On Reviewing the Book, Not the Author as a Person

Dearest readers,

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.

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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.

Comment bellow

  • 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.


 

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6 thoughts on “On Reviewing the Book, Not the Author as a Person

  1. I really appreciate your thoughts as a reader, reviewer, and author myself. I do try to avoid leaving negative reviews as much as possible. Even so, there are occasions when it is absolutely necessary. 😦 I find it even harder to accept negative reviews as an author. It is very easy to become discouraged when someone says how much they disliked your book. However, I have also been blessed by critical but loving reviews. A young lady whom I greatly respect left a review mentioning some things that I could have done better, however she said it in love. THAT makes all the difference. 🙂 Though it might have nudged my pride (Lol), it helped me as an author and made me see her kindness. ♥ That is partly why I try to do my best to be loving in all my reviews as well. 🙂

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    1. It’s true; when a person pours so much of their time and thought into a piece of work, it can become so precious to them. And perhaps I’m not even in the right place to publish my thoughts about negative book reviews yet as all the reviews I’ve ever received about my works-in-progress are mostly positive or at least kindly negative. (This isn’t because my writing is fantastic, it’s just because I’m still so new and very few people have even read it at all!)

      On what occasions, do you think, is it absolutely necessary to leave a negative review? What place do you think the quality of the writing (as opposed to the themes/morals/messages of the book) has in a book review.

      “Critical but loving reviews” – well-put! That’s just what I want to write. 🙂

      Thanks for your lovely comment, my friend. I hope you know that I ALWAYS love to hear from you. ❤

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      1. Hmm…tough question there. 😉 I definitely leave negative reviews if a book is full of adult content, bad language, etc. But how much do we base off the quality of the writing? Well, I suppose the plot plays the main role. I have read books that seemed to have had no sense of plot…thus I gave them low reviews. It’s harder to base a bad review off of simply an uncomfortable or confusing writing style…but sometimes it is necessary. There have been books that didn’t make sense to me because of a lack of a smooth writing style.
        I’m not sure my thoughts were very helpful, but those are some of the qualities that will make me leave a negative review. 🙂 What about you?

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  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, Jordy! It’s hard for me to leave negative reviews, especially for pieces that I really wanted to like, but just didn’t. On the other hand, I really appreciate when others give their true opinions on things (especially on my own work!) Of course, no one wants their work criticized, but to a certain degree, most authors do appreciate it. The key is, like you said, to speak the truth in love! That applies to so many areas. 🙂
    And I’m also honored that you thought my book review was respectable! I had a bit of a hard time writing it, but I’m glad it came across the right way, Thanks for the encouragement! ♥

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    1. It’s true. I also sometimes start a book wanting to like it, as you say. I think I sometimes even try to like it, if there’s such a thing. I hadn’t thought about it like that before.

      For sure! Your book review was inspiration to me!

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  3. I feel your struggle here, Jordy! I normally shy away from writing negative reviews – I might give a book a low rating on goodreads, but I don’t often write out my thoughts about it.

    Except regarding questionable content, I find it helpful to remember that everyone’s tastes are different. I may not have enjoyed a book, but someone else might have loved it. Others think it dragged; I liked the slower pace. Even different writing styles capture the attention of different people. So unless there’s actually something wrong with a book, or I feel strongly about a particular aspect, I prefer to say it just wasn’t for me. Hopefully that comes across kindly toward the author.. I’d be interested in hearing from you authors though – what do you appreciate most in a book review?

    And thanks for sharing this post and getting this discussion started, Jordy! 🙂

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