Once a month, I post a book review here on the blog. (See the latest one here) I’ve found that reviewing books not only helps other readers; it also benefits me. It’s the incentive I need to put my thoughts into words and process them properly.
In doing so, I want to be respectful to the authors of the books in question. I’m only beginning to explore what this means in practical terms, but here are some reflections from a beginner reviewer:
If my reviews are to be honorable, I will not confuse the quality of the author’s writing with their worth as a person
In a full-blown discussion with my dear friend, Hosanna, following her blog post, Bookish Thoughts | Discussion, we talked about book reviews. We agreed that neither of us wants to “be harsh” on authors, even if we dislike their book. This is particularly true regarding writers who are yet young and aspiring. As Hosanna pointed out, even if I dislike a book, the author still poured hours into it.
At this point, I’m referring to the quality of the writing itself. When it comes to moral and spiritual themes, the picture becomes more complicated. Different people have different convictions. But the actual quality of writing has nothing to do with the worth of the author as a person.
This was my dilemma when reviewing Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. I “discovered” the author when he messaged me online to encourage me as an aspiring novelist. For that alone, he seemed like a very delightful person. As a way of showing my appreciation and returning the thought, I got his books.
However, the beginning didn’t hook me. No part of the book hooked me, honestly. I felt distant from the plot. I felt like I didn’t relate to the characters. A few descriptions stood out to me as beautiful and enticing, but they were rather the exception.
I dreaded writing the review. I thought I would have to choose: (1) be honest for the sake of the readers who would browse the reviews , or (2) be kind for the sake of the author. And to be honest, my first attempt was poor. I rated the book four out of five stars, but I didn’t have convincing or heartfelt words to back it up.
Now I wonder if there’s a way to be both at once. I think a large part of it has to do with the mindset as the writer of the review. If, in my mind, poor quality writing means a lesser person, then one way or another it will show in the review. But if it’s clear in my head and heart – if I truly understand that a person isn’t the quality of their writing – then I won’t have to compromise kindness or honesty.
I don’t believe that’s all there is to writing an honest and kind review about a book I didn’t enjoy, but it’s all I’ll write in this post. For now, the important thing is:
To authors: your worth is defined not by what you create, but by Who created you. If you don’t already, please find your complete worth in God as your Creator and Redeemer.
To reviewers: when reviewing a book that you didn’t like on the basis of its quality of writing, you don’t have to forfeit honesty for the sake of kindness or vice versa.
To readers: take book reviews for what they’re worth; no more, no less.
- To say reviewers should seek to know what is honesty and what is offensive is one thing, to do it is another. How can reviewers be respectful of the authors of a book they didn’t like?
- Do you review books? Why don’t you share with me and your fellow readers where we can find your reviews?
- How does the significance of our words affect various areas of our life?
- How can you build up your favorite authors? How can you build up authors who aren’t your favorite?
Resources for deeper digging
Psst! For more on:
- Book reviews by the hundreds: I recommend Goodreads.
- An example of a negative but respectful book review: I was impressed by Emily’s review of Story Genius.