Reviewing, Part 4: What to do if you hate the book

English: Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade...

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It happens.  Every once in a while, maybe more often, you just don’t like the thing you are reviewing.  For me that’s mostly fiction and film, in all its forms.  But it could just as easily be a restaurant, a product, or a service.  This is one of the reasons that reviewers try to maintain a subjective distance between themselves and the entity that owns the thing being reviewed.  In the case of books we are talking authors and publishers, in film it’s actors and directors, in food it’s the chef and the owner of the establishment.  In most cases you are going to make a number of individuals unhappy so it’s best if you are not friends with them.  This can be very difficult, especially as time goes by.  So, what do you do?

An editor friend of mine, who published first a print magazine and later an electronic one, did not like negative reviews.  Not that he was worried about making people angry, because even positive reviews can do that, but because he wanted the publication to be positive rather than negative.  When I had a review of a book I did not care for I would need to find another venue for it.  Oddly enough when I reviewed film for him he was okay with my ravaging and savaging away.  The difference was that the film reviews, in this case reviews of recently released dvds, were done with a fairly heavy dose of humor–the kind of humor that is fairly self deprecating so while you were pretty sure the work being reviewed was pretty stinky you were also pretty sure that the review voice was quite a bit off as well.  For examples of this Google “Damn Alien Dvds”.

But, if you are going to be funny, you better really be funny.

Basically you have four choices:  You can decide to just not do the review; you can decide to do the review but leave out your opinion (cover the facts, cover the plot, cover the author); you can review in context (essentially doing the second but adding your own opinion and explaining why), or you can go full out and deal with what you thought the problems were.

Regardless of which option you choose you should be very clear about your own biases.  Perhaps you hate stories that hinge on cute animals and halfway through the book the plot hinges on a cute animal.  It’s important to know that this is the reason for your dislike.  And, if you are going to do a review you should make the statement that this is the reason. No matter what, you need to clearly state your reasons for not liking the work.

The reader of the review is going to be interested in knowing what happened between your picking up the book (surely you don’t read or watch things you know you are going to dislike, right?) and your discovering that it just wasn’t doing it for you.  Before the reader can know you need to know.  So, reviewing does require some self knowledge and insight.  And the honest reviewer has no problem sharing that insight with the reader.  Just don’t go off on a psychological tangent.  No one needs to know that your problem with cute animals stems from what your mother did to your teddy when you were seven.

How do you pull off doing a review of a thing you didn’t really care for?  I’m so glad you asked because I just so happened to have a book that I need to review that, it turns out, just didn’t work for me.  Check back in 3 or 4 days and you can see one example of how this very situation can be addressed.

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About damnaliens
Writer, reviewer, home provider to the Damnaliens

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