26 September 2010

Weekly Geeks 2010 - 32 : Overly Critical Reader

This weekend, Weekly Geeks host Tara asks if we are OCRs:

O.C.R. = Overly Critical Reader
  • not liking characters in the beginning
    • needing the main character to prove themselves before you'll respect them
  • rolling your eyes while reading
    • needing things to be completely realistic
  • shouting things such as "WTF?!"
    • needing every plot twist and turn to be foreseeable
Certainly book blogger/reviewers can be a critical lot, but often I think I am not critical enough.
I had an example of this yesterday when I was adding my most recent review SILK CHASER by Peter Klein to Library Thing. There was another review already posted by someone I know that gave the book a rating of 2/5. She made a criticism that never occurred to me. I gave the book 4.5.

There are some reading audiences where members see it as their obligation to be supercritical.
Newspaper book critics often take their "critical" role very seriously, and almost inevitably shoot books down in flames.
In some online communities that hold regular book discussions, to host a discussion of a book you have enjoyed can be the equivalent of being lined up in front of the firing squad, where some members see it as an obligation to point out in painstaking detail what was wrong with the plot, the characters, the print, and anything else they can think of. The final arrow is the DNF and the imputation that anybody who wasted their time in finishing this book must be somehow an idiot. By association the person who first suggested it for discussion must therefore also be an idiot.

I rate all the books I read.
I have a rating scale of 0-5 and it is possible to score anything in that range.
My general benchmarks are
  • 5.0 Excellent
  • 4.0 Very Good
  • 3.0 Average
  • 2.0 Poor
  • 1.0 Did Not Like
  • 0 Did Not Finish
See my review guidelines

However if you check the list of reviews I've posted so far this year, you'll see that I have very rarely resorted to giving anything below 4. Even in my full list of reviews, those scoring less than 4 don't even come to 10%, and you'll see that there are at this stage only two DNFs.

So what are my explanations?
  • First of all, I am basically reading books that I expect to enjoy. They come as a result of recommendations from those with similar reading tastes. In addition they are often the "cream of the crop", they have often featured on award shortlists.
  • Secondly, I am probably a bit more tolerant than most in my reading. I'm always cognisant of the fact that the book that I am reading was 12-15 months in the writing, and I am reading it in less than a week. When I chatted with Michael Robotham and Malla Nunn over breakfast recently we talked about what damage negative reviews can have.
  • Thirdly, I have recently begun refusing review copies of books that I don't think fit my reading tastes. My time is too precious to spend on reading something I'm pretty sure I'll hate.
  • Finally, the ratings I give are reflective of my reading tastes. After I've given a rating, then I do try to slot the book into my lists in what I consider is about the "right" place, particularly if I'm thinking about my "best reads" for the year. 
That doesn't mean that within a review, I still won't criticise aspects of a book that I didn't particularly like, but it does mean that once I begin a book, I will usually finish it, and secondly, that I will probably find something good to say about it.

There is still the conundrum of why someone reading the same book as me will give it 3 where I will give it 4.2. I've wondered if it means I am less critical, less demanding than they are. But I have come to the conclusion that where they are probably in reality operating within a rating range of  2 to 5, I am using fine gradations between 4 and 5.  We still both give 5 to the excellent reads!


Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Thanks for sharing the way you go about selecting what you'll review and reviewing it. I think it really helps when one's reading a review to know something about how the reviewer goes about rating books, what those ratings mean, and so on. I always like the way you are candid about things you didn't particularly like about the books you review, as well as things you liked. It's hard to have faith in a reviewer who's either gushing or derogatory. Little wonder I'm always at your blog site! Do you know what you've done to my TBR list?? ;-)

Kerrie said...

It is all part of a fiendish plot Margot! Thank you for all the encouragement too.

Book Bird Dog said...

Oh, dear. I just made a comment on my Sunday Salon about a cozy mystery that wasn't realistic enough with her settings/descriptions of the crime scene. Hope I wasn't too harsh, but I did cite some positives too :) Hope you check it out.

Kerrie said...

That's fine Book Bird Dog. I think we can be critical of faults with the book, just not slam the book out of hand.

Bernadette said...

I have stopped reading the posts from one particular online discussion group (I'm sure you can guess which one) because they're even too critical for me! I was going to join in a recent discussion of a book I happened to love but when I saw the first few scathing comments I thought "why bother" and I put a halt on getting all the group's emails.

There's no doubt I'm more critical than you Kerrie, or maybe just not as good at selecting books I will like yet. But I don't pretend I'm being objective on the blog, just providing my personal opinion and reactions which are always fairly emotional (good or bad) as that's just how I respond to things.

Dorte H said...

The trick is to know your reviewer. I know that you are more positive than me, Kerrie, and that while your range goes from 4 to 5, my range goes from 2 to 5. Usually I don´t put the stars in the review, but my readers seem to be able to see them anyway.

I don´t think I am very critical, though, and that is partly because I am not very good at keeping the overview. If readers put a glaring mistake in their books, I will see that, but I don´t see what they have left out, if you understand. Bernadette and Maxine are much better at that which is why they will also notice flaws of omission.

But basically, I also read crime fiction to be entertained - and generally, I am. Especially when I pick books that have been reviewed and recommended by my fellow bloggers!

Yvette said...

Hi Kerrie, I'm in your camp. I generally like the books I review primarily because I NEVER finish a book I don't like. I can't review a book I don't finish, however, I can leave a comment here and there on other blogs stating I didn't finish the book for whatever reason. That's about as far as I go. If I finish a book, I am generally in love with it in some form or another. So a review from me will be a positive one. Not saying that all the books I read are perfect, they certainly are not and I do point out shortcomings. But in tone, I am a positive type reviewer. That's my comfort zone. Great topic.


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