Weekly Geeks: Negative Reviews

WG Book Pile URL_thumb[3]Shannon Hale (author of Austenland and The Actor and the Housewife, as well as many other books) recently posted on her blog about reviewing books. Take a moment to go read her post, in which she talks about going beyond saying simply whether or not you liked a book when writing a review.

For this week’s Weekly Geeks, we challenge you to respond to the questions Ms. Hale asks in one of three ways.

1. Find a negative review that you have written. In your post, link to or include the original review and then rewrite it to answer these questions:

  • Why did you react negatively to the book?
  • What was it about the story or characters or style that hit you so strongly?
  • Are you reacting to any fears or insecurities?

2. Write a new review about a book you loved, keeping in mind these questions:

  • What was it about the story that resonated?
  • Would you have loved this book as much ten years ago? Five years ago?
  • Will you keep loving it in the future?
  • Where are you in your life that this is the story you wanted and needed?

3. At the end of her post, Ms. Hale posed six questions for those who review books on their blogs or other sites. Write a letter to Ms. Hale explaining your position on each of these questions, then return to her post and leave a comment with a link to your post. And remember her request to speak freely, but kindly and respectfully!

  • Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?
  • Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up?
  • Does knowing you’ll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place?
  • Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book?
  • What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world?
  • If you review a book but don’t rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer?

I decided to go with option #1.  I haven’t really posted any negative reviews on this blog, but the most recent bad review I gave a book was Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser.  It was a book that I anticipated enjoying because the subject matter was right up my alley and the book itself has gotten good reception.  Alas, I just kept hoping for the end and felt a big sense of relief once I finally made it.  Here is what I wrote about the book once I finished it.

I expected to enjoy this book–unfortunately my expectations were too high. Perhaps I had it coming, because I shouldn’t anticipate liking a book before I read it. I just wanted an rr1(fast food nation)expose on the fast food industry–all the disgusting tidbits they don’t want you to know. Instead it was mostly expounding on the issues of politics in the fast food industry, as well as an in depth look at raising cattle and chickens.

There were some portions that I found interesting–such as the chapter on flavor–but those were few and far between. I would recommend watching Supersize Me as opposed to reading this book.

  • Why did you react negatively to the book? Truthfully, I just found it boring.  I guess I expected more anecdotes.  I think in a non-fiction book, it is imperative the the author use literary tools to draw a reader in.  In Fast Food Nation, I think Schlosser failed at making the cold, hard facts come alive and grab the readers attention.
  • What was it about the story or characters or style that hit you so strongly? Since this book was non-fiction, there were no characters or plot.  This, in itself, is not a problem for me as I enjoy non-fiction a lot of the time.  However, I do think it is important for authors of non-fiction to create some sort of story to interest the reader, because a lot of non-fiction can be dry.  I think that there will be a much larger audience for non-fiction if the author is successful in creating an intriguing story.
  • Are you reacting to any fears or insecurities? That is a great question, considering the subject matter.  I LOVE fast food, despite a full knowledge of the negative side effects.  I began this book knowing full well that it would expose some truths to me that maybe I don’t want to know.  However, by the time I finished the book, my love for fast food hadn’t changed and I wasn’t really enlightened in any way compared to my mindset before I started the book, so I would have to say that fear didn’t have anything to do with my distaste for this book.

I’m interested to see how other weekly geekers chose to answer these questions.  Feel free to leave a comment with your link or an answer to any of the above questions!

7 Responses

  1. I think I read the WG wrong, because I ended up answering all of them!
    I haven’t read Fast Food Nation but you make some interesting points.
    Happy Weekly Geeks 🙂

  2. I like the honest review for FAST FOOD NATION… you have done two things with review – you have said why you didn’t like it rather that just toss out a I DID NOT LIKE IT and secondly you have given me an alternative to this book…

    So as compact as the review was I liked and I will definitely be buying this book – I have seen Supersize Me already…

    For the questions – I love your answers, I even had a little smirk at the last one..
    Great post and this wasn’t a negative review – honest – yes, but not negative…


  3. sometimes you have to wonder about the hype that surrounds the promotion of a book like this. You’ve struck a problem that I would rarely meet as I so rarely read non-fiction from cover to cover. I tend more to dip into this sort of book.

  4. That’s a good one 🙂 I’ve always wanted to read this book. I definitely agree, though, that authors of non-fiction really need to find a better way of interacting with their readers rather than write it as some sort of science textbook.

    Great answers 🙂

  5. I read Fast Food Nation long before I started blogging about my reads, I wonder how I would have written my review of it.

  6. I like that review!

    Great way of doing it.

    Weekly Geeks: Reviewing and rating

  7. I agree that non-fiction writers have to find a way to make the story come alive. For me a fact-heavy story-lacking piece of non-fiction is terrifyingly boring; but a good non-fiction work is better than the best fiction.

    My post is here.

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