Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Why You May Not See As Many Reviews Here Anymore

You may not see so many reviews here anymore.

I know I've lately been absent, more generally speaking, but when I think about blogging, usually the last thing on my mind is reviewing books (though next week, I think, you'll see reviews on Labrynth Lost and Of Fire and Stars from me, months late). And this sort of post is me being like "I'm not going to request any advanced review copies, and I'll eventually get through the ones I've had for the past year and that I still haven't reviewed yet, but I'm trusting y'all to hold me accountable, 'cause I don't know that I can actually write the kind of reviews that people want anymore."


I know that authors consistently say that reviews can help a book a lot. And I agree-- those numbers make a book look desirable and more. The more reviewed a book is, the more popular it looks, the more people are talking about it, the more other people not involved in publishing might want to buy it, the more it figures into recommendation algorithms, etc. etc.

But for me, I no longer feel like the typical consumer, and those reviews feel like they're meant for the typical consumer, an audience with whom I don't identify.

My cousin once scoffed at the idea of listening to bloggers (well, really, Goodreads users, because she didn't know what GR was, and she definitely doesn't use social media). She said that she only ever reads reviews from the New York Times, when buying new books.

My oldest brother listens to his friends and various email algorithms (e.g., Amazon, etc.) when looking for book recommendations. He once talked to me about how he'd seen and heard such praise about Sabriel, which he didn't end up liking. He also follows the general Popular Media and even read and liked Divergent. (I expect no one in my family to read young adult novels besides myself, and it especially astounds me when my brother and I agree on a book).

My other two brothers don't read books. Neither does my father.

My mother reads whatever books I've put onto our shared Amazon account, and usually the romance novels I get for her, I find through those same recommendations algorithms, or I have a trusted list of authors whose newest books I pre-order, or those trusted authors have recommended an author/book that seems interesting enough. Not really because I'm following romance blogs on her behalf.

My friends sometimes ask me for recommendations, because I still read more than some of them do. They also like to browse through the bookstore and sample various books in order to see whether or not the writing works for them.

In sum, the people around me - outside of book blogging - don't care about consumer reviews in the typical sense (though I recognize that those algorithms, if influenced by # of reviews, are technically influencing these people). It feels like many of the reviews are for other consumers who do care, and that is an impact that book bloggers have on a daily basis. We can post our thoughts on books and bump up their rankings or review numbers so that others notice, so that word of mouth increases, etc.

But for me, I feel like I no longer have the motivation to write reviews, because I no longer care about the kind of things that are often mentioned in reviews. I'm not that audience anymore, and I no longer know how to tap into that audience, when writing reviews.

I feel like most reviews nowadays don't actually answer the questions that I'm interested in. I don't care if someone thinks that a book has good character development, pacing, plotting, etc. That varies so, so much between people, and that's especially evident when a book includes a diverse character, a diverse world, etc. or is from an #ownvoices author, yet some reviewers don't have the level of experience to judge properly. Often I personally care most about the first few pages (sample writing style) and the synopsis - what the book aims to do (its Big Idea) and what discussion the book generates.

In short: Why should I care about this book? What makes it different from others?

Years ago, I was immediately attracted to the premise behind Divergent. Of all the virtues that we would base a society upon, is it true that these would dominate? How would these virtue-based factions function? Were these virtues based on Christian ideals or Plato generated musings? Ironically, this is what other people disliked about Divergent - they found the factions nonsensical. But I don't care that much if something doesn't make logistical sense so long as it actually raises discussion in an interesting way. (That's my biggest gripe with YA sci-fi. A lot doesn't make sense with what I know of science but then doesn't compensate by using the logic-defying plot/world elements to introduce a novel point of discussion.).

There are some YA series out there, right now, that are incredibly popular but have no consistent themes whatsoever. They jump from book to book like a serial that has no threads but the characters that return, and that's not something I care about... characters will be caricatures without consistent themes. If it's a series, I want the series to exist as a series for a solid reason. I want to see how the story builds on itself. I don't want to read about tropes that are rehashed in new ways but say nothing interesting. The Big Idea - the series theme, whatever is driving the series - needs to be set in place, same as with any standalone. And the discussion a book generates-- that's half the fun for me! Yet, some discussion never goes beyond "oh, I really liked that aspect of xyz character." But how is this any different than its predecessors? Does the character resonate with us because of who we are as people? Of mainstream desires? Fangirl/boy culture? (If you read my Fantastic Beasts post, you probably know by now that I can't really turn off the part of me that wants to analyze on a deeper level the metaphors and representations within a book or film.)

Reviews, in particular, are prey to a kind of superficial summary, because who cares about these aspects, and who will continue to read your review if you're not concise about the book? No one wants a "thesis." They want the ten-point summaries that I used to write, so that they could skim to understand the quick gist of my opinion of a book. Discussion posts won't work unless the person has read the book, too. So, then, what is the solution? Is there one? Is this the kind of thing people care about? What is the forum for these kind of discussions? Even the book clubs that I've been a part of don't tend to involve such discussions.

Maybe I'm just jaded after almost six years of book blogging, and I'm rambling about nothing at this point. What do you think? Have you ever felt like some reviews don't talk about interesting things? Have you ever struggled with writing reviews because you don't really rely on them yourself?

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