Meanwhile, At Litro: book reviewing pet peeves

My most recent column for Litro went up yesterday. It’s about the things that drive me berserk in a book review–please note this is not a personal attack on ANY book bloggers! I’ve just noticed that there are some things that nearly everyone who writes a lot of reviews ends up doing once in a while, and collated them for convenience. The column is charmingly entitled Your Disclaimer Is Bullshit; head over to Litro and have a look!


15 thoughts on “Meanwhile, At Litro: book reviewing pet peeves

  1. Oh, I enjoyed that! (although I have a sneaking suspicion I may have done one or two of the things you mention, on occasion). I do not say the ‘in return for an honest review’ and I do tend to be over-apologetic when I really didn’t like a book, but that’s because I know how hard a book is to write, so I feel sorry for the author (especially little-known or debut authors, I don’t think James Patterson or Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling need my boost or apologies).

    1. Heh. I know what you mean about being apologetic for not liking something–it feels unkind if you’ve requested it specifically from the publishers!

  2. “…reviews have intrinsic value.”

    Yes, this. I really value reviews as ways in to discussion and debate about a book; I use them for recommendations too but they’ve got to be more than star ratings and stock phrases. I kick myself whenever I fall into cliche in my posts because I think it does a disservice to the diverse experiences of reading. The (blog) reviews I want to read combine a drop of the personal (why it was picked, expectations going in, emotional reaction), plus enough synopsis to hang a debate on and some critical content to spark a response in me about themes, challenges etc.

    The ‘honest review’ thing should be totally redundant, though I can see why people do it – there seem to be some people in the book blogging world who see themselves as serving the publishers rather than the other way round. There is a bit of fawning going on here and there I think. The thing that confuses me more is when a blogger has a policy about only posting positive reviews about books they liked, in the name of being nice. I really don’t get this at all. As long as you write a fair opinion, backed up by some analysis, then negative reviews are as worthwhile as rave ones. In the past I’ve definitely gone too far with my criticisms, but some of my favourite posts on the blog have been about books I disliked (Doris Lessing’s The Cleft is one). If someone never reviews negatively I don’t feel as though I can totally trust their positive opinions.

    1. Yes, definitely–I get slightly uncomfortable writing negatives of something I’ve asked for, but by the same token, I’ve written quite a few negative reviews of a book that was then passionately defended by other readers! I think it’s the sense of fawning (perfect word) that gets to me. It’s like, you don’t get a prize for not lying. Sigh.

  3. I loved that, Elle. See? That’s me vaguely reviewing your column. But, it’s true. šŸ™‚

    Let’s talk about the honest review thing. I have been guilty of it, but here is why, and now I’m wondering if I’m not alone in this. When I started blogging 2 years ago, I knew nothing (and I mean nothing) about the blogging world. I had no idea (and I mean none) that publishers sent books to book bloggers. So, when it first happened to me, I didn’t know what to do except what I had been seeing on everyone else’s reviews. Lately I have been trying to re-word it as more of a thank you than something that sounds like a mini-contract.)

    1. Hahahah! Love it. Yes, I get that; it makes more sense that people would do what they’ve seen others done. It’s not the end of the world, especially when it comes from bloggers I know and trust; it just makes me roll my eyes when I see it at the end of a review that’s *also* been vague. I want to be like “Fuckin’ A, thanks so much for your EXEMPLARY AND USELESS HONESTY.”

      Upon consideration, perhaps I need to get other things to be frustrated about…

  4. well done! You noted a few of my own peeves especially the “I really liked this book” without any explanation of why. On the flip side is an even bigger peeve of mine is the “I hated this book because I didn’t like any of the characters/couldn’t relate” reason and then it gets left at that. Drives me crazy! šŸ™‚

    1. UGH god I know. Should have mentioned that too: “unlikeable” characters cited as a reason for hating the book. Unbelievable, I can get behind, but just because you don’t *like* them? I mean, who likes Humbert Humbert, for heaven’s sake?!

  5. The exchange language drives me a little bonkers, too. The FTC in the U.S. requires some sort of disclaimer for free content, but getting a review copy isn’t an “exchange.” I make no promises when I get a review copy, and saying it’s an “exchange” implies a promise. I’ve taken to saying something like, “I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.” Anyone who’s read my blog for long knows I’m honest about review copies. (Gifts and recs from friends are trickier.)

    I’ve been guilty of too much summary more than once. It’s a hazard of treating my blog as a reading journal where I write about everything I read, even when I don’t have much to say. But the upside of that is that writing often helps me figure out what I think, which is why I try to write *something* every time.

    1. Yes, definitely agree with you about the implication of “promise” or equality on either side of the swap when the word “exchange” is used. I now just say “Thank you to [publicist’s name if known] at [publishing house] for the review copy”, or similar–declares allegiance without being too arse-kissy.

      I love the reading journal approach, though! It feels very real and relatable, and I’ve always found that your reviews have plenty of assessment in them. What drives me bats is when publicists retweet reviews that are literally three paragraphs long and basically just rehash the blurb. Why bother?!

  6. I’ve never liked (or used) the phrase “in exchange for an honest review”, either; I just say that I received a review copy from the publisher. I hadn’t ever really thought about why, but you summed it up perfectly!

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