To Review or Not?

As a writer and reader, I have more than a passing interest in book reviews. While some writers say they don't pay attention to reviews, that level of insouciance escapes me. I think it's a natural human tendency to be more than curious about what readers think of your work--good, bad, or in-between. I can barely imagine a writer who doesn't read reviews.

I'm not talking about reviews from trade publications such as Library Journal, Booklist Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus. They could be the subject of an entirely different piece. Rather, when asking the question "To Review or Not to Review" I'm referring to the millions of reviews posted by readers on internet sites such as Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Shelfari and others. These can be brief, telegraphic, one or two sentence entries, or long disquisitions about a book and its merits or shortcomings.

Yes, everyone without exception is entitled to an opinion about a book. But what about posting a review on an internet site? I think certain questions about such reviews are relevant.

I've seen reviews in which the reviewer states, "I couldn't get past the first few pages and put it down." He or she then gave the book a 1-star rating. Is this fair? Absolutely not.

It raises another question: should a reader have read the entire book before penning a review? I think the only fair answer is: Yes. To write a review of any book after having read only a few pages--or even half the book--is absurd. And it's colossally unfair to the writer as well as to the reader of the review. I think if someone cannot or does not finish a book, it is incumbent upon the reader not to review that book.

Another question comes to mind: should a person write a review if the book is not the reviewer's preferred genre? I think the answer is a qualified Yes. This is so, if at the outset of the critique, the reviewer states the book is not his or her favored genre. By establishing, "This is not my usual genre..." the review is set in context, giving the reader an idea of potential preference-bias, helping the reader evaluate the review's validity.

Should your review be a means by which you demonstrate snarky, scathing wit or sarcasm? In other words, is your review a put-down, stand-up routine? Is it a vitriolic screed? If so, you should not review the book.

Mark Rubinstein
Author of Mad Dog House, Love Gone Mad and The Foot Soldier