19 January 2010

Book Reviews: How much to reveal?

I've written about my book review guidelines before but I just thought I'd raise a few points about them.

I am always concerned about how much of a book's story to reveal. My general policy of describing only the beginning of the story, that is, what is revealed in about the first 50 pages, sometimes means that I have a difficult time in writing a review.
In particular, some authors who are writing a multi-plot book, begin the second or third strand only as late as after page 100. Sometimes I decide not to even mention that plot twist.

I actually like to write my own "blurb" in the first couple of paragraphs of my review. I think this will give the reader a different "take" on the book, see it through my eyes as it were. However when I consider what my blurb reveals about the plot, and what the official one reveals, there is no doubt that sometimes the blurb on the back of a book gives far more of the plot away.

I like also to try to tell the reader what I liked, or didn't like about the book. This will, to an extent, explain my rating of the book.
I try to adhere very strongly to the "no spoilers" principle. I believe that my own reading of the book was a voyage of discovery, and part of what I enjoyed about the book was that feeling of discovery. So I am careful not to take that enjoyment away from another reader.

I think you can see book reviews from two points of view:
  • there are those that try to persuade the reader to read the book.
  • there are those that the reader will come to after reading the book, and compare their experience, what they liked and disliked with those of the reviewer.
My reviews are the first sort. I am really saying to the reader, if you generally like the sort of books that I read, then you will probably like this one. But in the long run, the review is my opinion and you may well disagree with me, or not enjoy the book as much as I did.
I know some readers who will not read a review of a book until after reading it, because they don't want their reading experience spoiled.

There are probably those who will criticise the sort of reviews that I write as lacking depth. If you come to my book reviews to find out about how the story ended, who killed who at the end, then you will be disappointed. I may tell you about some of the themes the author chose to explore, and I will usually try to tell you more about the author.

What are your really strong principles in reviewing a book?


Bernadette said...

Like you Kerrie my first principle is NO SPOILERS. I often write a fairly limited plot synopsis because I think there are things that the reader should find out in the same way that I did.

As for the rest I try to say what struck me most about my reading experience - the vast majority of the time this is equivalent to describing the things I liked and why I liked them. I'll be honest and say I write this part for my future self so I can recall what it was that led to my rating of a book.

I then try to summarise by saying what kind of reader the book might appeal to - especially if I haven't enjoyed a book overly and I will try to say who I think might enjoy it instead.

I think mine are probably a combination of both kinds of review that you mention.

I tend to read more reviews of a book once I've read the book - I'll read as many as I can find when I'm done but only 1 or 2 before I start :)

Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Thanks Kerrie for your always interesting posts.

Anonymous said...

Kerrie - I don't, as a rule, review books. But when I read excellent reviews like yours and Bernadette's I do so because they are, first and foremost, honest. Even if you didn't enjoy a book, I want to know. I also like them because of that no spoiler rule. The other thing that, for me, makes a good review is the helpful level of detail you provide. You give enough detail to really allow the reader to understand what the plot is about, etc., but not so much that it gives the story away. Little wonder I like your reviews as much as I do.

Deb said...

It's so difficult to have a group discussion on-line about a mystery book without including reference to some spoilers, especially key plot points. Before I write anything that might give something away, I type SPOILER in all caps. I mentioned a small thing once without indicating it might be considered a spoiler and several other readers became (rightly) very upset.

Dorte H said...

As we both review crime fiction, I agree that a review should never include spoilers. If people want to know the ending, they will have to read the book!

My main goal is not to persuade anyone to read the book; like you, I try to tell my readers what I liked and what I didn´t like, and I think that readers who know my taste are able to figure out if this is something for them.

Uriah Robinson said...

I agree no spoilers. I hate reviews and especially blurbs that give me great chunks of the plot before I have even started. I try in my reviews to make a very brief introduction to the plot and characters without giving too much away. I may not always succeed and admit when publishers produce translated books out of order a big problem arises.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

The one very strong principle I have is that I try to find at least one good thing to share about every book I read, even ones I disliked. I think it comes from all the time I spent working as a writing tutor -- it helps to start out with something positive before you launch into the negative. And since a review is subjective, I think it's important to acknowledge I may not always be correct in my opinion.

Kerrie said...

Deb, I think book discussions are a different ballgame. Participants need to understand that any discussion of the book will range into parts they haven't read and therefore may contain spoilers. They always have the option of the delete key.

Kerrie said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I often read reviews that go much further into a book than I do, and seemingly leave little for the reader to discover.

Janet Rudolph said...

Thanks, Kerrie, you've raised some excellent points about reviews. Kim, opinions are never right or wrong.. they're opinions, not facts. They can change, however. My book group has been meeting for over 33 years, every Tuesday, September-June. We're discussing protocal in groups... yes, even after all this time.

Joe Barone said...

The little reviews I write on my blog, I write mostly to remind me what the book was about. The blog is my book journal now. The reviews have a brief acknowledgment of the plot and my response to it.

The one time I accidentally gave away too much, I felt bad about it and took the comments down as soon as it occurred to me what I'd done.

I prefer brief reviews that don't reveal too much. If a reviewer whose opinion I have come to respect recommends a book and it seems to be my kind of book, I usually read it.

BooksPlease said...

I write about the books so I have a record of what I thought about them, so I summarise the plot as far as possible without giving away any spoilers.

If I read a review that arouses my interest in a book I don't like to know too much about it, but like to read more detail after I've read it - but you can't have it both ways! I also like to find out a bit about the author too.

I find crime fiction quite difficult to write about sometimes, particularly when the plot is complicated. I like your way of only writing about what is revealed in the first 50 pages or so. I think I'll try doing that for my next review.

Neil Patrick said...

Great dude

You have given a nice review

it helps lot and lot



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