Honestly, today’s discussion is pretty straightforward and can be boiled down into one phrase (at the end, of course), but I still feel the need to emphasize certain points for any person who reads reviews.
There’s a whole entire community (aka the book community) dedicated to books and also reviewing books and reading reviews. And this post is for the average layperson (not the publishing professionals or authors) who reads reviews from some of their favorite book bloggers, bookstagrammers, booktubers, etc.
Because sometimes I feel like we fall into the mob mentality or put too much weight on one person’s opinion, and this can be harmful in taking the spotlight off of the real issue, and potentially bringing unwarranted negative attention to books who don’t actually deserve it (although in most cases, it is warranted).
The Mob Mentality
I mean, Book Twitter is awesome at times, but I also feel like it can fall into really big spirals of focus on one particular thing, and not really look at many other opinions.
For instance, the piracy discussion of July 2018–most of the conversations on authors’ profiles were US focused and very oriented to that specific group of people, despite INTL bookworms’ protest.
Or, when Handbook for Mortals debuted at #1 on the NYT Bestseller’s list last August–we fixated on Lani Sarem and her novel and what her motivations could have been, but didn’t really give a huge amount of time to hearing her side (but it does seem that the evidence points against her).
Or the soap dick extravaganza of a week ago–so many people focused on the soap dick included in a clearly labeled NSFW box (although putting that in places is not a good idea, as the label states) and not on the more pressing issue of unlicensed fanfiction being sold.
There are so many awesome people on Book Twitter, but take things with a grain of salt. We can get a little crazy at times.
I hope that readers on Twitter acknowledge while problematic things can definitely seem to happen in and out of books, it is good to take a little time and look at both sides before jumping on the bandwagon to bash a book or someone.
Usually, outrage is pretty valid, but it doesn’t hurt to give something a few minutes of contemplation and really look at the available facts and multiple opinions.
Which brings us to…
Championing One Reviewer’s Word as Law
People have different opinions on books. I think the best example of this is looking at what happened with Laurie Forest’s The Black Witch.
Initially, the reviews for it were pretty high–Ben Alderson (on YouTube & founder of Oftomes Publishing) and others really liked it, but then after Shauna’s review came out (detailing passages with unsavory lines), he and others removed his review and people on multiple platforms pointed to Shauna’s review, leading them to flock to Goodreads to 1 star the book.
And the point of this post isn’t to bash on the practice of rating books you haven’t read (that I talk about in my Math Lesson on the 5-star 1-star cycle of rating wars on Goodreads), but I think it’s noteworthy to look at how one review can bring all of the giant spotlights to a book very few people have read.
And though I feel Shauna’s points are pretty accurate (although possibly somewhat written to anger), the giant influx of 1-stars from people who hadn’t read the book seemed pretty extreme.
I feel like it’s important to not take one reviewer’s word as law, especially for a book that isn’t out yet and that you haven’t read. And although in the case of The Black Witch, ended up being quite justified & agreed with by multiple people who did read the book, it still conveys the message that we need to look at what multiple people have to say.
Especially #OwnVoices reviewers, because #OwnVoices reviews can give more insight on their own culture! But also know that #OwnVoices reviewers can disagree; i.e. I loved The Bird and the Blade, but I know other #OwnVoices people who were very unhappy with how the book ended. And both of our opinions are valid and it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to read.
And this doesn’t just apply to books with huge controversies, but books you encounter day-to-day, too. It’s good to be aware about these things and I think reviews are crucial in understanding whether or not you want to read a book.
But, to you out there who read reviews, every reviewer and reader is different and they all experience books differently. You experience books differently than they do. And what they hate might be something you love.
It’s good to find reviewers who share reading preferences with you (as seen by the “Compare Books” function on Goodreads) to help find a group of reviewers to follow who will provide book recommendations that you’ll probably like.
But it’s also good to read reviews from people who have differing opinions so you can gain insight to potential new reads. You never know–what that reviewer might say they hated in a book might be something you actually like in a book.
So, the whole point of this is to say
Don’t take one person/reviewer’s word as law. Look at as many opinions as you can before making your judgement.
I hope everyone who reads reviews can get the most out of their review-reading experience by looking at multiple opinions and using these to determine whether or not a book is right for them, or whether or not a book will be triggering, or whether or not a book is problematic.
It can help you find new reads you never thought you’d pick up, and also make educated decisions on what not to read and what to read! Life is too short to struggle through bad books, and this is just one way you might be able to streamline your TBR to hopefully be filled with books you love.