Adventures in Reading

Read My Book, Please
August 11, 2008, 2:52 pm
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , , , , ,

One of the unexpected benefits of book blogging is that occasionally authors or publishers contact me to review a book. I have had a growing handful now ranging from a short story collection to an academic look at the history of children’s literature to a novella by an up-and-coming young author. However, it is also somewhat nerve racking. Obviously these people want a positive review of their work and so far I have had luck where the books I have received are appealing and interesting. More or less, I stick with accepting books I would have picked up on my own anyway.

But the other day I had an e-mail request to review a book that was Christian inspirational. I like to think of myself as open minded and able to enjoy a well-crafted book regardless of the themes or ideologies tackled within the pages; but I’m an atheist and I have had no luck finding any pearls of wisdom, enjoyment, or even half-decent reads with books like Tuesdays With Morrie, The Secret, The Last Lecture, etc. So really, what are my chances of finding anything appealing about this book and providing my honest opinion?

It has taken me longer to write this post than it took me to come to a decision. I let them know that I was open to reviewing any book that came my way, but I felt it was only fair that they knew where I was coming from. Free books are lovely but not worth selling out on my own opinion. I was sure though to tack on a few other bloggers I’m aware of that may have a greater interest in the book.


I also sometimes accept free books for review (sometimes I even ask for them). When I first started, I was a little weary about saying anything negative about the books with the same line of logic you have here – they probably expect a positive review, that’s why they gave it to you right?

But in reading up on it, seeing reviews from other book bloggers that accept free books, and also looking into some articles on the matter, I’ve realized that it’s not important whether the review is positive or not. Of course, they’ll like it better if it is, but publicity is good whether it’s praise or not. You might outline the points you didn’t like about the book only to have someone visit your site and think, “well, I like that in books, maybe I’ll get this one.”

My point is that you shouldn’t feel obligated to write only good reviews. If the book was lacking in some way, say so. I think it’s more important to them that you actually took the time to review it than it is that you liked it. (That said, I still wouldn’t review a book you weren’t comfortable reading in the first place. I’ve done that, it felt forced and awful.)

Comment by Michelle

I’ve had to just face the fact that I can’t review all the offers I receive, and I only accept those books that I think have a fighting chance of a positive review. Plus, it makes the reviewing experience a lot more pleasant for me if the book is not a slog. Decisions, decisions. But free books are great, aren’t they?

Comment by Andi

I’ve got plenty of experience of reviewing board games – a Finnish board game publisher sends me a copy of every game they publish, even though I usually give them only decent reviews. They don’t seem to mind.

Recently I’ve started to ask review copies of books with great success. My review site only reviews good books – we just don’t publish bad reviews, we only give space for good books – and so far I’ve been able to review every book I’ve asked for, mostly by only requesting books I think I have a good chance of liking.

Free books (and games) sure are fun. That way I’ve found plenty of good Finnish authors I would’ve otherwise probably missed.

I’d say don’t worry about it, but focusing on books you expect to like is a good idea, if you have a choice. Forcing yourself to read something you don’t like just because you’ve asked or received a review copy is an annoying waste of time.

Comment by Mikko

Michelle: On a few occasions I admit I’ve hesitated about portraying a book negatively, but ultimately I go with my instincts and opinions. Granted, I contribute this to roughly a year ago when I was sent some rather nasty e-mails from poorly portraying a book. But ultimately that’s simply part of representing all books I read: the good and the bad.

Andi: Free books are wonderful and not something I expected at all from blogging about books. (Rather a daft perspective in retrospect.) But I think sticking with books that sound like something I’d pick up anyway is a good place to start.

Mikko: Board games!? That is very interesting. I suppose everything needs reviewers.

Comment by bookchronicle

I think that only accepting review copies of books that you’d pick up on your own is a good rule. I don’t get many review requests, but so far that’s what I’ve been doing too.

And recently I was also contacted about a Christian inspirational book, possibly the same one you mentioned. I ended up e-mailing them back and explaining that, as an atheist, I probably wouldn’t be able to do the book justice. I like to think that I’m open minded too, and I do enjoy reading books that come from all sorts of different religious and ideological backgrounds. But this book in particular seemed to be of the kind that takes belief for granted in a way that sort of alienates readers that are not of the same faith as the author.

Comment by Nymeth

Nymeth: It would not surprise me at all if we had been asked about the same book. It’s great getting free books, but I suppose if there is any ethics in book blogging one might be that it’s a cruddy idea to review a book you know you will approach with ridicule already lurking in the back of your mind. I think of myself as an open minded individual, or at least try to be, but a motivational or inspirational book tends to target an audience that’s already bought what was sold!

Comment by bookchronicle

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