On Reading, Enjoyment and Positive Reviews

In a recent review Hiu posted, he mentioned how he was on a good books streak and how he worried about being complimentary of a lot of works in a row. I found it amusing because it echoed my own preoccupations about my reviews. I’m currently halfway through a book I am enjoying very much, after finishing one I loved, and instead of thanking the Gods of Reading, I am thinking that two five stars in a row might feel disingenuous.

What if I cheapened the sanctity of the Holy Five Stars? What if I overdrafted my monthly “gush” credit? What if I was being the Girl Who Cried “Great Book”?

I am being facetious, but in essence, these are real questions I ask myself. I wonder if I shouldn’t be more critical; take a step back and maybe inject more fairness into the explosion of superlatives.

I have to be clear: I am not saying that negative reviews are bad, or that not liking something is bad, or that one shouldn’t write rant-y, raging feedback. I do believe that being polite about it is preferable (a belief I’ve been holding ever since I discovered that Authors Are Humans Beings With Feelings Too), but a harsh review serves an important purpose as well. That’s not what I am talking about. I am addressing the pervasive idea, one I have obviously internalised in some form, that unbridled enthusiasm is insincere at best.

I am not a professional reviewer. My process for books I thoroughly enjoyed is basically an exercise in putting words on the feeling of post-amazing-read high. In general, I try my best to articulate what is it that worked for me, and make clear that some elements might not be to everybody’s liking. But my goal is never to provide an accurate, analytical overview. I don’t have the skills, training, or frankly, the inclination to do that. For the stories I liked, the goal is to get them into your to-read list. As simple as that. The blog is the natural continuity of my habit of trying to make my friends read the books I love.

Of course, there is always this nagging thought: what if I recommend something that ends up being disliked? But I have picked up books based on recommendations that were ravingly positive, and I have put them aside because they weren’t a good fit. It happens; the unwritten disclaimer before any rating is that not every story is for everyone.

I don’t think I’ll ever manage to make my reviews “objective”; there will always be this excitement bubbling underneath every 5-star read. But it is 100% sincere. Just as I wouldn’t manufacture a blasé attitude towards a book I loved, I wouldn’t lie about my enjoyment of it. If I rave, it means I want people to read it and come be ridiculously giddy with me. That has always been the second part of the twofold pleasure of a good story; first you read it and love it, then you get to make people read it and love it as well.

4 comments

  1. I don’t see the problem. If you love a book then give it 5 stars. I like what I like and reviews have very little influence on what I read as not everyone loves the same kinds of stories. What draws me to a book is the cover and the blurb, not reviews. I know a lot of people follow reviews, but I take them with a grain of salt. I have read good and bad reviews of books I’ve read and loved, so to each their own as far as stories go. So, keep doing what you do and if someone likes the books, that’s great, but if they don’t, don’t fret, as you will have reached someone that will enjoy the same books as much as you do.

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  2. True, true, but in the end, reviews are 100% subjective. I read for pleasure, so I pick books that I think I will enjoy, and because I enjoy them, I usually give them a higher rating. Whereas books that I DNF or that I don’t like, don’t get the higher rating. Most of the books I review (on my blog) are 3-5 stars.

    I don’t worry about what people think if you post too many 5-star reviews. That just means you are enjoying what you read, unlike the crazy reviews who always seem to be posting the low reviews. I want to ask them – why read if you’re only looking for problems? You know? Meh.

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  3. I responded to you on Twitter, but I’ll reiterate here:

    My TBR pile always consists of books that I really want to read. I usually do my research before picking up a book — whether it’s by good word of mouth, or a sequel to a series I’m reading, or an author I enjoy or hear great things about — so I usually end up really enjoying 90% of the books that I read.

    I started doing this because I’m a bit of a “book pusher” — when I find something I like, I want to share it with everyone I know, and nag them until they read it too. I figured writing reviews is the easiest way to do that. Now that I post my reviews on a reputable blog, I do feel a bit of a guilt trip for posting ten review in a row that are 7.5 or higher, but then I realize I don’t care if other people think I don’t have varying taste — I’m just taking advantage of so many awesome books that keep coming out.

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    • Yes, that’s pretty much my process as well! I don’t start reading books I’m not certain I will enjoy, and I DNF easily, so my read list is full of 4 and 5 stars.

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