The Case for Negative Book Reviews
Debates abound about whether or not negative book reviews should be written. There are moves towards banning negative book reviews, while others believe in the value of negative book reviews.
In my opinion, negative book reviews are necessary. If a book is lacking, it serves no purpose to sing it high praises. It’s an insult to books that are good. Besides, people read book reviews to determine which books they would like to read. That endeavour would be a futile one if there weren’t any negative book reviews to make the truly good books shine with their positive reviews.
What Are Negative Book Reviews?
Negative, however must be defined for clarity’s sake. A negative book review doesn’t have to be full of negativity. It doesn’t have to be mean-spiritied, or tear apart a book. A negative book review is simply a book review of a book that a reviewer didn’t like, and thus didn’t rate highly. This is why when I must, I aim to write book reviews minus the negativity. In order to achieve that, I generally adhere to the following guidelines.
Guidelines for Negative Book Reviews
- Don’t attack the author. I think this one goes without saying but it’s also the most important one. If you didn’t like a book, and write things like, “The author is so dumb, my 5-year-old niece can write better plots.” It may be true that your niece is a literary genius but calling an author dumb will surely land you in hot waters.
- Don’t tweet at the author. You gave a book 1 star. That’s fine. What isn’t, is flaunting that fact right in the author’s face. If the author specifically asked for a review and you accepted, then yes, you do need to inform them. Otherwise, keep under the radar. There is no need to spoil an author’s day.
- Explain why you didn’t like the book. “It sucked,” is not an explanation. If the narrative didn’t flow, say so. If the characters were one-dimensional, then state that. If the setting was too fantastical for a contemporary book, note that down. After picking out these points, elaborate, where possible. Give examples, that support your point. But try to avoid spoilers, or mark them clearly. Even though you didn’t like a book, someone else might want to read that book after reading your review of it.
- Don’t exaggerate. Stick to the facts about the book. Say, the main character slept with two different people in the book. In your hypothetical review, don’t complain that the main character was a slut who slept with a million people and that’s why you hated it. Exaggeration makes the book sound worse than it really was, and puts your own credibility at risk.
- State clearly if you didn’t finish reading the book. There’s nothing wrong with writing a review about a book you didn’t finish. What’s not ok is to read a hundred pages, and then pretend you read the entire book. That’s not fair to the book, the author and to those who read your review. For all you know, whatever followed those hundred pages were much better but you didn’t stick around to find out. Review what you read, and make that clear.
- Note the context. Context sometimes makes a big difference. If an adult reviews a Middle Grade book, the opinion will be very different from that of a child. Someone who has never left their country, might enjoy a book about jet setting while an actual jet setter might be very unimpressed with the same book. In my case, I’m not the hugest fan of romance (not at the moment, at least), so whenever I don’t write a favourable review, I do mention my reading preferences for context.
- Try to pick out at least one positive point to lessen the blow. Unless a book is beyond redemption, there’s bound to be something good about it. Perhaps the characters are of diverse ethnic origins, or the description of the setting helped you imagine things that went on. If I really can’t find anything at all that I liked, then I either avoid snark, or talk about the circumstances under which I got hold of that book. Talking about how I acquired the book at least adds a couple of lines that aren’t bogged down by negative sentiments.