Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can You Trust Reviews?

I posted a blog a couple of weeks ago about how important reviews are in helping potential buyers know whether to spend their money on a particular book. In fact, I think I may have bribed people to send me their books in return for chocolate and reviews. [http://annajonesbuttimore.blogspot.com/2011/06/importance-of-reviews-and-chocolate.html]

But now I'm starting to wonder. I read two books recently which made me think that reviews really can't be trusted because taste in books is so subjective. The first was a novel my book club are reading and it was one of the worst books I have ever stuggled through. The language and construction were dreadful, the thin plot predictable, it was full of mistakes and I was left feeling astonished that any publisher had accepted the book. (I then discovered that it was self-published.)

I went onto Amazon to leave a scathing review only to discover that it had ten reviews already, all giving it four or five stars and praising the "lyrical and hypnotic language", and the "wonderful story". Was this the same book? I can only assume that the writer, having parted with £1,500 to vanity publish his book, had then paid his friends to post good reviews. (I'm looking forward to discussing this matter at my book club.)

The second book was about the life of a particularly interesting character from English history, and I hated that too. The author kept digressing into evidence for her assumptions, filling pages with minor and confusing details about other characters, and making suppositions with very little evidence. I don't generally read history books, and on discovering later that there is a novelised version of this medieval woman's life, wished I had chosen that instead.

And yet this book too had excellent reviews - over thirty of them. In this case I had to conclude that since I am not generally a reader of history I have poor judgement on such matters.

I've been sent several books as a result of my chocolate bribe, and I'm wondering what I'll do if I hate any of them. I know the authors, and I don't want to lose any friends, but I have to be honest. Or do I? Do people reading the reviews know that they are influenced by personal preference and the writer's relationship with the author? What is the true value of a review when opinions on a book can differ so widely?


Gale Sears said...

Great point, Anna. I don't think you can trust reviews. If you know the integrity of the reviewer (as in the case of Jennie Hansen) there's a better shot at having an honest review.

Doran & Jody said...

I think reviews are Psha.

I am an avid reader but only certain books. I usually stick with LDS because I know that I won't be reading the potty stuff that I CHOOSE not to read.

If we want to focus on reviews I guess we need to look at the reviewers that have the same goals and concepts that we do. Same thing with movies. I usually listen to those that like the same things I like.

So...like I said, reviews...Psha.

And about that chocolate....I will read anything you want me to read in exchange for chocolate (as long as it is the kind of book I like).