Writers and Reviews


With all of the brouhaha over bloggers, writers, reviewers, and their points of intersection, it probably isn’t surprising that I’ve been thinking about reviews and reviewers lately. I’m on Goodreads, but I don’t post ratings or reviews. I use the system to log the books I’ve read. Why? Because I have writer friends and colleagues. I want to give them all high ratings because I think they’re wonderful, and I’m proud of them. However, I don’t normally give “high” ratings and don’t want to impact their overall scores negatively with my personal rating system, nor do I want to “lie” and falsely inflate my ratings. But I read reviews, so I’m not contributing to a system that benefits me — not a good feeling.

My sense is that most people give extreme ratings — anything they like gets a 4 or 5. Books they dislike get 1s and 2s. This is completely unscientific, of course — it’s just that scrolling through Goodreads feels like a bibliophile’s version of Hot or Not.

I give books 3 stars if they’re entertaining and overall enjoyable. 4s go to books that meet the criteria of a 3 but try something new or do something interesting or surprising. Sometimes the writing’s just a little sharper. 5s go to books I consider to be exemplars in the field — for example, I’m obsessed with Jellicoe Road and think it has one of the best YA voices ever. 5 stars. Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove? Perfect. Brilliant. Love. Worship. 5. Neil Gaiman? I think he’s a wonderful storyteller, but I’d give most of his books 3s and 4s. Madeleine L’Engle? The same — 4s for the big ideas and questions, and 3s for most of the line level writing.

As a teacher, I graded in a similar manner. We used a 4-point scale, and a 3 (or B) meant “Meets Expectations.” A 4 (or A) translated to “Exceeds Expectations.” My 5-point Goodreads scale roughly translates to the following:

5 – OMG words cannot describe the awesome that is encompassed within this text.

4 – A book! That did something pretty cool. Huh. “Exceeds Expectations”

3 – A book! Not groundbreaking, but totally enjoyable. Nice. “Meets Expectations”

2 – Well that was… a thing. Okay. Not terrible but not particularly exciting. Next?

1 – You put your name on that?

(While I might be a “tough” grader, I don’t think I’ve ever given a book a 1, even in my head!)

I do think reviews and critiques are important — for both the audience and the creators — but I’m curious about how writers fill their roles as reviewers — when and how do you choose to write reviews? I read too much to review everything, and I read for different reasons — comfort, brain melt, inspiration, craft — Do you only review books that you love? How do you handle reviewing books you don’t adore, especially if written by a friend or colleague?

Children’s lit is a much more generous and supportive field than say adult literary fiction, and I love that — overall I think we’re sensitive each other’s feelings. So is the industry (and the audience) tough enough already? What role do writers have as reviewers?

© 2016 Anindita Basu Sempere. 
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