The Nine Types of Book Review

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Once a book is published, there are two things an author hopes for: sales and reviews. Sales are good because they allow a writer to be financially supported as they write their next book. Reviews are good because they lead to more sales. And the more stars each review has, the more validated the author feels and the more confidence potential readers have.

But regardless of whether a book is good, bad or somewhere in between, and assuming it has had enough exposure, it will have each of the following types of review.

The Never-Read-It Review
Obviously someone who reviews a book they’ve never read has a nefarious purpose, either to promote or prevent the reading of it. Platforms like Amazon usually don’t allow a review of a product that hasn’t been bought directly from them so that helps a little. Platforms like Goodreads rely on the honesty of the reading community they have assembled. It doesn’t always work.

Authors might suggest they don’t mind so much as long as it’s a good review but reviews aren’t really for authors, they’re for potential readers. And there’s nothing worse for a reader than relying on a review and being time-wastingly deceived.

The Never-Finished-Reading-It Review
Everyone has started reading at least one book that they just haven’t been able to get through. For me, it’s Jane Eyre. And if you run through the Goodreads list of all my reviews, you won’t find it there. How could I justify reviewing a book I haven’t actually read? But plenty of people do it, usually using their inability to finish it as evidence of the book not being good enough to hold their interest. I prefer to interpret it as evidence of the reader’s inability to persist.

Some books that have impressed me are those that I really hated reading. The Godfather, The Fourth Estate, The Life of Pi – I really struggled reading these books. I just didn’t understand what the point of any of them was and I found them difficult… until I read the last pages of each, at which point they suddenly became profound.

Any review that starts with, “I didn’t finish this book…” is one I automatically disregard.

The Rating-Without-Explanation Review
I understand that most people don’t have the time to write lengthy reviews but I also automatically disregard one-star and five-star ratings if they don’t have an accompanying review that explains why. After all, a book has to be awful to be rated one star and amazing to be rated five stars. At least, they should be.

The rating without explanation bothers me less for two-star, three-star and four-star books (although I always appreciate even just a sentence as to why). But a one-star or five-star rating without going into the reason why is open to interpretation. Is it one star because the reader doesn’t like that genre but thought they’d give it a go anyway or is it one-star because it was a truly terrible book? Without the explanation, the rating is close to meaningless.

The Nitpicking Review
The nitpicking review gets caught up on one tiny little thing and is then based entirely on it. I saw it recently in a review where the reader couldn’t get past the fact that the story was set during a southern hemisphere Christmas, making it hot and entirely lacking in snow. Even though this is how half the world celebrates Christmas, the reader was particularly annoyed that it didn’t reflect their experience. So I have no idea whether the book was any good, just that they didn’t like that aspect of it. It’s especially unhelpful.

The Relative Review
Families can be great. They want to support the creative (although slightly fanciful) efforts of their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces and so on. So when a book is released, they’re among the first reviewers.

I have one of these reviews myself. My mother kindly wrote to accompany her five-star rating of my debut novel, Enemies Closer, “This is a great read. Not finished it yet. But enjoying it very much. Looking forward to each chapter. Have holidays coming up and will be engrossed.” To the best of my knowledge, she has never finished reading it. Even though she used to be, she’s not much of a reader anymore. It’s perfect evidence of why reviews from relatives should be approached with at least a little caution.

The Spoiler-Revealing Review
A great many books rely on plot points being revealed to the reader only as the book is being read and yet some reviewers feel the need to let us know them in their reviews. “Rosebud’s the sled,” Herman Mankiewicz whisper shouts at people filing into the first screening of Citizen Kane in the movie about its making, RKO281. At least he had some comic timing. Most reviews with spoilers simply give away all the good bits, making reading the book itself entirely unnecessary or entirely unsatisfying.

The Short Thoughtful Review
A sentence or a paragraph is all that most writers want because a sentence or a paragraph is all that most potential readers will read before moving onto the next review. “A traditional romance with feisty main characters and a lovely fairy tale ending. Three stars.” It doesn’t get much shorter or sweeter than that. And while a writer might prefer four or five stars, it’s the kind of review that will speak directly to the target audience for a book of that genre.

The Mid-Length Musing Review
The mid-length musing review is more likely to be seen and read in full on a book blog and is more likely to be written by an amateur book reviewer and appreciated by bibliophiles. You will know exactly why the reviewer did or didn’t like the book and, in most cases, it will have just enough detail for the author to think, “Hmmm, I must remember this part of the critique when I’m writing my next book.” Unless it devolves into a rant (always a possibility when someone feels strongly enough to write a mid-length musing review), then it’s always worth giving it some consideration.

The Long Essay Review
This is the kind of review most writers can only dream of, thousands of words dedicated to a genuinely thoughtful consideration of the author and their book. These will usually appear in newspapers and magazines and will be written by professional critics who weave the story of the author and their writing of the book into their review of the book itself. They’re flattering for authors (assuming they’re positive) but they’re mostly for hard-core readers and they’re few and far between for writers who aren’t already famous.

*****

Reviews are a bit like publicity; there’s no such thing as a bad example of it because the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, as Oscar Wilde so wittily put it. Still, authors hope for a little bit of thought and effort when their books are being reviewed. After all the thought and effort they’ve put into writing their books, it’s what they deserve.

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