Monday, March 30, 2009

What Do You Want to Read In a Review?

Not long ago, Trish from Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? pointed me to this post about book reviews and their purposes. The author has five elements she feels should be included in a valuable book review. They include:

  1. A brief, accurate, and unbiased precis of the setting and plot of the story without giving away what the rabbit in the hat looks like.
  2. A specific evaluation of the author's writing ability, including which writers the author's style resembles, and, as the exalted John Updike recommends in his Six Rules for Book Reviewing, a taste out of the author's pot with a few moderately lengthy and representative quotes.
  3. Which works this particular book most resembles in both plot and feel.
  4. How the book compares to the author's previous works (if any) and to other books cut from a similar cloth.
  5. A final verdict on the book stated clearly and unequivocally and with the particular reviewer's caveats laid out for consideration.

I personally wondered about all the references to other authors and styles. On occasion I might mention that if a person likes "such and such" a subgenre, they might enjoy this book. I will also on occasion say, "this book brought to might 'so and so.'" But I also only do that when it hits me while I'm reading - and we're talking hit-over-the-head-with-a-frying-pan-type hits me. I tend to value the unique, so I'm often looking for the elements that make a book unique, not the elements that make it like others. I will compare a book to others the author has written if I've experienced anything else the author has written.

But, what's even more important to me, is what characteristics make a review GREAT in your eyes? What makes you interested enough to finish reading a review? What are the elements that help you decide whether or not you're interested in a book that's being reviewed? And on the flip side, what are elements you wish people would leave out of their reviews?

So, let 'er rip! Tell us what you think!


Jon The Crime Spree Guy March 30, 2009 at 8:37 AM  

At Crimespree we try to avoid comparing books to other books or authors. It's a bit of a cliche and over done.

A good review tells enough about a book to get someone interested in reading it with out giving anything away. It should also mention the writing skills.

I think too many reviews end up being about the reviewer and not the book.

Lesa March 30, 2009 at 8:55 AM  

My biggest complaint about reviews is spoilers. I've missed reading some books that were well-reviewed, or that people loved because someone gave away too much of the story. If I know too much, I won't ead the book.

I want a brief summary, the strengh of the book - meaning plot, characters, action, and I'd like the reviewer to tell me who might like the book. If I know fans of Oprah's book club will likr it, for instance, it's probably not for me. Too much sorrow, or too literary for my taste. If I have all those elements, I usually can tell if I'll like the book. I like to see the book cover, as well, but that's my own personal taste.

Serena March 30, 2009 at 10:26 AM  

I really don't like comparisons to other authors or writing styles because I think that can detract from the author's own writing...I think that each has a unique voice and can combine elements from other authors, but comparing them can do damage as well as recommend books...

for instance if I hated Charles Dickens writing, comparing a contemporary author's style to dickens would immediately turn me off...and I may actually have enjoyed the contemporary author if the comparison hadn't turned me off in the first place.

Corey Wilde March 30, 2009 at 11:50 AM  

More than anything I hate to read a synopsis of the entire story, and far too many reviews give away too much of the story and never express an opinion on any aspect of the story.

Comparison to other authors, IMO, is not unwelcome but not necessary either. I've done it, usually when I feel a book will strongly appeal (or not!) to a given author's fans, but I don't make a rule of it.

The writing itself should be criticized. The story's structure, pace, characterization, originality, and setting should all be discussed, again without revealing plot twists. And a clear opinion should be expressed without going out of one's way to be insulting or hurtful. (I'm sorry to say I have done that on occasion, but usually when I feel the author has insulted me first.) A critic should strive to be neither the Paula Abdul nor the Simon Cowell of book reviews.

I bet I'll eat these words before the day is out.

Tim March 31, 2009 at 9:59 AM  

Ny and large I agree with the list. I find the mention of other authors helpful if it's in the contest of, "If you enjoy XXXXX, you'll probably like this" -- especially if the common element isn't something like the fact that they both write cozies about cats in Capetown, but rather that they share some writing skill I asmire -- depth of characterization, for example, or vivid settings, or really innovative plotting or just a terrific prose style.

And I think it's important that the review itself be well written -- organized, thought through, demonstrating some frame of reference, without obvious typos or grammatical errors. If I'm going to take a reviewer's word about a book, I want to know that the reviewer can at least produce a simple declarative sentence and then string several of them into a paragraph.

What I find inexcusable is a reviewer who tries to be clever or amusing at an author's expense. That just tells me that I'm reading a twit who has no idea in the world how hard it is to write even a really bad novel.

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