Why I No Longer Write Book Reviews

I’ve had some folks asking me lately why I don’t write book reviews anymore. The short answer is, “I’m lazy.” The long answer has to do with sensitive authors, Goodreads bullies, and my own strange mental categorization of the books I read.

You can read elsewhere about fake reviews, Goodreads bullies who gang up on authors just for fun, and petty author reactions to reviews, so I won’t talk much about that. The truth is, I’ve had little but positive experience writing reviews here on my blog. When I included David Anthony Durham’s Acacia on my list of fantasy novels I should read, he sent me a very nice note encouraging me to finish his book. (BTW, Mr. Durham, I finished it and it was fantastic!) My readers here are awesome, and you all generally engage in polite, thoughtful discussion of what I have to say. Go us.

So the truth is, my stubborn refusal to write book reviews, even on Goodreads, is due more to my own inability to distinguish between a good book and a great book, and my reluctance to publicly say, where the author can read it, “YOUR BOOK SUCKS OMG YOU SHOULD DIE IN A FIRE.” (Not that I would say it like that.)

Really, I just love books and authors. I rarely read a book I would rate below two stars, and I’m a voracious enough reader that I’ll plow through just about anything in a few days. (And then, once I’m done, I want to READ MOAR, not spend time navel-gazing about what I just read. I’m all about the instant gratification. So sue me.) Because of my attitude toward reading and writing (YES, MORE PLEASE!), I end up wondering how to distinguish between the books I adore and the books I just really loved.

How do you compare Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, which I read this summer and completely adored, with Tiffany Reisz’s The Mistress, which I just finished and could hardly stand to put down? One is a five-star book because the writing was flawless and the content practically life-changing, and one is a five-star book because I love the characters and the plot held me in its slobbery teeth for 400 pages. But even though I loved The Mistress, I just wouldn’t put it on the same shelf as The Dispossessed or Tigana or Possession or even Words of Radiance, all books whose honor I would protect with fisticuffs. And where the hell on the spectrum do Jane Austen’s books fall? How do I compare the books that are practically my Bible with anything else I’ve ever read?

I think I need a sixth star just for books that are so good, I hug them tenderly when I finish them.



Maybe I’m over-thinking it, but I really just can’t do it. I can’t distinguish between the love and REALLY SUPER LOVE.

Do you write book reviews? Do you use Goodreads? How do you rate books?

7 thoughts on “Why I No Longer Write Book Reviews

  1. I have started doing reviews more now. And I wrestled with what to say and how to say it and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I would freak out with all the thinking and second guessing, because authors do get hurt. So when I finish a book I ask myself a question. Did I like it? I go with my gut reaction. Then I figure out why I did or didn’t like it and post honest reviews with my opinions, stated as neutrally as possible. I think all opinions are valid. When you work in an art field, writing, painting, music… there will always be opinions. That’s the way art works. But, hey if you don’t want to review, don’t. It’s all good. Nice post!

  2. I was just discussing paid reviews with a few forumites. I slightly different subject, but just as hard to approach.

    I do write reviews. I find them very difficult. For the reasons you stated and also because I just have a hard time putting my thoughts about a book into a coherent state. But as Kathy Palm said, every opinion is valid, including my own! And sometimes I really want to tell folks about a good (or great) book I’ve just read. So, I write reviews.

    But if you don’t, that’s cool. They are time consuming.

  3. I value the institution of the review, but I agree completely with your assessment of the star system. I don’t think I’ve ever rated a book below 3 stars, actually, even when I didn’t particularly enjoy them. And 5 stars doesn’t begin to encompass the adoration I feel for certain books. And, as you say, there’s a whole other thought process for classics and personal favorite that utterly transcends “stars.”

    I haven’t written many reviews in a while, but it’s something I’d like to do more often. Even if it’s mostly a mental exercise, I think it’s good for me as a writer to think critically about what I do and don’t like about certain books.

    Great post!

  4. I do review books, on my own site, Goodreads and on a volunteer basis for organizations I belong to.

    On my own site, I only review books that I would recommend to others, usually only the ones I LOVE.

    On Goodreads I only star/review books I can give at least four stars to. That way, people can still see all the books I’ve read, but for the ones I don’t star, it’s up to them to guess whether I just liked it (three stars) or hated it (one star). I refuse to bash another author (as much as I may want to sometimes).

    Even if I have to admit that I a book wasn’t my cup of tea or could use editing (for an organizational review), I try to find something that fans of the series/genre/time period would like. I agree with Kim that neutrality is key, especially if you don’t like a book but don’t want to totally go off on it (which doesn’t really do anyone any good).

    One of the organizations I review for only accepts glowing reviews, which irritates me. As long as you’re not being unreasonable, I think being disappointed should be allowed, especially when you can make a rational case as to why. But I don’t make the rules.

  5. As soon as I noticed a certain “type” of person wrote a certain “type” of review, I kind of discounted the whole process. Truth is, when I am asked, I usually fake it so no one’s feelings get hurt. So what is the good of that? When I receive a good one, I can tell by their language they got what I wanted to say. Certain people just wouldn’t get it. Like me reviewing Stephen Hawking? And the negative reviews on the Goldfinch just make me wonder “WTF?” I would NEVER read it. And those reviewer cabals on Goodreads scare the hell out of me.

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