Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book Reviews by Us & For Us on Goodreads and Amazon

Book reviews used to be my primary selection tool for finding books I wanted to read. I don't read as many reviews as I used to, especially because I am no longer a working librarian ordering books. I still enjoy reading the New York Times Book Review. Guess I am a dyed-in-the-wool book nerd -- it's actually the first section of the Sunday paper I reach for! I also enjoy BookPage, a giveaway book review magazine I pick up monthly at my public library. NPR does some great book reviews and I often jot down titles listening to their author interviews. I also browse through book stores and libraries. Last but not least, interesting books come to me via word of mouth: friends at yoga or church telling me about what they are reading.
Yet in this age of the Internet, I tend to read reviews more after I read a book than before. Call it the age of the informal electronic book club... On both Goodreads and Amazon, there is a wealth of opinion and reading those reviews often feels to me like I am putting my ear to the ground to learn what people really think. I do appreciate professional reviews, but to get a consensus of opinion, there is nothing like reviews by the people, for the people. Yes, I am aware that Amazon fights a problem of bogus reviews. I prefer browsing the reviews on Goodreads.
After I read a book, I often feel like comparing my reaction with others. So I usually do that on Goodreads after first setting my own rating or writing a review. The longer I've stayed on Goodreads, the less I want to write negative reviews. I usually only take the time to write a review when I really like a book. But it amazes me to see how often books garner both good and bad reviews, proving how widely reading tastes can differ.
I especially have problems giving authors one or two stars out of five on Goodreads, though it does happen... Sometimes a book is just not my cup of tea, however well-written. I know how much work and devotion goes into writing books. Unless I want to throw a book across the room or stomp on it, I tend to err on the side of generosity. For example, I just could not give Ms. Harper Lee anything less than 3 stars for Go Set a Watchman, although honestly, I found it a bit less than compelling, especially compared to her beloved first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Opinions are all over the place for Go Set a Watchman. I didn't want to join the crowd either way on that book and so kept silent. Oftentimes on Goodreads, you will see that a book has thousands of ratings but a much smaller percentage of reviews. Some readers are just not writers.
Yet I am of the opinion that all these electronic opportunities for us commoners to publish our thoughts about books we read has to be improving not only our critical skills, but also our writing skills. Who knew so many people cared or could write so well? I love to click on "like" for good reviews or chime in with a comment. This is democracy in action, being able to say what we think, publish what we think, taking for granted such free speech. And to able to do it instantaneously online is quite wonderful. Thanks for reading these humble opinions of mine. To see what books I've enjoyed lately, click on over to my very own Goodreads page.

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