Friday, August 17, 2012

Thoughts About How We Talk About Books

Okay, so I'm getting back into the land of the living. Sort of. Not really, since I'm back at work now. But hey, I just traded WriteOnCon for keyboarding instruction, except for the WOC attendees are so appreciative! (Thank you to all who came and participated!)

Anyway, today I wanted to talk about recommending books. First, several months ago, my friend Beth Revis did a post on the subjectivity of books. If you haven't read that, you should.

Second, I want to add to her post a little bit. She says that for all the things we might love, there's a lot of people who don't like them at all. She's right. (I might be the puppy-hater mentioned in her post...) It goes for books too.

But I want to extend it to the way we talk about books with others, either online or in person. Whenever someone asks me if I liked a book I didn't particularly love, I tell them they should try it. Because, really, not everyone is going to dislike what I dislike. Just not everyone likes what I like.

I think it's fine to rate books, and discuss them, and leave reviews (good or bad). In fact, as an author, I highly recommend doing just that!

But I think it's dangerous to tell people not to buy a book because you, personally, don't think it's good. I think there's a better way to talk about books, either online or in person, perhaps by saying what you didn't like, specifically, about the book. Then the reader considering a particular title can decide for themselves if those things turn them off too. 


I think it's more beneficial to encourage readers to read books and add their opinion to the discussion. 

What do you think? 

28 comments:

Julie Daines said...

I think this is so true. So often we get caught up in the attitude that our opinion is the only one that matters. Book tastes vary widely--thank goodness--and we need to be careful how we express our opinions. Even if we don't love a particular book, we can still find something positive to say about it.

Barbara Watson said...

Your last sentence really sums it up just right because we all do have different takes on what we read. Discussions about books can lead to so much more than simply discussing the books. Perhaps that's why I love teaching English. :-)

Shannon said...

I totally agree with you on this! Just because I like a book...movie...or anything for that matter, doesn't mean someone else will like it. And even though I may dislike something, it doesn't mean they will too.

Tom M Franklin said...

I'll agree... up to a point.

If I'm not the target audience, I'm more than willing to hold back on my opinion if someone asks. In fact, I usually ask tell them I'd really like to discuss the book with them after they read it to get their take on it.

However, if a book is just badly written or makes me angry at how poorly the subject matter was handled (and, yes, I feel that passionately about books) I will tell someone exactly how I feel about the book.

I am, of course, equally as passionate about books that have impressed the bejeebers out of me.

I'm all for encouraging reading, but why shouldn't we be honest about our negative feelings about some books if we're being honest about the positives?

-- Tom

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I try to only review or rate books I liked. If I'm not going to give it a three to five stars, I leave it alone. Someone else might like what I don't, and it's not fair to discourage them from picking it up. Some people like spinach and some don't, but we wouldn't protest against spinach, would we?
I also tend to accent the positive in my reviews. Once again, not everyone will agree on the things I didn't care for, so I don't make a big deal of that.

And P.S. thank you for being you and sharing so much with other people. WriteOnCon was amazing again this year. I almost didn't come due to several traumatic events in my life, but I thought I'd take a peek and then I thought I'd just put up some little thing in the forum and then I got fully involved. It was the best thing for me.

E. Arroyo said...

I wouldn't be able to finish a book I didn't like. Yes, I have some piling away somewhere. But I agree. It is subjective and everyone has different tastes. Something to think about.

S.P. Bowers said...

Agree. I would never tell anyone not to buy or read a book. Unless there are strong moral objections and I know the person well enough to know it would not be a good situation. If asked I will give an honest opinion of how it affected me but I let them make their own choices.

Angela Ackerman said...

Ugh, I don't know why anyone would go out of their way to tell people NOT to buy a book. Reading is so subjective. I won't always like what you do, and vice versa. This has nothing to do with the book, just one's taste. :)

If books get people reading, that's all that matters. :)

Hope your summer was great Elana--I'm sure your students are happy to have you back to themselves!

Angela

Jennifer Hoffine said...

You're right...as agents are fond of saying in form letters, publishing/writing/books is/are so subjective.

As a would-be author I find it hard to say anything bad online. I will say if I loved something or it surprised me in some good way, but with the liked/okay/ or didn't like ones, I'm more likely to just summarize them on my blog.

However a blogger chooses to do it, you're right, it should always be clear that it's just their opinion.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I so agree. I'm really into just saying positive things about books. If I can't say anything positive, I try not to say anything. And what we like and don't like is so subjective. My opinion is just mine.

Jemi Fraser said...

Agreed. We all have different tastes & that's what makes it fun and intersesting. There are a lot of books out there I won't enjoy, but that doesn't make them bad books - just not for me. I would hope no one would have the exact same taste as me - that would be icky!

The Golden Eagle said...

I agree that specifically telling someone they shouldn't buy a book--particularly if there is no explanation--is not a good idea.

Cathy Keaton said...

Yeah, telling people not to read a book is a bit like trying to take away their freedoms. If you spell out in a review all the things that you don't like about the book, that should be enough for anyone to make the decision to read or not read it, on their own. Even encouraging others to read it is fine because no two people are always going to have the same opinion on any given book.

Angela Brown said...

When I talk about books at my blog, or maybe do a Me, Myself and I discussion, I tend to mention things I liked or didn't like in regards to my perspective. I also mention who the target audience is or who a book will appeal to and encourage people to check it for themselves.

I've come to realize there are some books - like other things in life - that I love and others will just hate it. Vice versa can happen. But to tell someone NOT to buy a book just doesn't work well for me. Maybe it's because I'm a writer and I wouldn't take issue with someone not liking my book. Maybe want to crawl under a rock and cry my eyes out, but that would be their opinion to dislike my book and they're entitled to it. But others around them are also entitled to a chance to form their own opinion and that's just a had thing when someone's screaming "don't buy...blah, blah, blah." Oddly, people actually can think for themselves.

Carolin said...

I agree. It's like it is with everything in life. Everyone has their own taste and likes and dislikes. What one person finds amazing, could be completely dull to someone else. That doesn't mean that the book is bad, it just means that it's not mine. It's a subjective business.

Even when someone tells me that a book sucks or they didn't like it, if I really wanted to read it, I'll read it anyway to form my own opinion. But I know a lot of people will take someone's opinion for granted and not think that way.

Great post, Elana! :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I quit reading reviews because I find people will bash a book I love, and if I had listened to them, I would have missed out on a great book. I listen to those friends of mine who have similar taste to me. I NEVER let a review influence my decision to read a book.

I've never seen anyone tell people not to buy a book in the review. That's a strange thing to do. I guess I've never heard that it's all subjective.

Sarah Ahiers said...

i think you are spot on, good lady. (also, i definitely thought you were the puppy hater ;) )
I'm always very careful to make sure that if i tell someone i didn't care for a book, to let them know that it is my opinion alone and their mileage may vary. Hell, i don't even love the same books that my identical twin sister loves, and our tastes are, as mentioned, nearly identical so if even we don't see eye to eye on all things, then no way everyone else will.

Kelly Hashway said...

When I review a book I'm not crazy about, I focus on what I did like. Just because something isn't for me, doesn't mean it's not for a whole lot of other people. I don't want my tastes to sway anyone else. Unless I love a book. Then I gush and tell everyone to buy it. Otherwise, I focus on the positive and let my blog readers decide for themselves.

I'll add that I never say I hated a book. I would never disrespect another writer like that.

Theresa Milstein said...

Yeah, I don't think we should be telling people not to buy books. Even books I thought were mediocre have sometime had an aspect that has inspired my own writing. An example is XVI. Not a favorite of mine, but the idea of a society that sexualizes women to such an extent sparked an idea for a dystopian short story I wrote that's getting published this year. All books stay with us and influence us in some way.

I try to keep strong opinions to myself, unless it's a hugely successful author who is probably not going to see or care about my opinion. But I do try to be honest, balancing the positive with the negative.

Lisa and Laura said...

This is spot on. Like everything else in life, our tastes differ so much. I think it's so much more interesting for people to read the same book and talk about it than to be turned off by a book all together. That's what makes book clubs so much fun to be a part of!

Liesel K Hill said...

Awesome point! I totally agree with you! I often see book bloggers say they will be honest in their reviews and say if they don't like it. While I don't disagree with honesty, I always feel guilty giving someone a bad review. I think simply saying it wasn't for you but others should try it out themselves is a great happy medium! Go you! :D

Heather said...

I completely agree! Opinions are so subjective that we never know what one person may like and another may not. I'm like you, I never tell someone not to read a book just because I didn't like it, because you never know.

Jessie Humphries said...

I think this is great advice. Especially online, it's never cool to talk negatively. I like to stick to finding things I do like. I don't need any enemies!

Jenny S. Morris said...

I try to do this. I point out the I liked and mention what I didn't but try to make sure I let them know it was my own taste that made me not like it.

Stephanie Keyes said...

I absolutely agree. Books are a personal experience between the reader and the words. If the experience wasn't what one reader hoped for, it might meet the expectations of another. Nice post!

Alice said...

Excellent advice!

Valerie Ipson said...

I think this is great advice. Out of respect for authors who put their heart and soul into a manuscript, they all deserve a chance.

Grace said...

I agree with Tom M. Franklin. When I read reviews I'm looking for someone honest who will tell me one book is more accomplished in its crafting, characterization and story than another - otherwise it's not a true review and we're wasting our time writing and reading it. Once you throw yourself into the big publishing shark pool you've got to be ready to be judged, it's part of the thrill and the challenge. If we're all 'good' it gets pretty bland.

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