Booking Through Thursday: Honesty

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The weekly Booking Through Thursday question for today is:

Suggested by JM:

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?

This is a timely question: I was just discussing this topic with a friend recently.

Anyone who reads here much at all knows I love to read and I love to share with others the good books and authors I find. All the book reviews here have come because I read a book I wanted to talk about, not because I have been asked to review them. I have received e-mails asking me to review books, but so far I have turned them down because of some of the thorny problems I have seen other reviewers wrestle with.

I think blogging and online book reviewing are great for both book lover and author. The reader gets free books just in exchange for reading and discussing them, something she loves to do anyway. The author gets about the cheapest publicity possible, someone to enthusiastically spread the word. When it all works well, it’s delightful for both. When a reviewer, though, has a problem with a book or the author isn’t pleased with the review — then it can be a headache for both.

I think book reviewers are obligated to put up honest reviews above all else. I think if there is something they dislike about the book, they can and should discuss it as kindly as possible. There is no need to shred it to pieces or be condescending. But no reviewer or blogger is obligated to offer free commercials for authors — or nearly free, just for the price of the book. If a particular reviewer is always gushingly positive about everything he or she reviews, I don’t feel I can really trust their reviews: I feel they are just providing commercials for books. I might still read them for information, but if I am on the fence I would read elsewhere before deciding whether to check out the book.

As a Christian, there is another layer besides characterizations and plot lines: when I read Christian books I am also evaluating what I read in light of Scripture. Christian fiction encompasses a broad spectrum of views and interpretations, and while I understand and allow for that, I do feel obligated to point out anything I see that I would classify an unscriptural. I evaluate secular books the same way, but of course I don’t expect them to always line up with Scripture: that’s why I would be a little harder on Christian books which purport to represent Christian doctrine to some extent.

I know it can be a scary thing for an author to put their work out there and then read criticisms of it, and I know people can be causticly critical sometimes. But I would hope most authors would sift through criticisms to see ways to improve. If a number of people criticize a particular point or character or section of a plot line, it isn’t always because they don’t understand, don’t get it, or are ignorant grouches: it may indeed be because the author could have written it a little more clearly and compellingly. I think the best authors are always improving and growing in their craft.

An author takes a risk sending a book out to reviewers, and I think most of the time it works out well for all involved. But I think a good author doesn’t just want to sell books: he or she wants to write good books, and one factor in doing so is getting positive and negative feedback.

6 thoughts on “Booking Through Thursday: Honesty

  1. Well said.

    I’ve reviewed one book at an author’s request, but I plan to refuse if approached again. I’m not blogging to be associated with any author, either as a promotional aid or a destroyer. I’m blogging because I love to read, and blogging helps me to do it more fully.

  2. I’m not sure I could review a book at an author’s request. What if I didn’t want to read it? I have started to read a book and wondered how on earth it ever got published in the first place.
    I was contacted by an author recently because I mentioned that I was reading her book. It was a first or maybe second one for her. I was flattered that she asked my opinion and I gave it to her but I didn’t review her book online.
    My daughter has a new blog on which she only reviews the books she reads(often ones I’ve read too as we swap). She is honest and forthright in her review. Sometimes, she doesn’t like a book as well as I do. We all have different tastes so a review will reflect that taste.
    I do wish books would come with a rating as movies do. When I am buying a book by an unknown(to me) author, I want to know if it has any offensive language before I spend money on it. There are some words that I just cannot tollerate.

  3. I enjoy reading your answer, Barbara, and for bringing in biblical perspective. I wish I could get free books for reviews (I would also then be quite picky because I don’t want to just accept any book) but what is mentioned in my blog are books I bought.

    I do read books with offensive language in it and sometimes with questionable content just because it’s how the world is and it’s not a bed of roses or everything prim and proper. We should read with discernment. Know our stand, read consciously. See the world as it is. It helps us to understand where God stands in the midst of chaos as well.

    Happy BTT!

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