Book blogs minus the reviews?

During the clean up of my email in box (now down to a more manageable 250 unread emails) I came across an old post on the 101 books blog where Robert had commented that he doesn’t like reading book reviews on blog sites. “Book reviews are boring,” he declared, a simple statement which provoked a lively debate.  To be fair, he also said that he finds the act of writing them on his own site rather tedious and he would rather just write about other book related topics, facts about authors that you didn’t know for example.

People who left comments seemed to agree on a few things: writing a good review takes time and effort and you need to do more than just explain the plot if you want to engage people. A few people said they were not at all interested in other people’s reviews or that they only read those where the featured author was one in whom they were already interested. One big area of agreement seemed to be that blog sites which featured only reviews were a turn off.

I can certainly relate to the comment about how much effort it takes to write a review that might be worth other people reading. Hence why I am about 10 reviews behind right now – I keep procrastinating because I want to say something more than just whether I enjoyed the book.  There is an art to this reviewing business, especially if you want to do more than simply regurgitate the plot or repeat the publisher’s blurb. I look at pieces written by professional reviewers in some of the leading newspapers and sigh because they are light years ahead of my attempts. Despite sniffy comments from some quarters (Andy Miller, author of The Year of Reading Dangerously was one of the guilty ones here) some bloggers are equally as skilled in reviewing and even though I don’t particularly have an interest in the author or the genre, I enjoy seeing what they think or feel.

But just as a diet of ice-cream and cakes would get tedious after a day or so, I’m not enthused by reading review after review after review. I find that I can get through only so many straight review items in my feed reader before I’m longing for something different. I’ve tried mixing up my own posts to try and avoid equally boring my own readers – actually I find these non review posts much more fun to write. And I’ve been experimenting too with how I write the reviews – giving them a (hopefully) more interesting title than just the name of the book and the author. So far I’ve just done two reviews using that new approach – my ‘5 reasons to read The Miniaturist’ and ‘A question of identity: Marani’s New Finnish Grammar’. A small start but at least it’s a start.

What are your thoughts on reviews – do you try to mix them up on your own site with non-review posts? What do you think of sites that have very few reviews?

Here’s the original post on Robert’s blog if you are interested:

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on February 15, 2015, in Blogging, Sunday Salon and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 60 Comments.

  1. I try to mix up my content, and I also like to keep my reviews short. Sometimes there is so much added in with the publisher’s synopsis, author info, etc. that I can’t get to the meat of the review, and I don’t want to just look at a star rating.
    Something I notice on my blog is that although my reviews don’t get a lot of comments they get a lot of hits.

  2. Oh,I know that bloggers are not that interested in reading reviews…
    That’s why I don’t write my reviews with them in mind.

    As you may know,Moby Dick was one of my first classics and I wasn’t impressed at all; I felt as if people forgot to tell me about the horrible digressions.As a result,I decided to write reviews on a blog so as to tell people what they may expect from a book.That’s why in my reviews I always include what they might not like in the book.So yeah,my audience are those people who’re looking for more information about a book before buying it.Hmm,I think this idea of mine is rather successful; many people asks questions about a certain book in their search engines and are driven to my blog.

    I also like my reviews to be ‘mature’,straightforward,concise and quality.I’m also always looking for ways to improve my writing,hence why it might take some time before one pops up; I feel I must be inspired when writing one.Haha…that sounds weird I know!

  3. I started my blog, like some others here, as a repository for my own ideas about the books I was reading. I had been making notes in a word document but I felt the blog would force me to be more disciplined about it. However, I do mix my posts up. As you know I have have a weekly post series on Aussie literature. I enjoy that though it can be a challenge thinking up a topic. Somehow though ideas come. I also occasionally write about other cultural “things) like concerts, films etc, but only a small percentage of what I attend – though I blog every book I read. I never have a backlog of reviews to write. As soon as I finish a book I start the review and will post it, usually within a day or so of finishing, though occasionally a book takes me longer to digest and write about. As well as books I review individual short stories and essays on occasion.

    Like many others here, I don’t read (blog or professional) reviews of books I haven’t read. So I do enjoy litblogs which do more than reviews. But I do love to come back and read reviews when I’ve read the book.

    I occasionally try to mix my review style up but most follow a broad formula, depending on the work. I usually start with something about why I read the book or something about the author or something that grabbed me particularly as I was reading, and then give a very brief description of what it’s about – just a sentence or two. Reviews that focus on plot bore me. I want to know what the book is about (not the plot but what the reviewer thinks the author wanted to say or explore), how the author approached this, and what the reviewer particularly enjoyed or didn’t.

    • Gulp, you do a review within a day or so of finishing the book! Wish I was as efficient. Occasionally I will start a review with something about the author but haven’t done that for a while so thank you for reminding me of that approach.

  4. I am with “lit love” & some others…when I go to my book club, I am far more interested in other people’s emotional reactions to a book (such as being triggered by a certain character or hating an ending) than I am their critical analysis. For that reason, I prefer to write about my own personal response to a story, memoir or poem. The Interestings, for example, was a book I loathed but brought some fun and enlightening discussion about our cultural obsession with fame and “being somebody” – far more engaging, in my opinion, than whether Meg Wolitzer wrote a good book (and we’ll never agree on that anyway:).

  5. I’d say I prefer both to write and to read a mixture of book reviews and other bookish stuff. Reviews tend to be the hardest posts to write but I get all my book recommendations from reviews by fellow bloggers so don’t you all stop writing them!

  6. What a great discussion you have sparked! If I only wrote reviews I would not be posting very often since I am not one who can read 120 books in a year. So I write about articles and book news around the internet that catches my interest and a couple years ago started doing regular posts about my gardening adventures. I like reading reviews when they are thoughtfully done. I don’t like formulaic reviews that do a plot synopsis that could be copied from the back of the book and then is followed by a paragraph of I liked it or didn’t like it. I like a bit of discussion and personality in the book reviews I read. 🙂

    • I’m not keen on formulaic reviews either Stefanie. I can easily get that from just reading the blurb on Goodreads or a similar platform. I do like your gardening topics even as someone who is definitely not green fingered. I planted onions one year and they came up exactly the same size as when they went in the ground.

  7. So much of it is how you use your own blog! I use mine as a journal for me and thus the boring Book XX: Book Title. But feedback for you – one of the posts I remember most from yours recently is the Miniaturist and maybe that’s because of your post tile, but could also be because the book sounded fascinating.

  8. This is a very interesting post. I read your review of The Miniaturist and thought it seemed a little different from your usual style, but couldn’t pinpoint what changed exactly. I like how you are experimenting with your reviews (or book thoughts, I’m not sure what to call them).

    I still like reviews though even if they generate a lot less discussion, I think there is good value, and I’ve found some real gems through book reviews.

    • its through other people’s reviews that I’ve also been led to authors I have never heard of before – particularly ones who don’t write in English. You hear so little of books in translation via traditional means that if it wasn’t for bloggers I wouldn’t get to know of them

  9. What an interesting discussion point. I started my blog so I had somewhere to post my reviews which are much ‘chattier’ than those that I used to write for Amazon and I’m loathe to wander too far from that format (and if I’m honest I doubt that I’m creative enough to come up with lots of other types of posts) I do get far more from the comments on some of my posts which can lead into other topics than on the blog itself so maybe that’s telling me something?

    • It takes me enough effort just to write one version, i can’t imagine how I would cope if I wrote one for the blog and something different for Amazon or Goodreads. Phew

  10. What a fascinating discussion! My favourite posts to write are those where I combine a book review with something going on in my life, but of course that doesn’t always happen. In an ideal world, I’d do one book review, one life writing and one bookish stuff post over the course of a week. It’s rarely an ideal world in my corner of the blogosphere either! But I love book reviews because there are so many books out there and I wouldn’t know what to read without them.

  11. It’s definitely an ongoing battle. I find writing reviews difficult some days but it’s also been a good exercise in a different kind of writing. I very much know what you mean when you read professional reviews but I also find that they give rather a lot of the plot away. Sometimes I don’t feel like reading a book after a professional reviewer has gotten to it because there doesn’t seem to be much point to the exercise!

    It’s a tricky balance and I think most bloggers struggle with it on and off!

  12. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently as I’m aware that my blog has become very review dominated, which I’m sure must be quite boring for people who aren’t interested in the specific books I’m writing about. However, the main reason I started my blog was to keep a record of the books I’ve read, what they were about and what I thought of them, so reviews do suit my purpose in that respect.

    I have been giving this a lot of thought lately, though, so I do have some ideas for introducing more variety into my posts and hopefully making my reviews more fun to read!

    • If thats the purpose of your blog then I wouldn’t be too worried about it Helen. Its your blog after all and if you want it to me more of a journal who’s to say that’s wrong

  13. I write book reviews so that I could have a record of my reading experience with that book and so that I could share that experience with others (or prevent others from having a bad experience in case of bad books). I put in the basic ingredients: brief intro, my thoughts and feelings, and why I thought or felt that way. I tried to incorporate John Updike’s pointers on book reviewing, which includes researching the work and author’s historical context, but that takes time for a full-time corporate slave like me. So I stick with what I think is essential, which is try to answer these questions: did you like a book? why or why not? Looks simple but answering these asks you to assess the many aspects of the book.

    When reading others’ reviews, I usually check reviews of books under my radar or books by favorite authors. However, I read reviews by professional reviewers and book bloggers differently. With the former, I read everything except long, self-indulgent quotes. With the latter, I usually skip the intros and jump to the last few paragraphs. This is because a lot of book bloggers, me included, tend to write summaries of what they have read instead of giving an assessment of a books merits (or demerits). I am more interested in what the reviewer really has to say about the book, and these are usually found at the end.

    I want to mix in other stuff in my blog, such as think pieces on books and literature or reactions on literary news and events (I have mixed feelings about the new Harper Lee novel, and I’m itching to write something about it), but life gets in the way. A lot. So we do what we can.

    More thoughts on book reviews:

    • Thank you Angus for such a thoughtful response. I would love to research the author of each book I read but I fear I would use that as a distraction from actually writing the review. Like you I am most interested in what the reviewer/blogger actually thought or how this book fits into the author’s body of work generally.
      Thanks for that link to NYtimes – off to read that shortly

  14. My blog has been evolving to a more bookish space over time. I try to write reflective pieces around a book I have read with only enough information to provide context. I also try to watch the length of my entries and get anxious when it nears 1000 words. Some bloggers can really critique the stylistic effectiveness of a particular piece of work in a way that is enjoyable and informative to read. That is not my strength. In large part I blog as a means of refining and exercising my writing skills. I also enjoy chatting books with others.

    I do enjoy book blogs that move beyond straight reviews or that show the character or special interests of the blogger. Having said that I stopped following the 101 Books blog because I began to feel he was filling space with obligatory posts and dragging out discussions around any one book beyond the point of interest (maybe the theme is getting him down). I would rather someone blog when they have something thoughtful to share rather than to just keep pushing themselves out there to “hear” the sound of their own voice, if you like. But then the whole blogging endeavour seems to be one of building and maintaining an audience. For most of us this is a hobby.

    You have been bringing up some interesting topics, BTW. Thanks.

    • You do a wonderful job of reflecting on the book you’ve just read and giving us more than ‘this is what the book is about and here’s what I thought of it’ approach. Good point about only blogging when you have something to say rather than because you have a goal of blogging x number of times a week. Easy to become a slave to it..

  15. I try to write reviews to be entertaining and not straight up reviews. Also to mix it up and give other info on the book. I still like writing and reading others reviews … that’s why I do this.

  16. This post gave me something to think about. I tend to write mostly reviews, but I do try to put a lot of thought into each one, and I try to write them from a personal perspective rather than just a critique. Mixing it up is important, but I don’t like blogs where everything is a survey or an event rather than reviewing books. I’ve been thinking about writing more posts about blogging and reading.

    • Its the personal perspective aspect that can be tough – reading is such a private experience but then we go and make it public to thousands of strangers via the internet.

  17. Maybe I’m the exception, but I love reading reviews, as long as they are engaging. Some bloggers are so good at it. The reason I started my own blog was to write about the thoughts I have after reading a book. I found I was reading so much with very few people who cared to talk about it with me. So far, I have enjoyed writing my book reviews, and they make up most of my blog posts. I do add in a non-review every once in a while, usually a list of some kind. I’m not as good at writing discussion posts – I find I need a book to get me writing. This is an interesting topic of discussion for book bloggers, though. We all like and specialize in different things. Which is good! It probably wouldn’t be as much fun if all any of us did was write reviews.

    • it absolutely wouldn’t be much fun if everyone did the same thing Naomi. if you find a recipe that you enjoy and your readers enjoy it too then you should certainly stick with it.

  18. hi karen. yes negative reviews can be thorny – you want to be honest but you also don’t to trash someone when they have put their heart and soul into the book. I had a tussle with my conscience over a few of these and got some good advice from bloggers

  19. To be honest, I only read reviews of books I’ve already read (most of the time). If I am sure I’m going to read a book, I avoid all of its reviews until I’ve finished the book myself.

    As a blogger, I definitely have a love/hate relationship with writing reviews. Some are so easy to write, some are more difficult. I especially hate writing negative reviews (but I do)…

  20. I think good traditional reviewing takes a lot of time, and few do it well.It may have a limited place on blogs. I am doing less of it because it prevents me from frequent posting. To write a review to my standards (which I rarely do any more), I spend several hours rereading parts of the book and making deeper connections. I’ve lately made a distinction between reviewing and reacting. I am more interested in understanding/recording my reactions than I am in writing a consumer piece. Writing is the place I go to think about a book. I only have a vague sense of audience. “Reading Reactions” may include spoilers, but revealing may be balanced by offering a unique perspective. My hope is that my writing will spark some thinking in others who may also have read the book. Or not read it. I think the blogs I like the best — like yours — try different things and often offer something unique.

    • Ah thats a lovely comment, thank you Barbara. I know you think long and hard about your pieces and you can tell that from the end result. Now to you your intriguing comment about “distinction between reviewing and reacting.” What would you see as the main differences?

  21. This is such a timely post for me.

    I gave up my book review blog a few years ago for this exact reason, and I am not quite sure how I am going to proceed. I know that I enjoy reading short reviews – not long detailed reviews. And I like reading fair critiques, not harsh criticism. I would like to write the type of review I enjoy reading.

    • I’m not keen on long reviews if all they do is tell me the plot (I’ve read a few where by the end I feel as I’ve read the whole book myself). I’ve seen a few where the reviewer uses the description by the publisher and then separately gives their thoughts – it seems an easy way to proceed though I’m not sure I wouldn’t get a bit tired of the formula. Do let us know what you end up doing Molly.

  22. I tend to bump review writing for the books I’m most excited about to the front of the line simply because if I’m excited about a book I think it bleeds through in the review and is ultimately more fun to read. I’ve also started trying to mix up the format of reviews in a similar way to what you mentioned here. I tend to read a lot of backlist stuff, so I find there’s better discussion on those reviews because more people have read them. Great post!

  23. Great topic, Karen, and timely as always. I’m in the camp of not writing reviews, but I appreciate those who continue crank out review after review, some daily. I know that it is an art form. For myself, I don’t want to see review after review and rather would see a variety of posts. I do like the reviews where it’s not just the title and the author. Those posts I usually do skip.

    • With some readers it must be a full time job since they read so much. I know you don’t do reviews as such but you do discuss the subject or themes which I enjoy.

  24. I try and write one non-review post for every three reviews to try and mix things up a bit. Now that I’ve been blogging for nearly three years, I do worry that I end up repeating myself sometimes as I don’t want to bore other people or myself! I am starting to write a few more posts which group books together like “Four Novellas I’ve Read Recently” rather than individual posts for every book.

    • That grouping idea is a good one. I’ve only done that once (recently) but its something I might peruse again when I don’t have too much to say about each title. I have a feeling that anyone who has been blogging for a few years does get to the point of feeling a little jaded and wanting to mix the recipe a bit

  25. I get so behind sometimes, that I end up posting only reviews because that is all I’m committed to do — the rest is my own stuff, so that goes undone and unfinished. I started out for the first few years as pretty much only reviews, but I started mixing it up a little bit. I would do more, but find that creating lists and unusual types of posts takes even more time than trying to come up with a decently written review that I won’t be embarrassed of later!

  26. Some of my favorite posts have started with a book, just a few details, enough to tempt me but not too much about the plot as I won’t then need to read the book ! But the books led on to the blogger’s own reactions to a character or a sub-plot, or to a discussion about an ethical or moral question which the book raises. For an example I am now reading John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness. The story centres around a priest in Ireland but my mind keeps veering off into thoughts of all the kinds of loneliness we can experience even when surrounded by other people. The loneliness of the spirit. I would enjoy this kind of writing about the book. But keep up the good work. We all keep coming back for more !!

    • Thats a perfect example of the kind of review I would love to be doing. They are the kind I enjoy reading myself and some people do have a real skill in making the wider connections. The other type of post I enjoy is where people talk about a theme in one novel and how it compares/contrasts to other writers. Now that does take effort as well as extensive knowledge of the subject so something I will have to wait until retirement to do

  27. I am trying to put more effort into the reviews I am writing, with more than “this is the plot” type of ideas.

    I have started including other style of posts as well, such as a free format style of post on a Sunday for The Sunday Salon, and I have a whole stack of prompts for when I get around to writing more. I used to write on book related and author related events, back when I went to more than I do now, but those have fallen by the wayside.

    It has recently been announced that Foyles will be opening a new store in Birmingham when the NewStreet station is completed. Whilst we have 2 waterstones in the city centre, we don’t have a true independent bookstore and I hope it will bring more book related stuff into town.

    • From what I recall Nordie, you plan your posts up to a week or more in advance. Mine tend to be more spur of the moment

      • I have mine scheduled reasonably in advance, but that does present its own challenges, in that I find it difficult to do the Spur of The Moment posts, reacting to current events.

        I must give myself permission to move posts out as I see fit!

  28. I always try to mix up reviewing books and some opinion pieces. Although, sometimes blogging can feel like shouting into the void with little response.

    • it can indeed feel lonely sometimes ‘hls’ – thats why i like commenting on other blogs. Do you join in things like readalongs? I don’t just because I can’t keep up with the schedules but it seems they do create a strong sense of a community of like minded people

  29. I agree! There is a real art to book reviews. I try to mix it up with non-book reviews. It’s difficult to find something else to say… A great post and interesting. Thanks!

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