Here’s the thing about book reviews


I’ve been reading book reviews lately… of books I’ve already read. I don’t like to read too much reviews on books I am going to read because I don’t like going into books with preconceived notions. For example, when I read Divergent I went into the story with a very critical eye. You know, an It can’t be that good, eye rolling kind of attitude. And I think that if I had just gone into the story as just another story I would’ve enjoyed it much more. 

I like to take notes when I read books. I like to write down interesting and inspiring quotes. I like to comment on characters and situations, even if I’m the only one reading the comments. Sometimes, though, I close the notebook, put down the pen and just read. It’s a different experience, you know?

So I read The Book Thief last week. (I spell thief wrong every single time I type it. Good ol’ spell check.) I finished the book in a couple very tearful hours Saturday morning. At the end I was an emotional wreck. I mean, it’s an emotional book! People die. Beloved people die. And almost more heart-wrenching, some people don’t die and they get to live without the people who did. 

But the many deaths (it’s set during World War II, so I feel like mentioning the fact that there are multiple deaths isn’t much of a spoiler alert) weren’t the only ones responsible for my state of emotional messiness. The book thief’s Papa just reminded me so much of my own Papa and for some reason that wrecked me. Tears and snot all over my shirt wrecked me. I finished the book twenty minutes ago and I am still crying wrecked me. So I wrote my dad a letter – sobbing the entire time and that put me back together again. 

So today I decided that while I was hanging out at Goodreads I’d check out what other people thought about The Book Thief

Which was a bad idea.

Because some people hated it.

And for a book that wrecked me, that really fires me up in the worst way. 

There were so many things I loved about this book. I love that the author seemed so far away, that through the narrator I feel like I was gazing down from above on these characters as they lived out their lives. I loved the use of colors and senses – I could feel the cold air coming through the window in the library. I loved the characters and the time spans and the jumps and the scrapes and the family. I loved the words and the sentences and the phrases and the paragraphs. I loved the dictionary entries (loved them!) and the interjections. 

In the few negative reviews I read, each of these things were criticized. And strangely enough, my first reaction to those reviews is to get defensive. My second reaction is to doubt myself. Maybe I don’t know what a good book is! Maybe I’m an idiot and couldn’t recognize “good” writing if it were written across my face and I were standing in front of a mirror. Maybe the characters weren’t well written! Maybe the narrator was an intrusion!

Isn’t that silly? As if another person’s opinion on a book I’ve already finished could change how said book made me feel. As if someone else’s opinions and thoughts and feelings negate my own. As if this person on the internet is the end-all, be-all, say-all, review-all of books everywhere and obviously know more than I do because they posted a review on Goodreads.

In the same vein, my positive opinions and thoughts and feelings about a book do not negate the negative reaction of someone else. This is one of the lovely things about books I’m reminding myself. That they are not the same thing to every person. That, as humans, we are different and diverse and perceive and appreciate things differently. That I don’t have to defend them. Their creators, authors, don’t even have to defend them. Books can defend themselves. They are stand alones, which is one of my very favorite things about books. They exist alone in a vacuum where everything can be known and everything is this story and anything without doesn’t matter within. Yet we, as readers, bring our own worldviews and experiences and prejudices and expectations and preferences into the thing to exist right alongside all that other stuff. 

Then we spit out the experience in a Goodreads review and people get all riled up. People like me. 

But no more! No more will I get riled up (at least not in an angry way) about differing opinions on books. No longer will I get defensive or consider myself dumb when different opinions arise. No longer will I assume you’re a dumbo if you didn’t like it or I’m a dumbo if I did. We’re all entitled to our opinion, amen?

Unless we’re talking about Harry Potter. Because if you don’t like that stuff we can’t be friends.

6 thoughts on “Here’s the thing about book reviews

  1. Seriously! I can’t read book reviews anymore. They make me C-R-A-Z-Y. I’ll take recommendations from people that I trust, but I find that people’s opinions just vary too widely, and there are far too many people on the internet who are just downright nasty in their criticisms.

    And for the record, I nearly threw my computer when I saw that snapshot of the Goodreads reviews of The Book Thief. That book is one that change my life. And I love love love the narrative style! It’s so unique and communicates so well the fractured lives of the characters.

    1. I obviously agree. I loved it as well and thought it fit the story perfectly! Oh well. I suppose if we all had the same tastes in stories and narrators and everything else, there wouldn’t be as many diverse books to read!

  2. You always get a wide distribution of views, even if you thought a book was astounding, there will be haters. I think of it as the universe has to be in balance to work. I don’t hook bash because I feel even if I didn’t get on with a book, I’m sure someone else found it riveting, it’s just the nature of reading and using our imaginations I think. I read book reviews after I have written my own to see which camp I fall in, in the big scheme of things. I try hard not to take scathing comments about books I love personally but it’s also interesting and challenging to read another point of view. I love The Book Thief and honestly everyone I know who read it loved it.

    1. As I was writing this post I was trying to think back to a time when I said, “I hate this book!” There have certainly been books I didn’t enjoy, but that doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad, you know?

      Seriously – I was so surprised to hear from people who so strongly disliked The Book Thief!

      1. I think whenever there is a book a lot of people love, you always get haters. It’s just human nature. There are very few books I hate, but when a book is written well it contrasts the less well written ones in my mind. The bigger the book the greater the haters?

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