Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When and Why I Read Reviews

When I flipped to the book section of the Saturday Globe and Mail, I was pleased to find that this week’s instalment is a special issue devoted to “The Fiction of Fall.” It has seemed to me in recent months that the amount of review space devoted to fiction titles has been steadily decreasing and I was happy to see an issue that tilts the balance the other way. (I hasten to add that I haven’t gone so far as to tally up the column inches devoted to fiction and non-fiction respectively; it’s entirely possible that my perception is skewed by my own reading preferences.)

But despite my initial enthusiasm, I wound up setting the bulk of the issue aside to read later. You see, nearly all of the book reviewed therein are books that I’m already planning to read and, in a number of cases, planning to review myself.

It’s not that I never read reviews before reading a book. Reviews in print publications, online magazines, and particularly on blogs are an important source of book recommendations for me. But with this in mind, initially I generally only read reviews of books that I know little or nothing about to see if the reviews pique my interest, or of books that I’m well aware of but not much interested in to see if the reviews persuade me to give them a chance after all.

If I already know I’m going to read a book, especially if I’m planning to review it, I go to great lengths to avoid reading reviews to ensure that I come at it fresh, without too many preconceptions. I do, however, save those reviews to read later as, once I’ve read a book, I very much enjoy measuring my perceptions of it against those of fellow readers. I want to find out if we’re in agreement about its strengths and weaknesses and, if not, why not. Someone else’s response may cause me to rethink my own and, on occasion, to reread the book and reassess it.

So, if you’ve written a particularly clever blog post on a recent read and you’re wondering why it elicited no comment from me, there’s a good chance that I’ve got the book at the ready, and I’ve bookmarked your post to read later.

When and why do you read reviews?

UPDATE: See Dorothy W.'s very interesting response to my question and also the comments that follow her post.


litlove said...

Kate, I'm very similar to you, in that I read reviews mostly about books and authors I've never heard of. But I'll also read reviews of books I've read to see if the reviewer's impressions were similar to mine. What I won't read are reviews of books I've already decided to read, as I don't want my anticipation spoilt.

Christopher Willard said...

I gravitate to the New York Times and London Times reviews. As for the Globe and Mail, I'm seriously worried they are at the beck and call of major publishing houses. I've recently seen a number of terrible books (bad writing, typos galore,etc.) that were highly praised by them. You'd have to be blind with a non braille book not to see such problems.

I head to reviews as a means of keeping up, to whet my appetite, to consider what to read next. As for non-fiction it helps me decide what to read, or in the case of some the information allows me to get the basics but skip the book.

What I would like to see more of in reviews is excerpts of the writing that backs up an opinion.

Carl V. Anderson said...

If the book is new enough, like the recently released Thirteenth Tale, then I will do a review in which I don't offer any spoilers at all, just my thoughts on the book as a whole. I then like to do something more in-depth if it is something others are reading because it is fun to 'discuss' a book in this way.

Stefanie said...

I enjoy reading reviews of books I've not heard of. I rarely read reviews of books I've already read or have decided to read.

Anonymous said...

I tend to not read many reviews. Like Litlove says if you read a review of something you want to read the anticipation is spoilt. I have made the mistake in the past, though, and it can ruin my reading or make me choose not to pick up the book at all. Sometimes I will go back and read, but then if I loved the book and the reviewer hated it, I end up second guessing myself! I do like getting book recommendations from book bloggers though!

Sherry said...

I read reviews to find out if I want to read a book, to see what others think of a book I've read. But I don't avoid reviews of books I'm planning to read. The review usually doesn't give away enough of the plot or enough bad opinion to ruin the book for me.