Discussion: Is it ever unfair to write a review?



Is there ever a time when it’s just not fair to review something?

Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say you’re reading a book in a particular genre. And it’s a genre you typically never read. What’s more, it’s a genre that you don’t particularly like. For whatever reason, you read the book anyway… and — big surprise — you don’t like it.

Do you write a negative review talking about how much you disliked the book? Or do you just put it down, accept that it was never meant to be, and move on?

Of course, you may be wondering, why even start the book in the first place?

Well, there could be plenty of reasons. Maybe a friend has urged you to read a favorite book… or you stumble across something at the library that catches your eye… or you see the author on a TV talk show and think she sounds interesting.

For me, I’m having this dilemma at the moment thanks to my beloved book group. (Hi guys!) Our monthly book picks cover a lot of different topics, although we do tend to veer toward historical fiction on a regular basis. That’s not all, though — we’ve also done historical non-fiction, thrillers, and contemporary drama, to name but a few.

Our current book — recommended by one of our members — is a romance/chick lit kind of book, which really, really isn’t my thing. Still, everyone else was enthusiastic, so I figured I’d give it a try. Five chapters in, I’m just not digging it, but I don’t want to sit out the discussion, so I guess I’ll do my best to finish it. And who knows, I may end up liking it.

(Doubtful, but why pre-judge?)

Okay, assuming I finish the book and still feel unimpressed, should I review it? On the one hand, it seems fair for me to say, basically:

This book did not appeal to me, and here’s why.

On the other hand, it doesn’t seem fair for me to say:

This is a terrible book, and no one should read it.

(Granted, that’s not something I’d typically say in a review, but let’s go with it for now.)

If I don’t like the plot or the characters, but the writing is decent and it seems to be successful within the usual “rules” of the genre, then who am I to say it’s not a good book? All I think I can truly say is that I read a book that didn’t work for me. And perhaps a romance fan might really and truly love it.

(Likewise, if you read a really gory scary horror book even though you almost never read horror and end up hating it, is it fair to say it’s a bad book? Or is it more fair to say that the book scared the bejeezus out of you and was icky and unpleasant, and hey, I hate reading horror, so I didn’t enjoy it at all?)

What do you do when you read a book that, objectively, you can recognize as pretty good for its type, but subjectively, you really don’t enjoy reading?

I’d love to hear some thoughts on this!


24 thoughts on “Discussion: Is it ever unfair to write a review?

  1. I don’t think it’s ever unfair to write a review. There are two ways I usually go with such reviews: 1) Just be upfront about the fact I don’t normally enjoy the genre and explain why. Does the genre have a lot of features I don’t like and this book happens to have them all? 2) Try to be objective. Ok, maybe I don’t like X, but does that mean X is bad? Would other people like it? Is this a legitimate flaw in the book or just a pet peeve of mine?

  2. I think whether a book is “good” or “bad” is subjective to the reader. Thus said, I don’t think it’s ever unfair to review it. A review is where you state your opinion. People know this. Just say what you didn’t like about it but don’t forget to mention why you didn’t like it, and you can also add that people who love that genre might enjoy it more. I think negative reviews can also encourage readers to pick the book up at times because what doesn’t work for you might actually be what another reader is looking for, or they might read it to see if they have the same opinions. I personally find negative reviews on popular books very interesting to read. (What was the book for the club? I’m just curious πŸ™‚ )

  3. If I’m writing a review for a book in a genre I don’t normally read I try to open my review that way

    Ie horror isn’t a genre I normally read however I read this book as part of a reading challenge where the book had to be xyz…

    It gives the review reader an idea of where you are coming from

  4. I know what you mean. I try hard to see something I like in what I read, and I have developed a respect for books in genres I don’t usually read. Still have trouble with memoirs, however, but other people eat them up. Great honest review – you can’t like everything!

  5. I think just say upfront that you don’t usually venture into that genre. It’s similar to something written by your favourite author of all time / favourite book series of all time, where based on association it appears to be perfect when in fact others see it as average. So I think, just like the others mentioned, it is important to note where you are coming from so that the reader can decide whether they want to pick it up or not. πŸ™‚

  6. I think it’s fair to write a review and to state that the book isn’t a genre you normally read, but you tried it anyway. You might have a reader who also doesn’t enjoy that genre but was looking for a book that could get them interested in it. Maybe they’ve always disliked sci-fi because they think sci-fi only deals with robots. And the book you read has robots. Now they can consider finding a different sci-fi read that might appeal more to them.

    • Ha, I like your robots example! πŸ™‚ But point well taken — the review can still be useful, especially if it’s clear that it’s not the reviewer’s usual type of book.

  7. I think it’s definitely fair to write a review in a case like this as long as you explain your history/thoughts with that particular genre to give it perspective. Personally, if I read something for book club that’s not really my thing, I usually don’t have much to say in order to want to write a review (let’s be honest, I often don’t feel like reviewing books I DID love either!) But if I had a lot of thoughts I wanted to share, I wouldn’t feel bad for doing so.

    • Very true, if I have enough to say that I want to write a review at all, then sharing the context and my genre preferences would be helpful. The books that I end up not caring about at all are the ones that I end up not reviewing. Sometimes, there’s just nothing to say!

  8. It depends on if it’s a book that I have accepted for review. If so, then I will usually try to give some positives as well as tactfully say why I didn’t like it. For the most part, I do feel that as long as I’m not being nasty with my words, someone who appreciates that type of book, and can handle what I didn’t particularly like, will want to read it. I most definitely would state at the beginning if it’s not a book I would typically pick up.

  9. Interesting topic, Lisa, as sometimes I do find myself wondering the same thing: I’d read a book, not really be feeling it and then wonder if perhaps it’s because it’s a genre I don’t normally read and it’s just not my cup of tea. I agree with everyone else in that it’s not unfair to write a review under such circumstances as it’s your opinion and as long you state the reasons why you came to this conclusion or why you feel that way, then it gives your reader an understanding of where you’re coming from with this book πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, I think we’re basically on the same page! One thing that got me thinking about this issue was an editorial I read recently that seemed to imply that people have no business reviewing books if they’re not familiar with the author’s other works, the background, the topic, etc — which I suppose could be true for more formal publications, but certainly not for bloggers!

  10. Everyone has given you really great advice on how to handle the situation, and I think you’ve covered it in your post too. You recognize that the book is good in the genre or grand scheme of things, but you didn’t enjoy it because of preference. If you take the “This book did not appeal to me, and here’s why” approach, I think fellow readers will be more receptive to that type of review than if you went the “This book is a terrible book, and no one should read it” route.

  11. If you’re going to be honest, I don’t think it would be unfair to write a review. But I wonder, would that be a ‘useful’ review?

    If you admit yourself that you don’t read the genre because you normally don’t like it, and if you think yourself that you probably don’t like the book becuase it’s not your thing, do you really think you’ll be able to write a useful review? Reviews are for the one who reads it, not for the one who writes it.

    Personally, I think I’d pass. Unless the book is so bad that you can pinpoint the reasons why you don’t like it, and these reasons have to do not with the genre but with inner faults of the story itself. If you can write a review that goes beyong your personal likings, then you shoudl write it. But if you think your likings will colour the review to the point you feel compel to say that’s not your genre, first of all, then I’d consider leave it.

    Just my thoughts πŸ™‚

    • Good food for thought. I ended up writing a review of the book that prompted this post, and while I pointed out that it’s not my preferred genre, I tried to steer clear of book elements that are part of the genre’s tropes. I think I managed to be pretty fair. πŸ™‚ But right, there’s no point in writing about hating a book if all the reasons why I hated it are built into the genre itself, and I know up front that those kinds of things don’t work for me.

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