I’ve blogged before about how diverse reader’s tastes are noting that there are so many ways a book can be regarded depending on who reads it. So there must be a way to slog through all the books out there and narrow down which ones you personally will like. Which is why I argue that every reader has an obligation to honestly and objectively review every book they read.
I’m a huge reader. No secret there. What many don’t think about is that the number of books you can read in your lifetime is finite. There are far more books out there than you can read in one lifetime. Yes, even yours. That finite number varies by person depending on how fast and how often you read. For example, I read three books a month on average. That’s thirty six books a year – give or take. If I have twenty more reading years, I only have time for seven hundred and twenty more books. Ever. Which is why you really should choose wisely. For the same reason, I also think you shouldn’t finish a book that doesn’t hook you and keep you entertained either. Unless you’re in a book club since arguably you have an obligation to read those selections regardless.
So how do you pick which books to read so you get the most out of your remaining, and technically very limited, reading time?
Personally, I use recommendations from friends and fellow readers. Another reason I love Goodreads so I can see what people say about books before I decide. (Especially helpful when you have friends who read and enjoy the same books you like so you can see what they enjoyed – or didn’t.) I shy away from books that don’t get at least an average three-star rating (out of a possible five). But here’s a little secret… I usually only read the middle of the road reviews and I especially am interested in the “bad” reviews. Those are the reviews that – if written objectively – give me the best insight. If I see that someone didn’t like a book because of something that I might actually like, I’m more likely to pick it up. If someone didn’t like how dark a book was or how bloody the action was but I really like dark and bloody books, I would probably pick it up.
In the past few months I’ve heard arguments from many different people about not wanting to honestly review every book which all boil down to a couple of general ideas that I take exception with:
“I don’t usually review if it is going to be less than 3 stars.”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
I think both of these arguments approach book reviews from the wrong side of the issue. I don’t review books for the author’s benefit, my reviews are designed for other readers like me so we can find books we like (and avoid those we won’t). The hard truth that every author must grapple with accepting is that no matter how much effort and love went into writing a book, not everyone everywhere will love it. Reviews are designed to be the unbiased opinions of readers, and everyone everywhere is entitled to their own. Once a book is in the hands of readers, there’s nothing that an author can change about it anyway.
What if every review was a glowing one and there were no differing opinions? Or what if no one reviewed books ever because they were worried about hurting either the author’s feelings or the feelings of those who had a different opinion? Then every book would be as much of a gamble as randomly picking something off the shelf – without reading the jacket. By not giving an honest and truthful review, regardless of how you liked or didn’t like a book, you’re doing a disservice to every reader who comes after you looking for insights on whether they would like to read it. Of course I don’t think you should completely trash a book (or the author) if you don’t like it, but give me an objective and constructive reason why you didn’t like it that can help me decide if I might also rather skip it. Then let me decide.
Because of this, I rate books in the following manner:
- 5 stars = Loved it! I abandoned all aspects of my life in order to voraciously read this book
- 4 stars = I really enjoyed it and I would highly recommend it to others – but I still slept at night, mostly.
- 3 stars = I liked it but I didn’t love it. I found nothing to complain about but it didn’t rock my world either…
- 2 stars = I didn’t like it overall although I did finish it. (Incidentally, books with this rating have generally been ones I read for book club which illustrates the point that it takes all kinds of readers and not everyone likes the same things.)
- 1 star = I either hated it or I didn’t finish it
On top of a star rating, I always give the feel of the book and the impression it left me with overall. I don’t bother with a synopsis of what the story was about from start to finish, you can get that elsewhere. What I really emphasize is what worked for me and what didn’t, and why. Something that would help someone else objectively draw conclusion as to whether they would like it or not. I do this because those are the kinds of reviews I look for when deciding to give a book a spot on my finite list of things I’ve read between now and when I die.
You remember what they say about treating others the way you want to be treated, right? If you are a reader, won’t you consider doing this as well? Future readers will thank you, myself included!