those questions you posed. Yes, I liked this book. Okay, well why? What made me have strong feelings, either good or bad? What moved me, what gave me such and such feelings? etc etc etc. I don't even really see my reviews as any kind of formal critique so much as my personal whys or why nots, my personal thoughts on the book. I love talking about books, and that's what I do when I blog about them - it's an incredible outlet to talk to a whole bunch of people about what I've been reading.

Leslie

After reading your post, I walked away--twice. But just couldn't let this go without comments.

Reviewing books to me has been a double-edged sword. Do I like the "5 star" rating system. It depends. Yes, when a book does little but provide a few hours of escape. There are plenty of books that do that for me. But, when do I feel more compelled to add my review of a book? When the book (and myself) has something to say.

Now, I'll admit, I can be the "one" person in a group that didn't like a book. When everyone else is "raving" about it, I may find myself wondering what the big deal is. So, I am certain that the reader brings as much, if not more, to the experience as the book itself.

Let me illustrate with a story. Way back ages ago while I was in college, I took a women's lit class. It was hands down the hardest English class this English lit major ever took! Not because the material was difficult, but because the instructor taught so differently than any instructor ever had before.

I was used to (and often fall back to today) evaluating literature on it's merits: did the author's use of one device or another add to or detract from the story? How did the writing style and word choices make the reader react to the story? Were the characters believable and were their motivations and actions in concert with their identities? Etc. Answering these kinds of questions and supporting it with the texts was (and still is) what I do best. No need for self-evaluation there.

But in this particular class, we were pushed to self-evaluation. Supporting our arguments with the text--not allowed. Questioning the characters--not allowed. Supporting (or not) the devices in the book--not allowed. Rather we were instructed to read the books, and then write self-evaluation pieces from the concepts presented in the book. Talk about uncomfortable! Since when did literature (especially in the academic world) want me to look at my own reactions, thoughts and mores?

Today, I think I review things somewhere in between. Those books that garner a review on my goodreads page or facebook page, or in a book discussion are those which have made me evaluate myself and my environment. Today, the questions that I ask myself when writing a review are:

How did this book change my outlook on a specific topic?

Did I see myself in any of the characters? Did I see someone else I know?

How will what I do today or tomorrow be influenced by what I read?

Can I identify with the motivations of the characters?

Good, bad, liked it, didn't like it. It doesn't really matter for me. What does matter is amid a busy life or work, family and the hundred other commitments I have this week, will I remember this book? Will I remember it when a situation arises that is similar to that in the book? Will I be able to talk intelligently about it at the next book club meeting--even if it wasn't the scheduled reading.

And if I will remember it--if it made me think--that is when I believe the book and the reader have both done their job.

Lucy

I love this post and I'm going to link to it on my blog. I was so excited to start rating books on Goodreads when I joined. But then the more I thought about it, the harder it became to rate the books in any kind of satisfactory way. I tried different systems of rating and eventually felt compelled to rate different aspects of the same book, like I'd give one book a 5 for interesting characters but a 2 for lame-ish plot. That helps a little. Summing up an entire book with one rating seems nearly impossible with most books I read. It reminds me of the person at book group who will say, "Eh, I didn't like it" and then is quiet for the rest of the meeting. Like that's all there is to say. The day I become that person is the day I deserve to lose the ability to read.

SpeedReader

I agree and disagree. I think the combination of stars and writing your thoughts about a book is the important combination. A book can be:

5 stars but I didn't like it and don't want to read it again

or

2 stars but I loved reading every word and I would read it again many times in a year

Neither the star rating or the review alone work as well for me (as a reader) as they do when combined. It helps me to see *why* the reviewer liked or didn't like a book. And that helps me as a reader have a better idea of whether I might want to read that book.

When I write reviews, I also think in terms of whether I'd want to re-read the book again (my favorite thing to if I love the story), who I would recommend the book to next, and whether I would want to get own the book (hardback or the cheaper paperback) or just check it out from the library.

For people who review publicly, I think the bigger question is how does knowing the author will read the review (especially if the author or publisher sent you the book) affect your review? Are you more likely to write a more positive review?

Kjirstin Youngberg

Insightful, as always.

Kate Forsyth

Bertrand Russell said that there were only two reasons for reading a book - one, that you can enjoy it; two, that you can boast about it ...

I really like that comment. I always read for pleasure (which is why I read your books, Shannon) - but I like books that challenge and provoke and surprise as well as books that entertain ...

Nathan Hale

^ What a FANTASTIC quote, I gotta write that down, thanks Kate.

I read for one reason, sweet, sweet, selfish pleasure. And I HATE discussing it afterwards. It was for me, nobody else.

I dislike social reading and I LOATHE Goodreads. Do yourself a favor, quit Goodreads, cancel your account and never look back. It sours your reading.

SpeedReader

Oh Nathan, but the best part about reading a book for me is to TALK ABOUT IT with someone! I'm forever telling my friends to read this or that book next so that we can talk about it! And I love GoodReads because I have gotten the best book recommendations from people who have similar tastes in books as me!

Bethany Faulk

My husband and I discuss (ad nauseam) everything we watch and read, often eventually posting short reviews on our blogs, and that definitely affects my impressions. Finding words to articulate why I liked or disliked the story or characters (or writing) gives some clarity to my thoughts. We change each others' opinions as well by comparing our different (and yet shared) perspectives.

I usually wait till the end to discuss since so much can change. We both still read whatever we want to read, especially since we have very different tastes from those who read our blogs anyway. ;)

I have changed my opinion in the writing of a review and in discussion. One time I was complaining about the lack of resolution and in trying to pinpoint those unresolved plotlines realized that there were none. Oops!

I hate ratings, especially five stars, because of the awkward limitations. There are so many different aspects that should be taken into account. Some of my favorite books have plots that I don't particularly love, and some books I don't particularly care for have brilliant plots, etc.

The timing of this post is amazing. I am hesitant to admit this, but I just finished the Actor and the Housewife, and as much as I wanted to instantly adore it, I didn't. As I've questioned that over and over, I realized that my feeling toward the story was based more on myself than on the book. If my greatest fear is presented beautifully and realistically, it is all the more terrifying. It is umcomfortable to confront that, but the emotional response is only one of many factors.

I generally write reviews in the hope of encouraging others to share my reading experience. The best part about wonderful things is sharing them with wonderful people. :)

Tamary

Like Emilie, who commented earlier, I only write reviews for books I recommend reading, so I've never given ratings. Instead, I just try to describe each one in a way that will help others decide whether to try it. Since I don't write a review for every book I read, I don't think my choice of books is affected at all by writing about some of them. I don't think my reading experience is affected either, because I usually don't decide which books to blog about until the end of the month. Some books don't seem as interesting a few weeks later, so that narrows the list even further.

I do think that writing a review can affect how I feel about the book afterward. Once in a while I've started a review and then deleted it because while writing, I realized I didn't admire the book as much as I thought I did. On the other hand, many times the process of putting thoughts into words helps me realize exactly what I loved about a book.

Thanks for the thought-provoking questions!

Shannon M.

Reading is my "me time," usually done while my husband is blowing up aliens or Zombies on his X Box, so I have to agree with Nathan Hale. I hate reviews and I never pay attention to them or ratings. Reviews are just one person's opinion-- but I'm the only one who knows my taste. So I don't want anyone else telling me what I will and won't or should and shouldn't like. I find my books by reading excerpts, not reviews, and that has never led me astray.

Margie Stohl


That's so funny that you would post this now, because I have been trying to figure out how to undo ratings on goodreads without losing all my review notes. I love to talk about what I have read just after I have read it, but I hate the stars. I have done them, mostly because I know how much it means to an author to get them, but I totally agree that it gets in the way of just talking about the book sometimes. Great post!

Melissa (Book Nut)

My dislike of the ratings system (never done it, never will) is more personal and selfish than altruistic: I want people to read what I write, and when there's a rating, my suspicion (confirmed because I *gasp* do it) is that most people look at the stars and go on by.

But beyond that, even when I write "reviews", I'm really only describing my reaction to the book, which -- as you point out -- is invariably linked to my experiences, mood, and time of day. I don't think reviewing them publicly has affected how I approach a book; I've been doing this for quite a while now, and I'd like to think that how I got the book doesn't affect what I get out of it.

Good questions to ask, though.

Dr. Sallie N. Cheinsteen

I don't review books. I read them for myself, and pretty much for myself only, unless I later recommend it to a friend or family member. I understand perfectly what you're saying, though, and your blog reminded me about the book, "You are Special." Dang those stars and dots. We wimmicks and our books never deserved them.

Karla

Great post. I liked it. Five stars. It moved me to self evaluation as a reader. :)

Really "stars" should be left to less subjective things like appliances that break down after three months (no stars) and toys that never break, never need new batteries, and keep children entertained for hours (TEN stars).

Herenya

This post has really made me think about how I judge books - and I had never stopped to wonder whether rating books (I am really interested that people are so adamantly against rating books, because I rate nearly everything I read) has changed how I read things.
I have concluded it hasn't, not really. My ratings system is arbitrary and ridiculously subjective, based on a combination of the book's merits/quality, how much I liked/enjoyed it, whether I think I'd want to reread it and how it compared with other things I've been reading recently. Rating is a silly exercise I do for myself, only once I've finished reading something, and while other people can discover what I've rated things if they're looking at my library on LibraryThing, I don't do it for other people. And knowing my ratings can be so variable, I often don't take others' ratings seriously.

I comment on (almost) everything I read on my blog, which a semi-public place, and I'll post reviews more publicly when I feel like it. Generally when I have really loved a book, or written something more in-depth about it. I don't know that reviewing a book can change my impressions on it, but discussing something (particularly Lit-class discussions) can give me a greater appreciation of it.

I love reading reviews, because I love hearing what other people thought about books. Often I read reviews after I've read something, but they can influence my reading choices. Then I'm often judging whether or not, from what the review says, I think said book will appeal to me...

Heather Muir

I review books on goodreads.com and I use the reviewing space as a way to evaluate whatever struck me the most, whether that was the modern relevance of the novel, the gushing romance that made me want to vomit, the gushing romance that made me wish I had a boyfriend, the vocabulary, the roots of the story, etc.

I do, however, give stars, but that is mostly an emotional response. I've given 2 stars to books that changed my way of thinking and writing but I certainly didn't like them. I appreciate them.

Stars are a love it or hate it for me. However, I have never read books based on stars, I only read reviews because, really, I'm a reader, so why not read the reviews? I also like to read reviews from amateurs, rather than professionals, so I don't have to worry about intellectual critics saying a book is bad when it is quite enjoyable, just not "intelligent" or "smart" enough for their image.

MamaBug

This is a wonderful, thought provoking discussion. I'm going to have to give the whole thing more thought. In the meantime, I think I'll be linking this to my blog to discuss with my friends, especially those of us who use Goodreads. ;)

clairedelune

with my blog, I do review and rate books. But I don't always review the books I read, so the rating doesn't affect my reading. I just try to enjoy the book, and only think about the rating after. But I also try to analyse the book, and discuss why i liked it or not. As a reader of blogs like mine, i usually find the rating system convenient, but I try not to make my reviews all about ratings.

Haiku Amy

I wonder about ratings every now and then. I know I don't always trust ratings from others, because everyone has such different tastes. I like to make up my own mind, but a rating system probably does influence whether I will pick up some unknown book. Unless it is a book that everyone is raving about, then I must jump on the bandwagon and read it with the rest of the the book reading world.

I don't plague myself by thinking about a rating or reviewing a book while I'm reading it. I just read to enjoy the book, and then afterward put some thoughts down. I also don't choose which books to read keeping in mind that I may review it. I certainly don't review every book I read. Mostly because I can't commit to my computer all the time.

Thanks for your insight. It has caused me to ponder this subject more thoroughly.

Katie-wa

Everyone is so different, I don't see how stars can even be relevant. It's like trying to stereotype people into being average, or "normal". You can't push something to be categorized and neatly packaged for anyone, because it doesn't fit. We all react differently. I may love a book and so does my friend, but we love opposing characters. We can't close off our minds to a cheap system of 1-5. Music takes harmony and melody. Sight takes light and shadow. Life takes good and bad. And never write something off because one element doesn't appeal to you; truth isn't always perfect.

Debbie

I liked what Nathan said. Reading for me is very selfish. I read for me. To enjoy a world, a place, obstacles, people, things, other than what I already am experiencing. I dont mind discussing them afterwards but generally in my bookclub I'm the one listening and nodding.

I feel I'm an all around sorta gal. I read every part of the book before I start it. The dust jacket, the first few inside pages (yes even the publishers info and copyright suff), the back page about the author, etc.

I enjoy the book as I enjoy it.

I talk about books on my blog often as I love to spread the love of reading. I dont use a rating system but I do generally will say I enjoyed the book, because I did and I want others to go get it and love it too.

cindy baldwin

As a frequenter of Goodreads, the main reason that I rate a book is so that later, when I in my total forgetfulness look back over my review, I'll have a quick and easy way to see how well I liked that particular book. I want to see if it is worth re-reading, or worth recommending to people of similar taste. Also, I do really appreciate it when people whose taste is similar to mine rate books - then I have at least an idea of whether or not it's the kind of thing that will make me want to tear out my hair during the reading.

I don't honestly think that rating books shapes the way I read them at all. And I do certainly still read books I don't particularly like, and I usually don't regret it.

Oh - and I read the whole book before I rate!

Maribeth

Wow. I'm sort of addicted to goodreads.

Sometimes when I'm reading a book I'll think it's a four or five star at first and then something will particularly annoy me and it won't be.

That makes me sort of sad.

It's not like I want to give books bad ratings (I don't think anyone does) sometimes I just have to.

But I don't think it's anything against the book or the author.

I just didn't like it and usually I explain why.

Rebecca Reid

Wow, what great questions!

I blog about books, and I call them reviews, but I think I try to keep them more "my thoughts and impressions" of the books I read.

I do think that knowing I'm going to be reviewing a book changes the experience of reading it, but I like it because I read more carefully. I read lots of classics and nonfiction so I think that's good. I don't rate the books I read because I normally am glad I read a book, even if I didn't particularly like it. I get *something* out of each book. I often take notes or put a mark in the margin so I can find good quotes or what not, but I don't usually write the "review" until the very end.

I'm pretty picky about what I pick up in the first place, so I suppose knowing I'm going to "review" it may influence my choices. But I try to think of my blog as an online journal of my reading, opened to the public so we can all have a discussion, so I don't think knowing that I'm going to review it really influences me in a negative way.

I definitely think writing my thoughts about the book lets me give it more benefit of the doubt. And comments from other bloggers helps me to have more of an open mind. I'm big on rereading, and if I didn't like it and others comment that they did and are convincing as to why, I might someday go back and reread it to give it another chance.

My "motivation" to declare my thoughts (I don't rate books as I said) is simply because I love book talk. I want to have someone to talk to about the books I've read and I want to keep a record of my reading. Purely selfish.

As for your last question, I don't rate books because I don't think it's possible to compare apples to oranges. Some days I like apples, some days I want something else completely different than fruit, and everyone has a different opinion about what they like in the bottom line. My role, then, is to look at the issues and record my thoughts and impressions so I can talk about books, and look back next year and remember what I thought about each book.

Ashley

Hi Shannon,
Lately I've taken to writing my own review and date read at the front of the books I read. I talk about the author's language, the story, the characters, or whatever else struck me. This way, I can remember my thoughts when a friend asks for a "review" and I am leaving a diary of sorts for my posterity. For example, here's part of what I said about Actor and Houseweife: "I am always amazed by Shannon Hale's voice. There are truly some memorable lines (By the ghost of Hamlet's father!)and she is so clever with her diction. Words are truly her medium...And Hale re-iterates my own belief that there are no coincidences in life and that God watches over all. GREAT STORY!"

Natalie Sapkarov

I thought about this a lot over the summer, as I was itching to start a new book blog, but I was unsure of what it would look like. I finally decided that it would be about my reading experiences - connections I made, reactions I had, things I liked/didn't like - because there are many wonderful blogs out there that do review books, stars and all. And I enjoy reading (okay, browsing) those blogs because it gives me a quick indication of what other people thought about books that I had either read or that I was thinking of reading or even that I had never heard of. But for me, focusing on myself as the reader and actually typing out my reactions was important because I can process my thoughts better when I'm putting them in words. Does that mean people want to read them? Well, I'd say for the most part, no. I think many people are looking for measured reviews with concise plot summaries and highlights (which is what review journals do), not so much personal reading responses.

I think it's interesting that you ask if the reading experience changes if you know you'll be rating these books later. That's much of the reason why I don't rate books on my blog - When I read, I don't want to think about ratings; I'd like to immerse myself in the experience and reflect on it afterward. However, I do give stars on Goodreads because it helps me remember how much I liked a book. But again, that's personal, and I certainly hope that people don't look at my star rating of a book and make their decision to read or not to read solely based on that. If I could keep the stars secret, I would!

Susan

What a great post! I had been thinking along similar lines. I am a librarian, and for several years reviewed for VOYA, which asks reviewers to give titles a P and Q rating (popularity and quality, with 1 being the worst and 5 the best.) I often struggled with that, because it seemed to me that most books should be fours, at least Q wise. Popularity was a little easier to get sometimes...
I now have a book review blog and I DON'T give ratings. I thought about this, and read some discussion of it, and came to a couple of conclusions. What does a rating mean, anyway? Not much without some context/understanding. And for me, I realize, that I am the kind of reader who finds something good about almost everything I read, and can often find something interesting about a book that others didn't like or didn't get. (I do give ratings to books I enter on Shelfari, but looking it, what is the point, when everything is a 4???)
So my reviews are a mix now of my professional voice and my conversational one, of thinking about what librarians would want to know and making observations and connections between what I read. (It probably doesn't hurt that I have a lit crit background as well.)
There are times when I think a ratings system would be easier, when I could just say this was a four or a three or a one and be done. But then I lose the thinking it out, the figuring out how to articulate my thoughts.
I like reviewing, I always have, the idea of reviewing does not change a book for me. Unlike some book bloggers, I do not feel obligated to review everything I read. Sometimes I review something right away, other times, I need to wait and think and read something else first.

Genre Reviews

I'm a book blogger who tries to "discuss and observe" rather than rate. I don't use a star rating system.

1. I'm not quite sure what you mean. Do I read the book differently because I'm going to review it? Yes, because I pay more attention to what works for me and what doesn't rather than just how I vaguely feel about the book at the end.

2. I take notes on things I notice as I read, but I don't always include all those notes in my review. I wait until the very end to decide what will go into the review. I usually write my review based on my lasting impressions of the book and then go back to look at my notes and decide if there's anything else I should include.

3. Actually, I read more daringly now than when I wanted to make sure every book I spent money on would be worth every cent. I've come across a lot of great books this way.

4. No, the process of writing the review does not change how I feel about the book. Why would it?

5. I don't have a rating system, though I do "highly recommend" books I think are well-written and about more than just entertainment.

6. I don't rate books because I know that many of the things I don't like don't bother other people at all--or are what they like! I feel my role as a reviewer is to point out what people may or may not like about the book so that they can find the books best suited for their enjoyment.

Chels

I think we all just wrote a book together. Yay Shannon fans!!! We should totally publish.

Great post. Very true. It reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a women that I know (I'm sixteen). She is a fan of Stephenie Meyer and had seen Hunger Games on her Website. She told me she hated it, it was disturbing, she didn't even finish it and continued to tell me how I should never read it.
My response: Actually I, um, I own it. It's sitting in my bedroom.
That was the end of the conversation.
My point, just because a book is 'disturbing' or doesn't have a 'happy ending' doesn't mean the book is bad, it doesn't even mean the book isn't good or good for you. Not that unnecessary violence or such is good, but that sometimes abrasive books give us more or teach us more. It annoys me when people say they don't like books like Lord of the Flies or Brave New world or 1984. Of course you didn't 'like' it, you weren't supposed to like, that wasn't the point.

Victoria McDaniel

I am not a book reviewer or rater, just a "recommender." Is that even a word? :) I do understand what you are asking in your post. I have found, over the years, that I avoid being in a reading group, or book club, because I don't like the idea that I should like something just because everyone else does, or dislike it. The issue is even more pointed when the book club involves women that I know from church, because then there seems to be some judgment that goes on about what types of books are appropriate to read. That is such a subjective thing. When I read your post, one particular book comes to mind. "Saints" by OSC... When I read it, it was one of my favorite books of all time. That was probably 15-20 years ago, and maybe (your question is making me rethink this) it wouldn't be now. Or maybe it still would, just because it is the way Card makes me love his characters that makes the book so special. But the funny thing about that book, was how many people I know that hated it... couldn't even get through it, because it troubled them, or made them angry.

Sometimes it is important to read a book, even if we don't like it. And it is interesting how as we grow and change, so do our books. When I was a teenager, I loved to drown myself in tragedy. Steinbeck was a great favorite:) Now I would rather read something that brings me up. I have recommended your books so often, because I love the way the characters are flawed, but empowered all at the same time. They are great characters for where I am right now.

Linda Covella

We are all used to the rating system, so it can be disconcerting sometimes if it's not there. It might be partly due to time--everyone wants a quick analysis and then to move on...
When I say I "like" a book, it can be for many reasons: it moved me in some way, I loved the writing, the characters, the setting, or the plot. If the discussion begins with "I liked or didn't like a book," delve deeper and relate why or why not. Then the statement becomes more meaningful.

Donna

I rarely read reviews, and then only after I've read a book and I'm curious what other people thought of it. I don't mean this in a harsh way, but generally speaking I don't really care what some random person out there thinks about a book. Different people will react to the same book differently, and none of that has anything to do with how *I* will react to a book. (I feel the same way about movie reviews, FYI.)

If a book looks interesting to me and the first few pages show promise, I'll read it. I have a few friends who tend to have similar taste to mine, and so if they recommend a book to me I'll take that and run. But even then we don't always agree, which is fine. It's not like I have anything to lose by trying a book and not liking it.

Because I don't read reviews to decide whether or not to read a book, I don't put a lot of trouble into my own reviews. Several of my reviews are short, and sometimes I don't bother to do more than mark it "read" and give it a rating. I'm on goodreads, but I doubt anyone reads my page except my friends. Which is fine by me. I like to see what my friends are reading because I find new books that way. I find new books via the Goodreads newsletter. I find new books browsing in my local library. I find new books via author websites like this and just generally keeping my ear to the ground.

As far as the star rating goes, I'm not a college professor or a professional book reviewer and so I strictly rate based on my personal enjoyment. Afterall, it's MY rating. I like a well-crafted story, so that will usually be a factor. I don't stress too much about it, and just go with my instincts. The difference between a 3 star rating and a 4 star rating is just not enough for me to fuss about.

I only have one rule for myself about the star system on goodreads. If I would rate a book with only 1 or 2 stars, I just take it off my list instead. Just because I didn't like a book doesn't mean someone else won't like it, and I'd hate to discourage someone from reading a book they might like themselves.

For statistical purposes (ha ha) I'm a writer and generally considered to be selective about what I read. I hear a lot: "Oh if Donna liked it, it must be good." Which is nice to hear, but truth be told I'm just too picky. Sometimes I wish I could relax and enjoy the fluff more, but it's hard to turn off the writer in me.

P.S. I LOVE your books Shannon, and found you through a friend of mine whose taste I respect. :)

Q

1. I do think that anticipation changes things, though most of the time when it's a book recommended to me from one of the blogs I read I get to it so long after the original recommendation that I have forgotten even whose blog it was featured on.

2. I don't really rate a book in the middle. Sometimes a book isn't working for me in the middle, and that bothers me, but I usually judge and sort out thoughts at the end.

3. I never say "I'm going to review this" before I read a book. I only review books I like and recommend to my readers.

4. No, I don't think so. Writing a review makes me think more deeply about the book, but that's about it.

5. I don't have a specific rating system.

6. The only reason I post book reviews on my blog is because I liked the book enough to give it a half hour more of my time in a favorable blog post.

Ruby Diamond

1. No, not that I've noticed...
2. I wait until the end, unless I take a break in reading the book and find myself thinking about it.
3. Nope. Life is too short for me to read anything that I'm not interested in. Or to not read anything I am interested in.
4. Occasionally, yes. Recently I started listing the things I liked about a book and it was a longer list than I had originally thought.
5. I don't assign ratings. My motivations for reviewing are 1. As a record for myself, 2. As a record for others -- who will hopefully read and discuss with me. I am interested in the conversation.
6. I don't rate books because I'm lazy. I tried doing it, when I first started reviewing because I thought I "should". However boiling it all down to a number really started to hurt my brain. It was more effort than it was worth, to me. I feel that my role as a reviewer is to state my opinion. Just to tell you what I think. Because I can't say what you'll think or what is right or wrong about a book. But I can tell you what I thought. If you happen to agree, to trust me, that's fantastic.

See you soon, baboon!

myrna

Wow! I don't think I have ever seen so many long responses on a blog before.

Cara

Wow I see that lots of people had in a opinion in this! Way to go Shannon! I never really thought the reader had so much of a role but they totally do. Thanks for sharing your insight.

1.Yes it defintely does. I'll pick things I liked and make sure to give the author props for things that I thought were done well. I go in more aware of what is urging me to turn the pages or in turn what's making want to throw the book across the room.
2. Sometimes but most of the time I'll wait to the bitter end. Endings can really make or break the experience for the reader.
3. Not at all. I read what I want. Life is too short and there are too many books to be picky just because it might not be popular or some other nonsense.
4. If anything it makes me like the book more, even if I didn't like the book I'll see some things that the author did that I appreciated even if the book as a whole didn't work for me.
5. In truth I mostly do if for myself. Kind of like my little reference of what I liked and didn't. Along the way I might be able to guide someone to something wonderful if they have the same taste as I do. I really enjoy reading reviews. It helps me stay away from books I know I wouldn't enjoy or point me the way to something amazing.
6. I think the people who don't want to rate books just don't want to commit. I admit I find it actually kind of cowardly. I can't grasp if you really enjoyed yourself or not if it's not rated. Plain and simple. As a reviewer I guess I want to give my opinion but also give the benefit to people who might enjoy the book. Just because I don't like it doesn't mean someone else won't. I make sure to say the reasons of my rating, and mention what I could see someone else liking about the book.

By the way I saw some people say they hated goodreads. I love it. My to-read list is soooooooo long now. For awhile there I thought there weren't even good books around anymore. I was so wrong.

Court

I have a book blog, and I write "reviews" there. I don't use a star rating system there mainly for the reason that I recognize that whether I liked it or not, other people will not always have the same reaction to a book that I do. If I were to do a starred rating system, I would be rather biased, and although for the most part it's my thoughts & impressions on a book rather then an actual review, I'm attempting to write these posts in a more unbiased manner (though that does not always work). In the same manner, I also do not pay attention to how other bloggers/online reviewers rate the books they read - I am much more interested in actually reading the review that they wrote.

That said, I do rate my books when I add them to LibraryThing and GoodReads, but I mean those ratings just as how _I_ enjoyed the books, not how good I actually thought they were. (Does that make sense?)

Yes, the fact that I am going to be reviewing books has made how I read books different. I pay a lot more attention to them now, instead of just enjoying what's going on. I think about what I can use in the book in a blog post while reading it - I keep an eye open for things that bother me and things I love, as well as an eye open for awesome quotes that I want to share that show what the writer's writing is like. As far as whether it's affected which books I pick up in the first place, no. There are other things that I've found recently affect whether I pick it up or not, but not the fact that I will be reviewing it (more like "Have I heard too much about this in the blogosphere and am I sick of it already?")

RachaelEm

This has been on my mind lately, too. I've had several suggestions that I rate the books I read. I pondered. Decided I can't. A rating would change, depending on my mood, depending on what's going on around me. When I write a "review" it tends to emerge as a summary with bits about how I connected with that particular book at that particular time.

I'm the type who might read a review of a book or movie to pull a nugget of connection out of the review. If I'm curious enough to see if that connection resonates with me, too, I'll read the book. Perhaps the reviewer didn't like the book/movie. That's okay. I'll go see it and make my own connection.

The problem with this...um, method? I find that I "like" pretty much everything. But the really special stories that slap me upside the head or worm deep into my soul - those I remember.

We all have different experiences that shape our preferences and perspectives. That affects how we'll relate to a story. It's not good or bad. It just is.

susan

Great article. I wish had written it because I've had the same thoughts but never committed them to print. Though I doubt I could have written as well as you did.

No, I don't rate and I read very few reviewers who do. I read views to hear what you think, how you relate to a read, what concerns you, what you think a read offers and where it falls short and I expect with all these comments some observation or explanation so I can appreciate your view. I don't need or care if we agree.

When I first began reading book blogs, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of reviews on some blogs. I was equally disappointed with how overly simple and predictable some were. I'd much rather read a good annotation than a series of "Oh, it was great. OMG, you must read this."

I don't write many reviews. One, I'd rather be reading and secondly, I have to feel I have something to say so either a work resonates with me and I want to tell you why or I think a work fails and I want to at length tell you why the failure bothers me and the failure is never about me simply not liking a read so much as I disagree with the messaging I perceive in the read.

I see literature as a mirror, and I enjoy talking about what a writer is saying, if she's clear, if the work makes a welcome or needed contribution and I really enjoy works that are clearly critiques of our culture.

Again, thanks for a great post and an opportunity to share our thoughts.

susan

Ha! I just remember I joined Goodreads not long ago and I do use the stars. lol In my defense, I don't consider my Goodreads comments as reviews. They are meant to be those drive-by kind of ratings just to say if I recommend a book or not. Too funny that I even dismiss my own ratings.

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