Do you write reviews?

Posted January 17, 2016 by Lory in discussions / 46 Comments

DiscussionNEW

Even though I call them “reviews” for categorization purposes, I don’t think that’s really the right name for most of the posts I write on this blog. To my mind a review is an evaluative assessment of a book, generally a newly released or newly available book, created for the purpose of advising consumers in the decision whether to obtain and read it. When I post about a new book, or a more contemporary book that is new to me, I generally am writing in this vein — and trying to avoid the dreaded spoilers.

But when I write about classics that need no stamp of approval from me, or books that I’m rereading for the umpteenth time with an eye to my evolving understanding of them, I don’t consider them “reviews.” Rather, they’re mini-essays that allow me to freely reflect on the content of the book along with my personal experience. I’m more likely to reveal more details of the plot or characters, because I feel I need to in order to say anything meaningful.

In a review proper I’m trying to be somewhat objective and to give just enough information to inform the reader of whether this is a book he or she might be interested in, based on personal preferences and tastes. (I only write reviews of books I can positively recommend. I decided when starting this blog that I would not spend time on negative reviews.) Of course my response is shaped by my personal reaction, but I try to let the work speak for itself to a certain extent.

In the other kind of post, which I’ll call a “reflection,” I’m more likely to talk about my thoughts and feelings while reading, or how my experience has changed over time. I’m trying to use the reading and writing to discover truths about the work and about myself, to make comparisons and connections.

Yet another kind of post is where I’m focusing mostly on the design — typography and illustrations — and not so much on the text (which is usually that of an undisputed classic). I haven’t done many of these recently, but I’d like to get back to them, because in the age of e-books I think that great book design deserves all the love we can give it.

Here are some examples of these categories, to show what I’m talking about. I’m pleased with all of them, but they’re very different kinds of posts. Is it confusing to call them all “reviews”?

Reviews

Reflections

Design Considerations

 

Do you think all these different categories of posts should be lumped under the name “reviews”? Are there some that you are more or less interested in? How do you define a “review” on your own blog?

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46 responses to “Do you write reviews?

  1. Even though ‘book review’ appears in your URL of course you don’t just review books, you provide overviews of the whole gamut of books. I’m similar in my approach — I call myself a book review blog but my mission statement (as it were) is ‘exploring the world of ideas through books”, which I hope accurately reflects what I do.

    My posts also parallel yours, though I tend to separate them into just two categories, ‘review’ and ‘observation’. In practice the ‘observation’ posts might talk about an author, a series or a genre or even just the act of reading (your ‘reflection’) or widen out to the use of maps in literature, physical books versus ebooks or bookbuying habits (akin to your ‘design considerations’). So we’re largely in agreement in this regard.

    Where we might slightly differ is in the use of spoilers with classic fiction — I like to leave the reader with a bit of mystery to explore for themselves even if the ending is generally well known. Though I might break that rule if the novel is execrable (I do occasionally review turkeys) and reveal conclusions if the work is non-fiction.

    A splendid discussion post, Lory, definitely made me reflect!

    • I do like your observation posts that range into different topics. That’s something I’d like to try as well.

  2. That is a really good point. When I first started writing my site, I was purely writing my own thoughts and reactions to what I had read. I did this without concern for spoilers or what anybody thought, but then when people started actually reading it, I became more aware of an audience. One friend explained that he did not read my reviews as they gave away too much of the plot. So I shifted perspective and try to fit more of a review format but again this can make it difficult to write down all of my reflections – such as when I reviewed Gone Girl which was nearly impossible since so much of the plot is dependant on the twist.

    On the whole, I do see what I’m writing as reviews (other than the Top Tens or similar) but equally, I know that many of my posts are far longer than reviews traditionally are because I am also fitting in my reflections. So for me they’re a blend of the two and on occasion, mini-essays (or even quite long ones!) are the best way to describe them. I think that the person who should enjoy a blog the most is the person who writes it – you are self-employed and nobody is obligated to read it, so keep with whichever style feels most comfortable.

    Really interesting post! 🙂

    • I agree that my blog should make me happy, and writing regular reviews all the time wouldn’t do that. And I have a hard time avoiding spoilers! I’m not much bothered by them myself, even the “big twist” kind, so I have to be quite conscious if I want to leave them out.

  3. Interesting post!
    All of my reviews are very review-y, if that makes any sense. They are basically an evaluation of the book and it’s flaws and attributes (in my opinion, obviously), and usually include a numerical rating. I do reflect quite a lot on the endings (which is why I often have to put spoiler warnings on my reviews – I just can’t help it!) and go pretty in depth, but they are still just straight up reviews. I am really starting to find this format boring though, and I am definitely intrigued by your ‘reflections’, so you’ve definitely inspired me to maybe shake things up a bit and possibly try a bit of a different way of reviewing.

    • I’m glad you find it valuable to think of other ways of writing about books. I appreciate “straight” reviews but I also like reading other kinds of posts.

  4. I suppose I would say I mostly write reviews on my blog, even if the book is a backlist title that has already made its round on the blogosphere. Perhaps I’m only adding to the legacy of a hyped book or explaining why it fell so hard off the pedestal, but they still seem pretty review-like and of course, I rate them with stars.

    The only time I would “reflect” on a book is if it’s a book I’m re-reading, which basically means it’s a Harry Potter book (because those are the only books I re-read). From an blog organizational standpoint, I’m not sure if I would necessarily lump that in with reviews; I think I’d lean more towards lumping it in with discussions instead because I would be more prone to pick apart some minute, spoilery detail rather than explore the merits of the book as a whole.

    • My discussions so far are not focused on a particular book, but that would be another interesting direction to go.

  5. Although I call them reviews, most of the time they are just my thoughts on the books I’ve read. And, depending on the book, my ‘reviews’ could turn out to be traditional or just chatty, or even in point form. Each book just makes me write about it in a different way, depending on what I want to say about it. If the book is new, I do try to give a more objective review that gives a better idea about what the book is like. But, older books tend to just get my reactions. I figure most people already know what the book is like, or can easily find out somewhere else if they don’t. Mixing it up this way keeps it more interesting for me. I think if I always did them the same way it might get boring.

    • It’s great to be able to be guided by what the book seems to be asking for, and by our individual thoughts. That’s what makes each person’s “reviews” (whatever one calls them) so fascinating.

  6. I like how you’ve broken this out…and I do think it’s OK to reveal spoilers for classics, as many people have already read them.

    I do write reviews and normally they include some combination traditional review as you’ve described and my thoughts/feelings while reading.

    • I like that we have the freedom to do that as bloggers. Sometimes I think it leads to confusion about what our role really is though.

  7. I do similar; sometimes my reviews are the stereotypical kind, what we think of as reviews, then others are more in-depth in terms of themes. So sometimes I’m staying away from spoilers and other times I can’t see any other way to write about the book successfully without going into detail. I do try to separate particular thoughts though and use a different category altogether when I want to write a lot more.

    I think trying to work to a particular idea of what a review should be is nice but if it stifles what we want to say that’s a problem.

  8. This is one of my favorite topics. I also try to mix the kind of blogging that I do. With that, I try to stay away from plain reviews. Sometimes I focus on one aspect of a book that is not necessarily the most important aspect of the book.

    To me blogging is just about expressing our thoughts about whatever we find interesting.

  9. This is an interesting topic. As one who loves to categorize and list things, it pulls on my heart strings. I do write reviews, often on newer releases, but not necessarily. In my reviews, I tend to write about whatever and what-have-you comes to mind… whether it’s commenting on the author’s wicked turn of phrase, or how the descriptions literally made my heart race, or the formatting of the book… I like to sort of do it “off the cuff” this way, in hopes that what I have to say about a book will be different than what someone else is saying about the same book… especially with new releases since so many people are reading and reviewing the same books at the same time.

    I like your “reflection” idea, and definitely can think of one book I “reviewed” last summer (Summer SIsters, by Judy Blume) where it was definitely more of an essay/reflection piece. This has given me food for thought, so thanks for that!

    • With new books especially it can be hard to find something different to say when everyone else is talking about them. That’s probably why I don’t do so many new release reviews.

  10. I say review about my posts, but they are really more like reflections. I think I like all the kinds of posts — it’s just fun to see what people are thinking about re: books, whether it’s about their contents or history or physical design or whatever. (Not helpful, I know!)

    • I’m certainly glad we have access to such a variety of posts as well. I wouldn’t want to have to choose between them.

  11. This is a little debate I often have with myself – who are my reviews for? Which boils down to what you’ve written about here. When I write what I call ‘reviews’, I try to include some more objectivity (try to think about what others might think of the book) than I used to when I wasn’t branding myself as a book blog. I think I still primarily use my reviews as a way to reflect on what I thought about a book and what it means to me. They’re ‘reviews’ but still mostly for my own benefit, haha. I want to try to get more of a 50/50 balance in my review posts – more information that could be helpful for potential readers, while still including a personal reflection.

    I haven’t really answered your first two questions as I am still thinking about them 😛 For me, I don’t mind calling all those posts ‘reviews’ even if that isn’t strictly what they are. When I think of reviews on a blog, I’m just looking for a blogger’s opinion of the book, regardless of how they choose to focus that opinion. If I’m looking strictly for review ‘reviews’ – objective opinions written with the aim of recommendation in mind – I tend to go to Goodreads first.

      • Reno

        Ah yes, sorry, didn’t mean to disparage regular reviews! ^^; I meant I don’t mind if I find different types of posts alongside regular reviews – I enjoy reading other’s opinions regardless of the form or focus of their review.

  12. I call them reviews for simplicity’s sake but yes, definitely more reflections. I only write real, straight up reviews when it’s a review book, you know? If it’s a newer title and I’m not obligated to review, I often end up writing a much more reflective post.

    • I definitely feel more obligated to write what I would call straight reviews when I receive a review copy for that purpose. If it’s a new book that I’ve gotten from another source, I might be more free in my response.

  13. Interesting distinction! But I agree that reviews of newer books or books you’ve just read do come off differently. I usually just classify everything as reviews but sometimes, I do just want to talk about how reading a book felt for me, without thinking about how to “sell” it to other readers. (or not sell it as it goes) I think reviews vs. reflections is a great way to make that distinction!

    • With newer books I suppose I feel it’s more likely that readers will be searching for the review type of posts, so I tend half-consciously to try to give them what they want.

  14. Great discussion! I think most of my posts that I categorize as reviews are a mix of review and reflection. I try to say some objective things about writing, plot, and characters, but I mostly think of my reviews as sharing my subjective experience – more what you call a reflection. Like you, I might be less careful about spoilers in classics. I may also spend less time describing what they’re about.

    • I try to do as little plot summary as possible in general, but especially with well-known books. It gets so repetitive otherwise.

  15. Huh, I never really thought about this but you’re right, a lot of different posts get lumped into the “review” category on book blogs. I don’t mind seeing different types of posts, though, even within one blog, it’s what keeps things interesting. My reviews tend to fall somewhere between what you call “reviews” and “essays”, depending on my current mood and my enjoyment of the book. But I try to avoid spoilers even for classics, I just can’t assume everyone’s read everything (I was recently BADLY spoiled for Jane Eyre and it just saddens me, I dislike spoilers very much). This is a great post! 🙂

    • Oh dear, I will have to be more careful… this is one reason I wonder whether different labels than “review” would be helpful.

  16. I think this is a really interesting discussion and it’s good to think about what reviews are, and how in fact they do seem to mean different things to different people.

    The new books/older books way of distinguishing between review and reflection is a good way of doing things, and I wonder if it can be traced back to newspaper reviews, which are almost always of very new books and almost always with the purpose of saying it’s good/not good, and school and university essays, which are generally about older books and classics and expect more thought about context and form – spoilers don’t come into it?

    For myself, I enjoy reading all sorts of writings about books, both reviews and reflections, and yes, also thoughts about the physical book and its design. I expect that’s why I enjoy your site so much, Lory! 🙂

    On my own blog I rarely write about very new books, in fact I rarely read them. I try to write about things I found interesting in the book, rather than judging whether it’s worth reading or not. I think that the internet is full of people who can express that much better than I can, and I don’t find my own opinion particularly interesting anyway.

    Perhaps I should start writing ‘spoiler alert’ though, I’m very sad to read Kaja’s comment above.

    • I think you’ve identified exactly where those different kinds of posts come from, for me anyway.

      I have to think about how to deal with spoilers. I would hate to ruin a classic for anyone, but I do feel limited in what I can say if I’m not allowed to reveal the plot.

  17. I love this discussion! I do think that my reviews are probably a mixture of some critical thoughts as well as my own personal reactions. Since being in the academic world for so long, I’ve found that I’ve moved towards a more conversational tone in my “reviews.” But your post has gotten me thinking whether to call them something different, because I don’t know that they are strictly “reviews” anymore. In the early days I would speak more to parents and caregivers of kids, and I would even include thoughts about how the book might work in a classroom. I may get back into that…

    • I find it a relief to not have to be formal and academic in my blog writing. There’s a place for that, but it’s also great to have the freedom to be more personal and conversational.

      This discussion has made me think about whether I could do even more different kinds of posts — like centering around a topic or theme rather than a particular book. I’ll see if inspiration strikes.

  18. Interesting topic. I always label what I do reviews, but I can see what you are saying about reflection and discussions. I always include my reflection in my review, does that count? I probably won’t change my style, but this post got me thinking.

    • I think there are many valid ways to write about books, including a mix of reflection and review. Is it helpful to define different ways of describing what we do? Like you, I’m still thinking about it.

  19. I’m so enamored with your blog theme I almost forgot to read the post O_O (whoops) LOVE YOUR BANNER AND THE EMERALD COLORS. Anyways, I think you’re right to separate those into different categories. They ARE different things, and it makes it less confusing for people who go to read them. I would be interested in reviews and reflections. I think I’d be a bit put off if I clicked on a review and found that you only talked about the art in it and how it was designed. Not that that content is unappealing, it’s just… that stuff isn’t a REVIEW to me. On my own blog, I define reviews like this- a critical analysis on why or why not a book worked.
    This was a great post ^_^ (and seriously you got a gorgeous blog)

    • That’s a good definition of “review,” and point taken about design considerations not belonging in that category. I don’t want to confuse or put off anybody. Thank you so much for visiting and I’m glad you like my theme! 🙂

  20. This is a great observation about the way you talk about books. I pretty much only do reviews, but I definitely see your point about the different types of posts that you do – sounds like all of those aren’t strictly “reviews.” I think they’re all great types of posts to do though!

    • I like to have different possibilities — sometimes I just don’t feel like writing a “straight” review. But those are very valuable too. It all depends what you want for your blog.