Reviews are fun to read and fun to write. I’ve actually written a couple of reviews for this blog. But there is an inherent problem with reviews. Perhaps this only happens to me (though I’m almost sure it happens to more people).
Sometimes, when I’ve run out of books that appeal to me, or the books I have on my ‘to read’ pile have little to do with what I feel like reading, I go to Amazon.com or Goodreads.com and I type ‘list’ and the genre I’m in the mood for. There’s always a list with a book that looks interesting. Reviews and other people’s likes and dislikes help me find something to read. Great.
The danger comes when I find a book, start reading and mid way through, I start reading reviews. This is what happens:
- I like the book I’m reading, but I feel there is something wrong/strange/peculiar about it.
- I go to find reviews on the book.
- I read the good reviews, but reviews are addictive, I can’t stop reading what other people think, it’s like reading gossip.
- I end up reading the bad reviews as well, and they kind of make sense. ‘Yes! Exactly!’ I think about the well mentioned point on the plot hole in chapter 6, or the main character’s lack of characterization, or the poor world building.
- Suddenly I realize the book I thought was pretty good, is just lying there while I’m left thinking: ‘Is it really that bad? I was liking it until now.’ But as hard as I try, I can no longer read it.
A New Focus
Why do reviews have such an effect on my reading? I think it’s because reviews make an enormous issue out of details that didn’t really matter that much to begin with, or at least didn’t matter at the level of reading pleasure. But once they’re mentioned I can’t stop focusing on them. The change of focus therefore influences my experience.
And I believe this happens to everyone. Say you’re walking down a path full of trees, and it’s beautiful, a meadow lies just beyond, there are cows and horses and you’re feeling like you just walked into a Wordsworth poem, sublime metaphors and all. Your friend who’s been walking silently besides you for the past half hour suddenly says, “God this is horrible, it’s warm, there are flies and there are cowpats everywhere, it stinks.” Suddenly you come crashing down from cloud nine to discover that what was just said makes sense, your scalp is burning and you forgot your SPF cream and the stagnant ditch water is just as disgusting as Suskind’s descriptions of Paris. See,how your focus changed? You were ignoring the bad and simply enjoying yourself. Only when your friend mentioned the bad did you see it and then that’s all you saw. Now you’re as miserable as your friend.
Succumb the Temptation
So, isn’t it better to see things in a positive way, read in a positive way? Let go of inconsistencies and faults and just enjoy the ride? ‘That sounds good,’ you might say, but how on earth do I go back to the positive when you’ve just seen the light (or in this case the dark)?
I don’t know, I suppose if you like a book well enough you might be able to ignore the bad reviews. My only advice is: if you’re not sure about a book, don’t, and I repeat, don’t read any reviews until you’ve finished the book. Enjoy the reading, form your own opinion about it, and then consider whether it’s worth reading the reviews. At least that’s what I try to do, even though I sometimes might succumb to temptation and read scathing reviews that make me put the book down.
So, has this ever happened to you?