Sadly I had to put my discussion feature on hiatus for a little bit as I work long hours at the weekends and am usually too tired to post on Sunday evenings (and too disorganized to schedule beforehand!), but it’s back this weekend with something that’s been on my mind a lot over the past month – negative reviews.
Of course, there will always be negative reviews of books no matter how good the book may be to you. Every reading experience is individual and every reader will take away something different, which is why reviews are so great! I love reading reviews by reviewers who have a different opinion or take on a book we both read or are planning to read to see what they think. There are times when these reviews can be really helpful, such as calling out problematic representation, but are there times when negative reviews can be unhelpful or even harmful?
When Negative Reviews are Helpful
There have been so many times when negative reviews have saved me from subjecting myself to problematic representations, harmful narratives and/or triggering content. As someone who has multiple marginalized identities, reading books can sometimes be a minefield when it comes to avoiding particular content, such as transphobia, so reviews can be really helpful for pointing out what the issues are, how extensive they are, and allow me to make a decision as to whether it’s a book I want to read. There have been a number of occasions when I have seen reviews by book bloggers or on Goodreads which have pointed out harmful content and which have helped me to avoid picking up those books and/or supporting the authors.
However, I don’t always read reviews before throwing myself into a book so can find myself unpleasantly surprised further down the line. In this instance, negative reviews can still be really helpful because they validate my experience of the book, help me to connect with like-minded reviewers, and can also help me to recognize other issues that I didn’t spot myself.
Of course, I have written a few negative reviews myself since I started book blogging and it is really cathartic to be able to share my experiences of the book, especially when it personally affects me. One review that always stands out in my memory is the one I wrote of Autonomous by Annalee Newitz last year, where I highlighted my experience as a trans reader and why I found the narrative transphobic and harmful. It reached quite a large audience on GR, helping other trans readers to stay away from it and educating cis people on what negative trans rep can look like – especially as many cis readers hadn’t picked up on it!
When Negative Reviews Are Not So Helpful?
During my journeys as a book blogger, I have encountered a few different times when negative reviews haven’t been very helpful and, in some cases, actually perpetuate harm – either to authors, to marginalized readers, and/or to marginalized groups of people.
Authors – Usually I fully condone not writing reviews for anyone other than readers. Reviews are written by readers for readers, and I think that’s so important. No reviewer should ever feel like they can’t speak their mind about a book for fear of backlash from the author, as has sadly been the case with several authors and book bloggers. There have been times though when I have seen negative reviews lead to a landslide of backlash against the author when it hasn’t really been deserved. I don’t really want to name any names here, but there are one or two very famous authors in the blogosphere that I have in mind with that statement, where I have seen their books torn apart without much justification. In one instance, it led to me to fully avoid the book because I thought it was going to be so awful but when I actually read it for myself it turned out to be a book that I really enjoyed!
When such things happen to diverse authors I think that it can have an even more harmful effect. Obviously, this is not to excuse diverse authors when they do make mistakes but I have definitely seen diverse authors, particularly black authors, disproportionately criticised, often by white “diverse” book bloggers. Diverse authors are something we desperately need and to see book bloggers who aren’t from that particular marginalized identity attempt to bring diverse authors down is something that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Words hold power. Our reviews hold power. When negativity turns into a bit of a s*itstorm it can really harm the author, preventing them from getting further books published, causing them to withdraw from fans, or the publishing industry altogether. A lot of diverse authors who have also had to come forward and ask that reviewers stop tagging them on twitter when they share negative reviews as it can be extremely damaging to their own mental health! Remember, authors are also people and it can really knock someone’s confidence when they have to look through so much negativity on their social media.
Marginalized readers and/or groups – This another thing that I have witnessed, and experienced, a lot recently and it shocks me even more when it comes from “diverse” book reviewers. There have been multiple instances where reviewers call books out for being problematic, drag it through the mud and/or otherwise discourage others from reading the book and supporting the author when they are not #ownvoice reviewers. This is something I have touched upon in a previous discussion I had about #ownvoice reviews, but I think it bears mentioning again as the issue is persisting. Speaking from personal experience, I have seen it happen a number of times where cis reviewers trash a book written by/about trans people and call it out for being problematic, even when it has been reviewed well by actual trans people. These reviews are often very well received by other non-own voice bloggers who pile on the bandwagon and loudly denounce the book, even when questioned/called out by #ownvoice reviewers. Obviously, this can be really damaging as it ignores the voices of marginalized reviewers who are disproportionately represented in the book blogging community and has led/can lead to diverse book bloggers feeling like they’re not welcome. We should be doing more to boost diversity up, not tearing it down.
Obviously, this is a very complicated and nuanced topic so I hope I have handled it with at least some tact! All opinions are my own and none are intended to cause harm to anyone or incite a flame war over whether X book is problematic or not. It is a discussion post related explicitly to discussing negative reviews, rather than the actual books themselves!
How do you feel about negative reviews? Do you feel that there are both positive and negatives, or do you feel they are primarily good/harmful?
Please leave your comments below and let me know what you think ❤
10 thoughts on “Discussion| Negative Reviews”
I believe we can not like all books and at times can have issues with them. Reviews can be good for people with triggers. Reading is supposed to be something that relaxes us, to stress us. I think negative book reviews need to be honest and have arguments. I dislike when reviewers bash a book or author for no reason. Just like you I have read books with many negative reviews and really wondered why it was projected the way it was. That isn’t fair to the book or author.
It’s such a loaded discussion with negative reviews: there’s definitely good and bad points to both, but I think that on the whole, as long as they’re not unnecessarily cruel or harsh, they can help to change peoples’ attitudes and create a healthy space where authors can improve and grow 🙂
Uhh, good question – what do i think about negative reviews…
Some of them can be useful: help me decide if i should invest time/money in a certain book. But these reviews are usually objective and list things that happen in the book or the way it was written, so i’d know i won’t like it. Like for example recently someone pointed out a book has extra long descriptions of boring things and the author didn’t do his/her homework and got some places completely wrong. So yea, that won’t interest me.
Some are not objective and are just hating on the author for seemingly no reason. I’ve read a series i quite liked, but lot of reviewers said “the author hates women”. This was based on the fact that it was a dystopian story where the premise was that most people died and some dudes decided to “freeze women” until the world stabilized so that they won’t come to any harm, but there was one who was working with the men and she was apparently dumb. Like it wouldn’t happen that a dumb person ends up being the center of attention in real life…
Anyway… i like thoughtful reviews and objective ones, regardless if they are negative or positive, but the review should be about the story.
As for problematic stuff: i don’t know if i’m just being oblivious or what, but i usually view fiction as fiction, and not get ideas from it so much.
im a big fan of negative reviews bc i fidn they help to educate people, their aim isntalways to encourage people NOT read it but more so that if they should read it they do so with knowledge to protect themselves.
though when it comes to books like that someone just didnt like i think its nice to see a variety and that we dont all love every book we read?
I think bloggers and readers are allowed to write negative reviews. However they should think well about posting the review and how their review can come across. I write negative reviews and I post them on my blog. But I work very hard to make sure that it never reads as if I am attacking an author. Because that is not what I am doing nor what I want. I am just being honest about their book. When it comes to diverse and own voices books that counts even more. I want to read THUG for instance but I already know I am not writing a review on that because that is just not my lane.
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This is such a good discussion about negative reviews! Let’s face it, sometimes we just don’t love or even like the book, which is inevitable. And so is the bad review which might follow. But at the same time, it’s important not to forget we shouldn’t point fingers for someone feeling a particular way about a book, just because we don’t share the thoughts and feelings. That doesn’t make the review any less valid.
Negative reviews are something I can feel really conflicted about! I think you covered most of the major points of the pros and cons and I definitely agree with everything you’ve said. 🙂 I try to differentiate in my reviews when I think something is more of a subjective opinion on my part and when I think something is actually harmful.
I’m also glad you included that reviewers who are “diverse” in some ways often think it’s their right to speak about rep that they can’t fully understand. Criticisms like this have made me a lot more conscious about critiquing rep for groups I’m not a part of. I’ll usually say something like “this rep kind of rubbed me the wrong way, but I’m not part of [x] group, so I can’t fully speak to that aspect” and will include more specific examples of what bothered me. I also try to find ownvoices reviews to share in my review, so that myself and others can get an idea of whether people who are actually suited to speak about it find that rep harmful.
Anyway, I’m glad you made this discussion post! I think it’s really important to make this part of the dialogue in the book community. 🙂
This is such a good discussion Avery! I have this weird habit that I don’t read reviews of books I really want to read until I’ve read it. Then I read both positive and negative reviews because I want to see if I missed anything or maybe I caught something others didn’t.
I personally enjoy reviews where its not bashing the author. Although I will admit, I have been guilty of this a time or two. But anyway, I do think as long as the review is objective and thoughtful and provide both constructive feedback, I think those are the best. I know some people who won’t review a book if it’s below 3 stars and honestly those reviews are my favorite because I feel we’re more passionate about those reviews when we feel strongly about something versus when we love something. I have a hard time putting into words how much I love a book, but a book that I didn’t really enjoy, I could go on for days.
I also tend to look for reviews on things that could be problematic because I don’t always notice these things but it is one thing I’m working on as a reader/blogger. It amazes me how much I can miss if it wasn’t for a negative review that pointed it out.
Excellent post. It’s definitely a very long debate, and as a person who only reads and reviews instead of writes & publishes books I cannot imagine reading negative reviews of books I’ve worked hard on. Criticism on authors can always be too much, but I try my best to only judge the work and on whether I personally like it instead of how horrible the author is or dissing on the writers.