Book Reviews

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I read a lot of books. Not as many as I would like to but still about 35 to 40 a year. Sadly, I usually buy 50-60 every year but that’s another story and another problem.

Lately, I’ve been wondering about book reviews. We are constantly extolled to write book reviews on Amazon and on Goodreads or whatever. It seems like a reasonable thing to do. Supportive, right? Well, unless you write a blisteringly bad review one that not only calls into question the value of the book but the parentage of the author.

We’ve all seen those. You don’t even have to read them to know what they say. It is all summarized by the one star rating (or sometimes two star – which I’ve found is nothing but a tease to get you to read more). Another big give away are GIFs. If a review has a bunch of people jumping up and down and making funny faces, the review is probably negative.

Many of these flashy reviews themselves get a lot of reviews in the form of likes – which drives them up on the review site. Frequently a book that overall gets decent rankings will show ten or twenty negative reviews right at the top of the column. You might think it is a conspiracy – and you might be right.

Just as there are people who buy five star reviews, there are those who make a sport, for various reasons, to gang up on writers they don’t like – usually because they disagree with their politics or, worse yet, because they challenge their delusions. Left or right, it doesn’t matter. Book reviews increasingly are a weapon in the culture wars.

But here’s the thing. I don’t think they work. At least they don’t work on me. I’ve seldom bought a book that got a five star review simply because it got one. The exception might be if someone I personally know and whose tastes I share recommends a book to me. Then I might buy it. But a complete stranger? Not a chance.

I also don’t avoid books because someone has trashed it on Goodreads. Especially if they have used a lot of GIFs to do it. I basically buy books in two ways. As I mentioned, if a friend recommends it. Or by seeing it in a bookstore and flipping through it. The only book reviews that might send me to the bookstore to look are those in very reputable places by reviewers I’m familiar with. But even then I don’t buy books on their say-so. I buy them on mine.

Do I sometimes make mistakes? Sure, I’ve bought a few books that turned out to be crap. But since I buy more than I can read, I just set it aside and read another book. And the bad book, I don’t review it anywhere. Not anymore. Life is too short.

Oh, and another thing. I’ve never met a writer yet whose writing was changed by a book review – negative or positive. By the time anyone gets to review a book, the writer has left it behind. They’ve moved on to other topics, other books. A bad review might hurt, but change you? Not a chance.

And that’s ten minutes.

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