Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading, Read, To Read #34

First, I'd just like to thank everyone for nominating me for several different BBAW awards! It was a wonderful surprise. In semi-related (but not really) news, my blogoversary is only six days away. In some ways three years feels like forever, but in other ways not so much. I haven't decided how I'd like to celebrate yet.

Shannon Hale had a great post this week on rating books. She questions the importance of readers (and reviewers) rating books. "In my opinion, there are more interesting questions to ask myself after reading a book than what I would rate it." And "I wonder if we get so caught up in gushing or bashing, shining up those stars or taking them away, that the reading experience is weighed too heavily on the side of the book itself and not enough on the reader. After all, reader is more important than book. Reader is the one who changes from reading, not the book. Reader is the one who lives the magic of storytelling." She then asks her readers six questions.

While I've flirted with the idea of rating books--I went through a six or seven month period a year ago or so where I tried to consistently rate each book I reviewed on the blog--I've never been great at it. I think I've always realized that it's just too subjective. And that more often than not, ratings just get misconstrued anyway.

One of the questions--or half-questions--she asks is: What do you feel is your role as reviewer?

That's a tough question. The simplest approach is to say "Hey, this book is here, and this is what I thought." But it's more complicated than that. Part of me feels that what I personally like or doesn't like just doesn't matter all that much. Reading is just too subjective to only recommend books that I love, love, love. Part of me feels that my role should be about trying to capture what a book is about, what the author was trying to do with the book, trying to evaluate how a book fits (or doesn't fit) within a genre or subgenre, trying to let my readers know if this book could be a good match for them.

But it's impossible to remove the subjective experience completely. And I think there is some value to having it there within the review. Depending on your relationship with the blogger--if you're a loyal reader of a particular blog--it does matter whether a person likes a book or not. If you've established a trusting relationship, then it can be a deciding factor on whether or not you pick up a book. But it's important to keep in mind that negative and lukewarm reviews can encourage readers as well. There are times where the reviewer doesn't like it, but there is just enough there to make you curious. To make you say that you want to read it and see for yourself.

Putting myself in the role of reader (of reviews) I ask myself, "Is this a book I'd like to read?" I look for clues in the review. Clues loosely related to the question of "Why should I read this?" and "Is this book a good match for me?" And "Is this book worth my time?" Again this may be subjective, so different readers might look for different things, different answers within a review. What do you look for in a review?

Movies this week:

Scarlet Pimpernel, 1934 (my review)
The Buccaneers
Under the Greenwood Tree
The Three Musketeers, 1948 (again)

What I read in a previous week, but reviewed this week:

North Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson. 2009. Water Brook. 332 pages.
Absolutely, Positively Not... by David Larochelle. 2005. 219 pages.
The Siren Song by Anne Ursu. 2007. Simon & Schuster. 435 pages.
Sent by Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2009. Simon & Schuster. 313 pages.
The Secret Life of Prince Charming. Deb Caletti. Simon & Schuster. 322 pages.
Babymouse: The Musical (#10) by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. 2009. Random House. 96 pages.
Babymouse: Dragonslayer (#11) by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. 2009. Random House. 96 pages.

What I read this past week and reviewed:

Wilson and Miss Lovely by John Stadler. 2009.
I Don't Want To Go To School by Stephanie Blake. 2009. Random House.
Big Bear Hug. Nicholas Oldland. 2009. Kids Can Press.
Come Back Soon by Daniel Schallau. 2009. Houghton Mifflin.
Christian the Lion. Anthony Bourke and John Rendall. 2009. Henry Holt.
Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix. R.L. LaFevers. 2009. Houghton Mifflin. 138 pages.
Whirlwind by Cathy Marie Hake. 2008. Bethany House. 358 pages.
Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. 1608(ish).

What I read this past week and haven't reviewed yet:

The Tear Collector by Patrick Jones. 2009. Bloomsbury (Walker). 272 pages. (September 2009)
Hoppergrass. By Chris Carlton Brown. 2009. Henry Holt. 240 pages.
Never Cry Werewolf by Heather Davis. 2009. HarperCollins. 216 pages.

What I've read and really, really need to review:

Jumping Off Swings. Jo Knowles. 2009. Candlewick Press. 230 pages.
A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell. 2009. Scholastic. 273 pages.

What I'm currently reading:

The Immortal Fire by Anne Ursu
The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick
Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran
Fearless by Max Lucado
Opening Atlantis by Harry Turtledove
Ash by Malinda Lo

What I'm just fooling around that I'm reading:

Putting the Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

What I've abandoned:

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Alaine said...

Really interesting post Becky. I've also considered whether or not using ratings is justified for my blog. I have found that when reading some other blogs, there are times when the reviewer will use strong positive language, the book will sound great but they only give the book a 3 1/2. I find that really annoying when the reviewers words don't match the rating. Fortunately it doesn't happen very often.

Becky said...

That's why I've struggled with ratings. Because you can really like a book--love a book--but assigning a rating, a number, is really difficult if you expect it to stand the test of time. Would you rate a book differently a month from now, six months from now, a year from now. Will this really "great" book still be "great" in your eyes later on, or will you forget about it. Are you just caught up in the moment, or are you really in love with a book.

I've found ratings to be so subjective. I found myself changing my mind later on.

Also, I think--especially with the five point system--that there have to be variants. I don't know if that makes sense. But for a 5 to have any real meaning, there have to be twos, threes, and fours. If every single book you read you rate a five, how can there be any distinctions. How can anyone--yourself or your readers--know which books are really and truly the best of the best if they're all rated the same. So in my mind, fives should be used sparingly. But with Amazon and Goodreads, you almost feel compelled to give anything you liked a four or five.

So I've been guilty of rating books I really really liked a three or three-and-a-half simply because I don't think that they are the most wonderful, glorious, outstanding, one-of-a-kind incredible, must-read ever published.

Suko said...

Becky, I struggle with this same issue, and do NOT rate books with stars on my blog. I voted in your past survey and was surprised that so many people wanted you to rate books with stars. I even wish that Amazon did not require it for their customer reviews.

John Updike had some words of wisdom about writing book reviews, and said, among other things, that a reader should be trying to find out what the author's trying to say and what his or her intent truly is, and not just whether or not they "like" it. (Remember, too, that the author has spent a great deal of time and energy on his or her book--who am I to arbitrarily hand out stars?) Liking something is, of course, so incredibly subjective. Like you, I discuss the books I read and give readers an idea of what they're about and other information, some subjective and some not--but not a certain number of stars!

Many congrats on your nominations, Becky!

Melissa said...

A very thoughtful post, Becky. I'm a lot like you in what I look for in reviews: whether or not the blogger writing it actually enjoyed it, and then, how much, and whether or not I think it'd be something I would enjoy as well.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I've recently been doing a rating out of 100 system (like a grade, since I'm in school and I think in that mode). But I'm not really liking it. I don't have good criteria for what the number means, and it's hard for me to feel consistent when I judge books in different genres so differently.

In any case, I agree that the subjective part of the review is part of the value, especially when it comes to blogger reviews which, I think, benefit from some personality and that "I just loved it" sort of rating.