The Reader Conundrum

Today’s post is based on a conversation I had with a writerly friend a few days ago.  Those of you who know me in person are aware that something I perceive to be illogical can rile me up inordinately fast.  This particular conversation involved someone who had commented on one of my friend’s stories.  The part that sparked my annoyance was the fact that this commenter said that the book was “too dark and scary”. 

This got me pondering reviewers and readers.  A review of a book is always a good thing, regardless of its nature; it tells the writer what a reader thought.  There is, however, a problem.  The bad reviews can be accepted, or ignored, depending on whether or not the author of the review is offering constructive criticism or just complaining.  The good reviews are a great thing, especially when they’re both sincere and helpful.  But what about the reviews that are based on nothing more useful than “taste”?

A good review is based on “taste” (person preferences, that is) and reasoning.  There are reasons a book appeals to someone.  My taste is towards epic fantasy with over-arching historical emphasis and towards science-fiction with a good amount of action.  However, even the best fantasy history or sci-fi adventure will get dropped if the author didn’t bother making it “good” in literary terms.  Avoidably bad grammar, pathetic style, poor sentence structuring… all these and more will make me put down a book and write an unfavorable review.  Likewise, a book that really doesn’t suit my taste will get put down; but I wouldn’t give it a bad review, unless there was something else wrong with it.

Who gives a bad review PURELY on the basis of taste?  Personally, the modern high-school romance/growing-up story is not to my taste.  But would why post a poor review of a book just because I didn’t like the content that made it part of a genre I don’t like?  If I don’t LIKE a genre, I don’t pick up a book from that shelf!

People are free to post a bad review on my writing style, my spelling, my plot, my character development.  But they should NEVER, EVER post a bad review on my stories because they don’t like people who hunt animals for money.  They shouldn’t post a bad review because the story doesn’t feel “post-apocalyptic” enough.  They shouldn’t give it a bad review if they would prefer a female lead.  No bad reviews because the animals are too “far-out” or unrealistic.  “Taste” should dictate what people like, not give them an opinion on the quality of things they don’t like.

Readers: please comment!  I would very much like to know what other people think of this topic. 

5 thoughts on “The Reader Conundrum

  1. I have to agree! There are certain styles/genres that I really don’t like to read, so, I don’t buy them. Simple as that, really.

    On Wattpad there are stories people put up that don’t appeal. I scan the author’s note, if it’s not to my taste, I don’t put it on my reading list or in my library. Such as, romance…

    If I read something and a review/comment is required/asked for, then I will probably point out spelling/grammar issues, but I wouldn’t start to tear down the foundations of someone’s hard work just because I didn’t agree with the genre.

    The main issue, I find, is that people are a little contrary I nature. I had a review recently regarding names I had put into my fantasy story. I was told they were too complicated. Perhaps I should think of cutting some?? However I later discovered this reader loves Patrick Rothfuss, an amazing author who has specifically put in how to say his main characters name just in case people don’t know how to pronounce it! That I found slightly odd!!

    But, getting back to the point, I would never write a review that would destroy the world a writer has worked so hard on!

    I will say whether I like a certain character. The story. Or plot. I will comment on language/spelling and all of that. If I liked one short story over another, for instance. If I think a certain character is too stereotyped.

    Plus, I really love far-out and weird. The weirder the better, I say! More magic. More crazy creatures. More adventure!! 🙂

  2. And I knew you’d agree with me, since you’re the friend I was talking about…. but you know that already. 🙂

    Indeed, the point about the names is particularly bizarre.

    • Yep. Although, personally, I didn’t feel there was a problem with the names. However, I’ve lived with them for so long now I guess I don’t see the issue. As a reader of fantasy, I’ve been presented with some pretty strange things, names and places being the least, and many different forms of magical construct. If the writing and the story is done in such a way that it’s believable, then I’ve merely accepted what I’m reading as the truth and how the world works in that particular book!

      As the saying goes, “There’s nothing funny as folk!” 🙂

  3. I only leave a bad review if there’s something like bad grammar/spelling or a nonsense plot that ruined the book for me, and then I’ll only write a review if I actually finished the thing.
    But if the book is written well and I just didn’t enjoy it, I don’t leave a review. I haven’t figured out how to leave a one-star/two-star review that eloquently says “This is a great book, but I hated it.” Because like you said, it’s my taste that prevented me from enjoying, for example, American Gods. It’s written well and it has no real flaws, I just didn’t like it.

    • Thanks for commenting!

      Exactly. Leaving a review when you hated a book is tough. However, I’ve discovered a method: I concentrate on the style, grammar, etc, without analyzing the content. I’ve left reviews on books I didn’t like, but that I did recognize a great amount of writing talent. Observing the writing ability can be done objectively, though it is harder. Hope that helped. 🙂

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