At the same time I was going through my YouTube subscriptions and cutting out the fat so to speak I was listening to Ariel Bisett and Barry Pierce’s live show discussions in which they discussed many things and many posts will be born but specifically I want to talk about the topic of reading critically. Toward the end of last week Barry suggested a new twitter hashtag of “#becritical“. He was speaking in terms of those who review book on YouTube but why not bring it into the blogosphere. I’m a little late to the party but it got me thinking and so I wanted to join the discussion as well.
Let’s start with my first introduction to the topic, one of the things that Ariel brought up in her live show Q and A was giving honest reviews. She mentioned how she sometimes will give a book more stars on Goodreads than she feels it deserves because she likes the author and would feel bad giving it the lower rating that might be more honest. I know for a fact that I do this. I boost my ratings for authors I really love but then that star rating isn’t accurate to how I felt about the book and people might get the wrong idea. How can somebody trust my review if I am elevating an unworthy book?
Then Barry was discussing how a star rating is sort of a catch all to give people an opinion that doesn’t really say anything. I gave it five stars, it was really good. What does that mean, really? I know for some books that my five stars means that although there were flaws with the book I really enjoyed the experience. This was the case of Ready Player One for me. I really love that book, and I had a bunch of problems with it, but they didn’t detract from my love of it (watch our book club video on it!). Then there are other books where it just blew me away, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I just find that book perfect in every way, although my book club mates didn’t feel nearly the same way (see this as well!).
This is why there needs to be a review or a discussion matched with those stars, the stars are meaningless on their own. People need to say why they like a book because it allows others to gauge whether they would like that book as well. People need to review critically.
Reading critically does not mean shredding a book and nit picking it to high heaven, it means thinking about what you read and what you thought of a book. It means weighing the pros and cons and coming out at the end of it with an opinion, and being honest with your opinion.
I think that I will go into my Goodreads and go through my books to see how many opinions are honest as well as add a few sentences about how I felt about a book. It will take forever but I have become too complacent to just assign a star rating when I’m done. I will say in that review why I gave the star rating I did because it might vary from book to book.
Of course my reviews on here will be much more in depth but it will give my five Goodreads followers a better judgement of how I felt, and will help me should I need to remember why I felt a certain way about a book for years to come. I don’t even mention stars in my in depth reviews because it’s pointless. You know exactly what I think of a book, four stars aren’t going to give you any better insight into what I thought of a novel than my page of text on the topic.
Now, there’s more to this topic. The second half of Barry’s discussion was that if a reviewer only gives high star reviews than there is no way to really tell the difference between an alright book and a fantastic book because there is no disparity in the rating. The critical reviews help to clear this up but I am definitely guilty of a majority of my reviews being high star ratings.
The thing to add about giving low star reviews, is that if a book is low enough to get that review, it’s highly likely that I won’t finish reading it. If I am actually not enjoying a book I just put it down and say enough is enough. What I need to do then is to say on Goodreads and on here that I rated it one or two stars and create a “did not finish” shelf. That way people know that I wasn’t enjoying it and not that I just forgot about it and read something else instead. I am not going to be able to post a full review of a book that didn’t merit the time to finish but I will post them on Goodreads and I will talk about them in my wrap up posts because that will even out my spectrum and remove the high star bias.
On another note, one of my friends here at school has started a blog that I think those who read critically will really enjoy. Casey is currently doing an in depth chapter by chapter read of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green on her blog The Drunk Librarian. I have stolen her idea of gif use in long controversial posts, but she does it much better than I do so go show her some love. I was discussing with her as well as one of my housemates how since coming to college to do my English degree I have lost the ability to just read a book and not think about it critically. Along with this has been a shift in my reading from young adult and romance novels, which most of the time can’t hold up to scrutiny, to modern classics, adult novels, and literary fiction. Some might say this is elitist, but I think its just that I can’t enjoy the experience when I feel like the writing isn’t respecting me as a reader.
I am going to vow to be a critical reader and reviewer and to be honest with my opinions bar none. I hope you will too, especially if reviewing is more than just a hobby. I don’t get paid to do this, I do this because I love it. If I was paid this would be a million times more important.