The Good. the Bad and the Ugly, by Shane Joseph

I review books, and have a few hundred posted in the public domain. Of late, I have resorted to writing reviews only of the books I like and politely turn away many that I don’t, author notwithstanding. Why? Because reviews sell books, I’m told. But what I have experienced is that while good reviews do not necessarily sell books, a bad review by a respected reviewer can stop a book in its tracks.  And I do not want to hurt anyone’s career, unless they are established writers now resorting to writing junk and riding on their fame, and who are in dire need of a wake-up call.

It is important to understand the reviewer’s background and agenda before submitting a book for review. We all have limited experiences, and our backgrounds colour our views on the world and how we respond to literature. Different reviewers from different backgrounds and with different levels and types of education may review the same book differently.

 Why do we write reviews? Like me, to remember what we have read so we can refer back to our review in conversation? To enter the literary debate and provoke discussion? To make a name for ourselves, particularly in this social media universe where we have to publish frequently in order to stay relevant? To take a power trip and destroy writers that have made it through sheer luck and influence while our own literary ambitions have languished due to a different combination of luck and influence?  To have followers and admirers who pick their books based on our comments? For money, even though there isn’t much there anymore? To extend the maxim of, “those who cannot do, teach” – thus, “those who cannot create, criticize”? Perhaps it’s due to a combination of all the above.

Once a book is in the public domain, a raft of vested interests descend upon it: publicists who gather supporters to write nothing but glowing reviews; sycophantic fans of a popular writer who cannot say anything bad and can quickly flood a Goodreads or Amazon posting with plaudits, making a critical review look out of place; the vengeful reviewer, who says nasty things with no means of backing it up but who serves to create doubt in the minds of neutral readers looking for a good read. Some authors even create alter-ego reviewers to review their books and post the most spellbinding reviews of their own work –- it has a neutralizing effect on all those bad reviewers and may place an invisible “cease and desist” order on them.

A book is an argument between a writer and a reader that the latter can never hope to win. And a review is the opposite; the writer cannot win, especially when faced with a negative review. I have often believed that it is better to have one’s book read widely than to have it reviewed widely, for the wider you cast the review net, the easier it is to catch one of those reviewer types I have described above.  And yet, the current trend is to gather as many reviews as possible because the number of reviews seems to correlate with the number of books sold. And while that wisdom may hold true in some cases, quantity does not always reflect quality.

Despite the cautions listed above, the book review remains a clear example of a reader’s total engagement with a book, and if done right, can be a source of encouragement, feedback, and sanction to the author and to other readers.

By startupphotos from pixabay

3 thoughts on “The Good. the Bad and the Ugly, by Shane Joseph”

  1. A thoughtful and insightful post on a topic that seems ubiquitous but isn’t often explored in this way. Thank you for it. I also appreciate your generosity in not publishing negative reviews.

    An added note: In the days of Amazon, book reviews ain’t what they used to be. Now we have 1) ratings 2) comments and 3) full reviews, which are now very few, by comparison. As an author, I value all three, as long as the person has actually read the book and isn’t just writing to throw stones.

    Most people didn’t go to book-review school (I certainly didn’t) and I know that when I read a book, my immediate response isn’t to write a critical treatise about it. But if a person can mention one thing that worked and one thing that needed work, I am grateful.


  2. Thanks for your comments, Cynthia. I recently posted a “full review ” simultaneously on Amazon and Goodreads (both are owned by the same company). It was a book by Philip Roth, and I quoted noteworthy sections from it to make my points. Amazon did not publish the review as it was considered “against community standards” while Goodreads published it in its entirety. One wonders whether freedom of expression is giving way to marketing imperatives

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for writing this. I, too, some time ago, decided I would only review books I felt positive about. My decision came after the following incident.
    Decades ago now, I guess, I was writing reviews for a small literary magazine, the editor sending me books to review and, as I recall, there was a small remuneration involved. After I had completed a number of reviews and was feeling positive about the whole thing, the editor sent me a poetry book I thought to be so poorly crafted with no redeeming aspects I could find, that I was at a loss to know what to do.
    Thankfully, I had recently read an article by Margaret Atwood who said she would not review a book she felt was badly written. Her reasons were that anyone who managed to get a book accepted by a publisher and published had gone through extensive work not only writing the manuscript but also working through revisions etc. She said she knew how difficult and time-consuming it all was. If she didn’t find a particular book worthy, perhaps another writer/reviewer would.
    I though this to be a fine justification for not reviewing the book and sent it back with an abridged version of her comments. The editor replied that he detested Margaret Atwood and anything she wrote and felt her comments carried no weight in my decision! Needless to say, that was the end of my reviewing career with that magazine.
    I have continued to hold this as my reason for not reviewing a given book.

    Liked by 1 person

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