Tag: bias

Three Reasons I Avoid Writing Book Reviews

I read tons of books. And I enjoy reading them. Even if I don’t end up liking the book all that much, reading has the potential to make me a better writer of stories.
And even though I track all my books on Goodreads, I’ve stopped writing reviews for many of the books I read. At times, I don’t even give them a rating.
And, no, this isn’t just because I didn’t finish them. I don’t even add those ones to my “READ” shelf. I have a special shelf for them: “Abandoned.” And it used to be a lonely place, but not so much any more.
If you don’t finish a book, you have no business reviewing it. Or giving it a rating. I’m sorry, folks, but you shouldn’t even say why you couldn’t get through it.
Reviews are for finishers. Why? Because the story could have turned around. Maybe it was a slow starter. Plenty of books that went on to become blockbuster movies were a drag to begin reading. Nope, I’m not naming names here, but I’m sure you know who you are *winks*
Many of the books I read are advance copies meant for the sole purpose of garnering a review on release day. And sometimes I’ll bet the authors who asked this “favor” from me wish they wouldn’t have.
Because if you’ve read my reviews, you know I can be harsh. Some people have commented that my four-star reviews sound like they’re for two-star books.

I’m honest with my criticism.

I’ll be the first to announce that reading preference is all subjective. A reader’s idea of what makes a book wonderful is also subjective…to the criteria their enjoyment is based upon.

My criteria are few:

  1. A well-structured story (that isn’t predictable)
  2. Characters I can relate to and root for
  3. An obvious story problem with a clear resolution
  4. A dynamic main character (meaning this person CHANGES over the course of the story)

Sure, if you can make me laugh AND cry, you’ll get bonus points, but that won’t keep me from overlooking a lack of any of the above items.

In recent months, the number of books I’ve finished reading but haven’t written reviews for has increased. Here are the reasons for that:

ONE: SOMETHING IN THE STORY AWOKE MY BIASES

Yes, I just admitted I have biases. I’m sorry folks, but everyone does. Even if you consider yourself the most accepting and non-judgmental person on the planet, you have biases.
It’s impossible not to form them. If you disagree with this, let’s have a reasonable discussion about it in the comment section. (But don’t be surprised if I call out your biases when they appear in your commentary…because they will.)
For example, a recent book by an author whose stories I adore didn’t earn a review from me. The story line endorsed something that I am opposed to.
However, her writing was fine. The story met the other qualifications for being great. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to write an honest review without mentioning this thing that burrowed under my skin like a ravenous scarab.
So, I rated the book but didn’t write a review.
And I didn’t mention the reason anywhere.
In fact, I’m still not really telling anyone which book it was or what the THING was.

TWO: THE AUTHOR IS MY FRIEND

Okay, this is a tough one to admit. I’d love to say that I’m only friends with authors whose work I love and adore.
Alas, no.
Sometimes they are writing too far on the edge and I can’t buy into their fantasy world. They haven’t done the work to make me suspend my disbelief.
If I truly dislike the story or find the writing subpar, I might not even give a rating to the book.
In either case, I always contact the author directly if I’m giving anything less than four stars to their book. Because…I don’t want my “negative” review to affect their sales.
I’m an author, too. I might have been a reader first, but the business part of me understands that my opinion could sway people. And they might have enjoyed the story.
Who am I to keep people from reading something they might enjoy? Especially if the fact they bought it would help a friend of mine further their writing dream?
But…I’m not going to fib either. I’m not going to claim something is amazing when I growled about it.

THREE: THERE’S NOTHING REMARKABLE TO SAY

This is the one that I’ve decided is most prevalent for me (even though I’ve listed it third). Sometimes, I really like the book. It made me smile, laugh or tear up.

But when I finish, there’s nothing that stands out about it.

You can be sure it won’t get FIVE STARS in this case. But if I’m feeling warm and fuzzy, I’ll probably give it four stars. After all, all that means is that “I liked it” (on Amazon) and “I really liked it” (on Goodreads).
But if there’s nothing to SAY, why would I write a review?
If I give it a rating but not a review, you can most likely put it in this category. Unless the rating is three stars or less. And I really try NOT to give anything less than three stars.
Do you write book reviews? If not, why not? If so, what are your criteria?

Can I Learn from someone I Don’t Like?

 

In the world of writing, I’m a newbie. As far as expertise in the genre which I’m writing, I have none. For these reasons, I sought instruction from someone considered an authority in the genre of science fiction and fantasy: Orson Scott Card.

I purchased the book How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy over a year ago, shortly after I decided to write a young adult fantasy novel. Rave reviews and recommendations from writers I trusted spurred me to make the investment in this slim volume.

At that point, I hadn’t read a single book written my Mr. Card. It didn’t matter. As an instructor, he came highly recommended. As a writer, his long list of published novels, many of which were best sellers, and his numerous awards seemed like firm second opinions.

Then I read Pathfinder. It’s an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy (since the main character, Rigg, has a special ability). I enjoyed the story – right up until the end.

More recently, I read Ender’s Game. I noticed that Card used the same style of prefacing each chapter with a scene happening outside the main action as he had used in Pathfinder. They divulged information and motivation for the benefit of the reader. In that book, these scenes were actually things that happened in eons past that would eventually help the reader understand the conclusion of the book.

I surmise the purpose for these additions is three-fold: build tension, exposit backstory and offer information the protagonist doesn’t have.

I don’t care for this style of writing, especially not for young adults. I’ve worked with reluctant and struggling readers for the past seven years and this sort of writing confuses and frustrates them.

Okay, but Shari, isn’t that just a small percentage of the young adult population? You might be surprised to learn that according to findings presented by Scholastic only 50% of young adults claimed to read for pleasure. Percentages decline for 16-18 year olds (school work and extracurricular activities are peaking then).

Back from the statistical tangent: Orson Scott Card is surely an accomplished writer and an authority in his field. I haven’t been impressed with his fiction writing.

The How to Write book netted a slightly different response. Card freely shared his methods for finding ideas and nurturing them to the point where they can support a story. His insight into world building – essential for fantasy writers – helped me outline rules for the magic used in my current novels.

In short, Card taught me important things. If I had decided not to read his writing instructional manual because I didn’t care for a couple fiction stories he’d written, my writing would have suffered.

We can all think of experts we aren’t impressed with in one way or another. Why would the field of writing be any different? Any expert with the inclination to share their wealth of knowledge deserves our attention.

What are your experiences with this phenomenon? Have you ever been surprised to learn from someone who your preconceived notions tempted you to disregard?