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Monday, August 30, 2010

Question: What do you look for in a review?

(Note: I am still working on another post on the whole New Weird/Scifi Strange thing. I've been busy, and those posts tend to take a lot of time that I currently don't have. Derrida is killing me. The next post will be up this week, though.)

Jeff of Genre Reader has a post up on his blog about reviews and what we look for when we read them.  Part of his blog contains a series of questions intended for his listeners, but because I think the questions are worth addressing among readers everywhere, I thought I would post them here along with my answers.  Here goes:

1) Do you prefer informal reviews or formal reviews?

When I am shopping for books, I prefer informal, but detailed and honest reviews.  Vague information is useless for any review, but too much detail turns me off.  When I read reviews, I'm looking for a reason to buy the book; if the book was awful, or the reviewer doesn't give me the information I want to figure out if the book is worth buying, then I move on.  (I do read OF Blog of the Fallen, but he is an exception, rather than a normality for me.)

2) Do you prefer short, medium length, or long reviews?

Medium length.  Short reviews usually lack detail, and long reviews usually fail to hold my attention.

3) Plot Summary: Do you prefer just a simple copy of the summary from Amazon, or do you want the reviewer to use part of the review to write his/her own summary of the book? Or would you prefer the summary is left completely out of the review?

Honestly, I don't care either way.  I usually skip over the summary, or I'm already aware of the summary on the book cover, which gives me little reason to read a paragraph on what the book is about.  Having a summary in the review doesn't bother me, though; I just don't read it.

4) Is it important if the reviewer liked the book, or do you read reviews to get a sense of whether YOU would like the book (no matter what the reviewer says)? I know this answer seems obvious, but if you think about it, some review readers do indeed see a negative review and won't take the time to determine if the negatives apply to them (the potential reader).

Of course it's important if a reviewer liked the book.  Knowing which side the reviewer stands will determine what that reviewer writes about, and if it's a good/bad book, I want to know why.  Reviews will always be subjective, and reviewers/readers all need to understand that.

At the same time, however, I read reviews to figure out if I'm going to like or dislike the book too.  That seems to me to be a requirement for reading reviews.  I don't always agree with the reviewer, though.  Some reviewers have different tastes in terms of major details (genre) and minor details (themes, specific elements, character types--such as homosexuality).  You can usually tease out that kind of information by reading the review, though.  For example, if you read some of John Ottinger's reviews over at Grasping for the Wind, you'll notice that he has particular dislikes related to certain social conditions; I don't have those dislikes, but the fact that he brings them up in his reviews shows me what things I might like about the book in question (this is not a slight against Ottinger, but an observation).

5) Are there certain reviewers you trust almost absolutely? By that, I mean if Reviewer A likes a book, that is good enough for you and you will buy the book despite what other reviews say? Or if Reviewer B dislikes a book, you immediately remove the book from your to-buy list?

No.  There are reviewers I am more likely to agree with than others, but my particular literary tastes are personal, complicated, and unique.  Most people are the same way.  You might like a type of science fiction novel that I'm not into, while at the same time we'll both gush over Battlestar Galactica.  That's just the way it is.  That's not to say I don't trust reviewers; what I'm saying is that there are no reviewers who inspire me to buy everything they review positively (in fact, I've purchased a few books that were reviewed poorly by reviewers who I know have the exact opposite tastes as me).  Sometimes I will buy.  Sometimes I won't.  Sometimes no matter how much a reviewer likes a book, I know it won't be for me.

And that's it.  Feel free to answer the questions here or on Jeff's blog.  The more responses the better.

P.S.:  Is it just me or does it seem like there are missing questions to this thing?

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  1. 1) Does the reviewer's opinion jive with mine?
    2) Are they an authority?
    3) Have they taken a >clear< position on whether or not this book is worth buying?

  2. Jordan: How exactly do you determine who is and is not an authority?

  3. I'm glad you moved the questions over to your blog, actually. I was hoping to get some input from readers who don't follow my blog. I tried to keep the list of questions to 5..any more and I was afraid it would scare people away from answering.

  4. Jeff: Well, the hope is that more people will pop in to give their two cents. We'll see how that works out.