Oct 30, 2011

The Sunday Salon – On Ambivalence

The Sunday Salon.comThe question “So, did you like it?” is probably the most common way to begin a bookish discussion: it’s what most of us will immediately ask if someone tells us they’re reading or have just finished a book we’d like to know more about. While there’s nothing wrong with asking this question, I’ve noticed that in answering it we often sacrifice complexity for the sake of brevity or of clearer communication. Saying “Yes, I liked it” is simpler than “I loved the storytelling, but the writing was so-so”, and not necessarily any less true. We may like or even love books that we know are anything but perfect, yet “I loved this book” is often read as “I loved every single thing about it”, and “Yes, I liked it, but—” as a polite way of saying “No, don’t read it”.

My favourite discussions, however, are the ones that leave room for ambivalence, for contradictory emotions, for a deep appreciation for some aspects of a book that coexists with a rejection or at least a questioning of others. Very often, we love problematic works while knowing full well that they’re problematic, and to do so doesn’t mean we’re refusing to engage with or hiding away all the things we don’t like. We know they’re there, we want to acknowledge them and think about them, but they don’t have to take away from the things we do love.

For example, I love Wilkie Collins and his engagement with Victorian feminist issues, but I’m well aware that the revolutionary aspects of his writing go along with an evocation of several stereotypes of femininity. Some he chooses to subvert, others not so much. I loved The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey even though the way it dealt with female characters was straight out of classic horror (they were there to be eaten); I love many manic pixie dream girl stories even though they’re another drop in a cultural sea where women are portrayed as objects but seldom subjects of desire; I loved the BBC Sherlock series despite the horribly racist second episode; I loved the classic feminist texts I read for the Year of Feminist Classics earlier this year, even though very often the authors’ insight about gender was accompanied by blind spots about class or race that really stand out in retrospect.

These “buts” aren’t all socio-political, of course – a book may have a great plot but so-so writing; gorgeous writing but little else; engaging characters that steal our hearts but a meandering plot; or it may take too many freedoms with historical details, for example, while still being fun and captivating. We love flawed things, and to do so doesn’t mean we must excuse or explain away their flaws. The fact that we can love things not blindly but while fully engaging with their shortcomings is part of what The Magician’s Book is about, and is one of the reasons why it’s one of my favourite works of literary criticism.

The excellent discussion on the Bechdel test at Jenny’s blog recently was another reminder of this: several bloggers weighted in with thoughtful comments, and the main thing I took away from the conversation was that even though it’s only human to worry about what enjoying certain things may say about us, the truth is that it doesn’t necessarily say anything at all. Books and other media are often multifaceted, and the fact that they may fail on one level doesn’t mean there isn’t value on what they achieve on others.

This is why I worry about conversations about blogging (or any other kind of literary discussion, really) that seem to conflate the concepts of “critical” and “negative”. For example, I’ve often come across comments along the lines of, “I want to see critical engagement with books, and bloggers who enjoy everything they read don’t really do this”. The ideal balance between positive and negative reviews, if such a thing can be said to exist, is perhaps a topic for an entirely separate discussion. But what I’m not comfortable with here is the implication that to “critically engage” is to arrive at a negative assessment of some sort. You can deconstruct a book and marvel at its thoughtfulness and complexity while doing so; you can explore a book in-depth, find things you’re less than happy about, and still come away with an overall appreciation of it; and yes, you can critically engage with something and find it lacking in most aspects. This is certainly a possibility, but not the only critical possibility.

There are probably as many answers to the questions “what is the purpose of a book blog?” as there are bloggers and blog readers. People use blogs for different reasons, and sometimes all we want really is a simple and quick answer to the question “Did you like it? Would I like it too?”. This is as valid as anything else, but it’s useful to remember that there may be a lot of nuance behind the answer we’re after.

Do you ever find it difficult to communicate ambivalence in your reviews? Do you think the kind of discussions we most often have tend to reduce nuance and ambivalence to clear answers? Do you ever worry that when you discuss any misgivings you had about an overall good book all people are going to take away from it is “Don’t read it, it’s bad”? Do you have any other thoughts to share on this? If so, I would love to hear them.

46 comments:

  1. I think this is probably the million dollar question for us, isn't it? I've reviewed books that I have generally liked (4 out of 5 stars) but if I mention one or two things that I did not like, that is what people are drawn to, and what they comment about. And I feel like I have failed in my mission. No book is perfect, and my mission is to help the reader figure out if the book would be interesting for them. So I try to explain WHY it appealed to me or WHY I didn't like something so they can apply it to themselves. That doesn't always get through though, does it?

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  2. Sandy, I'm so relieved to hear I'm not the only one who feels that way! I feel that I've failed when that happens too, and yet I know I've probably left a million comments like that myself. The "but" often seems to stand out, doesn't it? Perhaps we tend to find those things easier or more interesting to discuss?

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  3. You're right, it's the "but" that we're drawn to. I know I've put together a review where I've criticised lots of aspects of a particular novel, but I still actually enjoyed the experience of reading it and would probably still recommend it in the right situation. Those are for me the hardest reviews to write, and then people in comments do tend to fasten on whatever negative statement I've said - as do authors when I get protests about them, even if I've overall actually LIKED the book.

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  4. I definitely agree that people are drawn to critical aspects. I am often astounded to see people comment something like "I'm sorry this didn't work for you!" and I want to shout back, but it DID!!! But my theory has always been that many people want to visit a lot of blogs and be kind and leave comments, and so they (perhaps, according to my theory), skim, looking for a quick hook upon which to hang a comment. That is actually my hope, because otherwise, like Sandy, I would feel too much like a failure!

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  5. Meghan: I don't hear from authors very often, but I imagine that's even more frustrating! You'd think they'd pay close attention to reviews of their own books and pick up on the subtleties :P

    Jill: Yes, that's an excellent point. Sometimes even if you've done more than skimming it can be hard to find something to comment on, and yet you want to tell the blogger hi and let them know you're there. Still frustrating, but also understandable. I'll try to think of that next time I feel like a failure ;)

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  6. Great discussion topic - I think reviews that explore the nuances between "I Loved it!" and " I hated it!" are the most interesting and most difficult to write.

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  7. Oh my. This post is so awesome, Ana. I know I'm guilty, guilty, guilty of commenting on the things that didn't work for people very often at the expense of the things that did. Like you said, for one thing I think in some ways it makes for easier conversation to an extent. You know, this is part of the reason I quit even trying to write about books. If I didn't completely love a book or completely despise a book (which rarely happens), I felt I could never adequately get my feelings across. I always assumed it was just my lack of writing skills...it never dawned on me that others must struggle with it or that I helped perpetuate those feelings. I know--how very self-absorbed of me. So I thank you for opening my eyes. And I will apologize for the email I sent about Salem's Lot, which probably sounded like a prime example of this. :P I really did realize that you enjoyed the book. :)

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  8. Books and other media are often multifaceted, and the fact that they may fail on one level doesn’t mean there isn’t value on what they achieve on others.

    Exactly. People often seem to be a little confused when I express affection for a text that I know is problematic (and say so) or discuss the flaws of a work I like. And you're very right that "critical" and "negative" are being used interchangeably when they don't mean the same thing.

    I don't find it difficult to communicate, because I often take the easy way out and just say, "I'm ambivalent about this text!" or something to that effect. I also try to, in my little one or two line summation of the review, try to give equal weight to the poor and/or problematic elements and the good elements. I also think my rating system comes in handy there as well.

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  9. Booksnyc: They are, but they're also often my favourite!

    Debi: First of all, your e-mail DID NOT sound like that at all! I mean it. I really hope I don't come across like I was trying to guilt-trip anyone by calling attention to this. It's something that we all do, and it's human and natural and perfectly okay. And for what it's worth, I never thought your writing ever failed to convey ambiguity!

    Clare: Yes, ratings are definitely useful when it comes to this. I suspect that the fact that I don't use them causes even more confusion when I'm trying to discuss a book I loved but also found problematic.

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  10. Ack! I just wrote a long comment, and blogger ate it. Trying again.

    I totally relate to what you're saying here, and like others, I've had the same experience of readers fastening onto one or two reservations I express about a book. That doesn't really bother me, unless they say they won't read the book because of what I consider minor problems. For some reason, this especially bothers me when I mention socio-political problems in the book. (I have a post cooking in my head about that.)

    These days, I try to express my ambivalence, especially when it comes to socio-political issues, by talking about things I found "interesting" rather that things that bothered or pleased me. That seems like a way of engaging with the issues without passing judgment on the book overall.

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  11. YES! This is why I've kind to wanted to step away from a judgement review style (this didn't work for me), to a more discursive style of review (here is something that is interesting to note), to avoid sounding like I hated books I found a lot of value in. But it's really hard to find the right balance to get my own thoughts out and allow people reading those throughts to meander through their own conclusions on those thoughts. I think litlove is probably one of the best in the biz for achieving this kind of effect.

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  12. I've noticed that I find it a lot easier to point out what I didn't like in a book rather than what I did. And if I hated a book it is so much easier to blog about it.

    Even if I loved a book I'll often spend more time detailing what the problems with it were, not because they made me love the book any less, just because for me, those things are easier to pinpoint.

    But as I've just commented on my own blog my Summer's End resolution is to notice the things I like and to mention them. To celebrate the little, but great, things.

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  13. NO! You absolutely don't sound like you're trying to guilt-trip anyone! Not by a long shot! But this post was eye-opening for me, and I LOVE that--that's all I meant. Seriously, I don't know why I have such a habit of assuming that because other people seem to make things look so easy, that they really are so easy for them. Does that make any sense?

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  14. I appreciate your point about critical reviews vs. negative reviews. Book blogs do tend to be a long series of praise. Basically, I think most people are very good at picking out books they will enjoy in the first place.

    I also agree that your first question, "Did you like it," is the automatic one most people go to when discussing a book. But I find it does not produce much in the way of interesting discussion. That's the reason why I never ask it in front of a class full of students. I do ask it one-on-one.

    I'm much more interested in what you thought about the book, what works? how does it work? is there anything in it that stood out as excellent or new? I've tried to make my reviews go in this direction instead of following a more traditional positive/negative review structure. I think some people my end up wondering if I liked a book I've reviewed, which is fine with me.

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  15. "even though it’s only human to worry about what enjoying certain things may say about us, the truth is that it doesn’t necessarily say anything at all"

    I like this thought, because it's one of the things I run up against when, for example, reviewing a Regency Romance where the main character is one of those feisty modern-girl-in-Regency-skirts kind of deals, and I still enjoyed it thoroughly. I have made a point of reviewing everything I read, and honestly, which can sometimes be uncomfortable because I do worry about what others will think of me. I worry they'll think I'm shallow, or ignorant, or disrespectful, or anti-feminist... the list goes on.

    I always find that reviewing books that I have trouble with, either disliked or liked with reservations, is actually easier than reviewing a book I loved without reservation. There's fodder there for discussion, whereas often when reading a book I love I tend to think about it uncritically afterwards. I think you're absolutely correct, that we can think critically about what we love, too -- figure out, somehow, what it was we loved so much, what technicals worked so well, why a particular character attached himself to our heart. My problem is always that I worry the shine will come off. That by delving into a book critically, I will expose the mechanics and realize something is broken, or not as intricate as I thought it was.

    In reality, of course, most of the books I love stand up quite well to the scrutiny, and if I do take the step of looking deeper I often find I love the book more.

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  16. Great post, Ana. As a person who should probably get "I heart ambivalence" printed on a t-shirt, it's not surprising that all of my favorite blogs are willing to diverge from or expand on the "did you like it?" question in order either to explore their own ambivalence or to offer a more in-depth analysis (something that doesn't necessarily hinge on their opinion of the book at all). I couldn't agree less with those who say they stop reading a blog if it doesn't answer the "did I like it?" question clearly and immediately; that's not at all a high priority for me, although it's fine that it is for other people - there's enough space on the internet for all of us, after all.

    Your point about people conflating "critical" and "negative" is an interesting one. While I think that's true, I also think it may just be easier to comment on specific criticisms (the main female lead was a manic pixie dream girl) than it is to comment on more vague pieces of praise (the rest of the characterization was outstanding). It gives a more solid "handle" for discussion.

    Anyway, very thought-provoking stuff!

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  17. This is a really interesting post! I have noticed before that the majority of my reviews so far are positive, only mentioning a few minor aspects I didn't like. I think this is partly because often the reason I didn't enjoy a book was that I found it dull and therefore can't find much to say about it, so I just don't write about it at all. Or if I really hated it, I just didn't finish it! Or with a book I enjoyed, there may be a nagging feeling of something I didn't like or might want to argue with, but I don't analyse it, simply because I want to love the book completely. I certainly think I have a fear of being overly critical sometimes, which I should probably get over! This post has made me think it might be worth delving a bit deeper in an overall positive review, as I often enjoy reading other people's more 'critical' (in all senses) reviews, and I think that even a book one doesn't completely like can provoke interesting discussion, say something about society/culture and be worth analysing. Anyway, I'll end this rather rambling reply here...but I do very much agree with you that ambivalence is worth expressing and I think the most interesting things to say about a book aren't usually 'loved it' or 'hated it'.

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  18. I always feel like I'm terribly bad at conveying nuance in my reviews -- people often say "Sorry you didn't like it!" when I was trying to say I mostly liked it except for this one thing that frustrated me.

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  19. I made the decision early on that I would only write about books that I basically responded positively to. As C.B. James pointed out it's helpful that I've got quite good at picking books I like to read anyway.

    That said I've noticed that books I've felt most ambivalent towards, and where I've expressed that ambivalence when I write about them, have attracted the most positive commentary.

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  20. My favorite reviews are the ones that say "this is what I believe the author may have been trying to accomplish artistically/emotionally/technically, and this is why I believe it, and here's where it worked and didn't work from my point of view"--or else the completely discursive ones using the book as a springboard to other subjects.

    On the other hand, I don't mind bloggers and commenters just saying "rah" and "boo" about books without breaking it down any further. Or even "Gee thanks, glad I don't have to read that one!" I agree with Rhapsody In Books that sometimes readers just want a hook for a response. If they choose to give a novel or blog post a lighter reading--even such a light reading they miss salient points--that's their prerogative. As you say, so many reason to read blogs.

    I don't read blogs that are *exclusively* "loved this" and "didn't like it" posts because they feel impersonal to me. Internet-y in a bad way. For me, not EVERY post book blogger writes has to delve into the text or fully engage with it, but at least some posts need to, or I'll never get to know them well enough to take an interest in their preferences! I look for variety and integrity in their responses to their reading before depth. Once I get to know a blogger's way of approaching books, even a simple "loved it" post can be informative and enjoyable, especially if they have a way with words.

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  21. This (the post) is why I want to hug you in the face.

    This (the issue) is why I give books a numerical ranking. Because you can say 'this was good and this was bad but the good outweighs the bad' ALL YOU WANT and all people will hear is 'this was bad.' I've had books I give a fairly high ranking receive any number of 'Oh, I guess I won't read this then' comments.

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  22. What a great post!!!

    I have trouble at this point "dissecting" literature, but I often like what I've read. So at this point, I do often convey only a black & white "I liked it." Since I say at the start that my blog is a journal of my reading journey (someone above called that a "discursive" style over a "judgmental" style"), I don't worry too much about the naysayers that occasionally complain that literature isn't being dissected enough on blogs. For one thing, almost every classic I read is one that I'm reading for the first time; for me, pure enjoyment happens on the first read, and dissection begins to happen in the second and third reads.

    I agree SO MUCH with your assertion that one needn't dislike the work to have discussed to "critically." I have liked nearly everything I've read so far -- precisely for what one might dissect as a litterary strength. But because I'm so new at literature, I can't put into words at this point what that strength is; all I can do is say, "I liked it." I'm hoping that eventually I'll have a big pile of books I have liked, that I can then return to in college or privately to further dissect.

    But truly? I think literature is to be experienced and loved however the reader pleases. Not everyone wants to analyze, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. If I was a writer, I'd far rather know that my books were visited, and perhaps even treasured -- than that they were "critiqued" (positively or negatively.)

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  23. This is a topic I have been thinking about lately, so your post was timely for me. I have come to discover that I usually can find a whole host of reasons to like a book, but there will usually be pieces and parts in all of them that I didn't really enjoy. So I can never answer the question of if I liked it or not succinctly. Now, there are some books that I love unreservedly, and will tout to anyone who will listen, but usually, I have to temper what I do like in a book against the parts that didn't work for me and make an ultimate determination. Such an engaging post today, and something that has helped me think about this issue in a new way. Thanks, Ana!

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  24. Books that I'm ambivalent about are the hardest to write about. Sometimes I don't know what I don't like about it.

    I've written a few reviews of books I've loved and in the review, mentioned one little thing that bothered me and it seemed that every commenter picked up on the negative thing.

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  25. Books and other media are often multifaceted, and the fact that they may fail on one level doesn’t mean there isn’t value on what they achieve on others.

    Yes. This.

    Also "yes. This." to not equating critical with negative. It's perfectly possible to delve deep down into something, and to be aware of both its shortcomings and its strengths, without negativity.

    I, like many others, try to strike a balance between "this worked for me because..." and "this didn't work for me and/or I was uncomfortable with it because..." in my reviews. And I, like many others, often receive comments from people who were sorry I disliked something, even though I thought I made it pretty clear that I liked most of it but took issue with portions of the text.

    I guess we're just hardwired to latch on to the bad stuff.

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  26. I've been collecting some of my favorite blog posts to put on my sidebar next month and this is one of them. I love a lot of books, but that doesn't mean they are perfect and you worded it so much better than I could have.

    The Internet often doesn't allow for complexity. That takes time and discussion.

    And as so many others said, Being critical is not being negative. It's been thoughtful. It's thinking. Pondering. Re-reading.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this wonderful post. And thanks to everyone else who made such wonderful comments.

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  27. Ah, that's being, not been. LOL! I am baking cupcakes for Halloween while blogging!!!!

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  28. Oh, I definitely agree. I don't think I really read blogs for "Would I like this book?" kind of news, though. I read them to learn about books that I may have missed, and to add to my wish list, but I don't always act on them. I just like the discussion, I guess :-)

    It's interesting because Raych puts numerical rankings on her books because of the nuance and I've actually STOPPED the 5/5 stars type thing for the same reason - I don't know what weight people assign to books compared to me, I don't know how people weigh different aspects, sometimes I change my mind later on... so it's easier for me to just not give a ranking and discuss the book. That's why I also now call my book posts "Musings" instead of "reviews."

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  29. I realised a while ago that just cos I didn't like a book it didn't meant that it wasn't valuable to the literary world. So, rather than the five star approach to reviewing common among bloggers, I now choose to rate books on five different aspects, thus:

    http://johnandsheena.co.uk/books/?page_id=1618

    it's certainly helped me learn to look at a novel more holistically.

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  30. I always worry that the only thing I ever really say in reviews is a big Nothing. Mainly I'm wary of mentioning potential spoilers which makes it hard sometimes to talk about what I did or did not like without mentioning any specifics.

    I do try to be honest as I possibly can. If something bugged me enough I will mention it even if I overall loved the book. Negatives aren't a bad thing - I think if anything, it makes the review more trustworthy.

    I do worry if I put people off. I know if I read a review and they mention a negative aspect that I go looking for it in the book as I read. This is why I try not (but usually fail) to actually read reviews of books too close to reading them.

    Yet I don't want to gush over something and then not mention that wee little factor I didn't like about it. Sometimes I think I don't really discuss these things enough because I don't wish to make a big deal about it.

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  31. I've sort of given up trying to convey ambivalence in my reviews. It seems like either way, people read them as "positive" or "negative," and I know that as a writer I do edit out some of my ideas about a book so that the review doesn't go all over the place. I think that's why actual book discussion is important; a review is often going to only weigh in one direction.

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  32. This is such a great post - you've hit the nail on the head when it comes to discussing or recommending books to others. I actually find it difficult most of the time to participate in those conversations because what I like or dislike about a book, others may feel differently about and I don't want to give the impression that my response to a book someone hasn't read is the definitive response.

    When it comes to reviews, I really appreciate it when bloggers don't try to distance themselves from their reviews. Given that bloggers are a diverse group of people, reactions will always be different due to personal taste, beliefs, etc. As such, I find reviews like yours to be more useful overall because if you mention in a review something you like or dislike that I'd feel the same way about, I can better judge whether or not I should pick up the book in question.

    Again, thank you for writing such a wonderful post.

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  33. What a great topic.

    As made obvious in the comments, you're not the only one who has problems writing reviews. Fence hit the nail on the head that it's easier to write about something you hate rather than something you like. (I think this is true of anything, not just books . . . restaurants, customer service experiences, etc.) Because of this, sometimes it's hard to get the overall tone right in order to convey that I may have liked the book in spite of the problematic niggly things or that I didn't like the book in spite of the lovely language and gripping characters. Sometimes I have no idea why I like or don't like something, I just DO (or DON'T).

    I will say, though, that the simple do-you-or-don't-you like the book is often what I look for first. Because at the end of the day, after the discussions about plot and character development, arguments over whether the author was too lavish in their descriptions, arguing over narrator reliability, and so on, I want to know whether you would recommend the book to someone else. That's actually why I'm not even a fan of the rating system that we use (over at FT); what may be three stars to me is 1 star to someone else and five stars to someone else, and what does that even mean anyway? I just want to know if it's worth reading or not. (And then, if I DO read it, then we can come back and talk about it together!)

    In fact, I'm lukewarm about most books that I read. Worth reading, yes, but wouldn't bother reading again. So I find that most of my reviews sit in the middle of the spectrum, which I feel a) hurts the blog a bit because people love to see what you love and hate and 2) is sometimes a little rough for me, especially the books that I feel that I "should" like, so I try to grab on to anything. But hey. We've got the blog because we love to read and chat about what we've read. Gotta hope that people come to the site for that. Anything else, well . . . 'tis a bonus.

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  34. I think I am pretty good at being able to be honest about what things I like about a book and what things I don't. I do sometimes worry that if I am too critical then people might not read it when in fact they might enjoy it for reasons I didn't. I wouldn't like to think that I turned someone off reading something they wanted to. But I wouldn't change the way I reviewed the book nonetheless

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  35. I completely agree with you that 'critical' and 'negative' are NOT synonymous. I couldn't begin to count the time I have spent trying to explain to people that being a professional literary critic means I DON'T do value judgements - newspaper reviewers may do those, but not university teachers. In fact, what I love most about interpreting a book is the fact that liking it or not, thinking whether the book is 'good' or not, is irrelevant. I'm interested in the way books work, how they do what they do, how they often say one thing ostensibly, and lots of other things on the quiet. Once you begin down this route, you see how fascinating it is, and so much more fulfilling that just wondering whether you liked it or not. As you so rightly say, as soon as we get past the superficial level of judgement, we find things we like and things that trouble us, or confuse us, or give us a powerful emotion. And that's what we read for, really, isn't it?

    Wonderful post, Nymeth!

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  36. I struggled over exactly this for my post that went up today (Monday). It's the meh books that are the hardest to write about.

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  37. I think the nuances behind the yes or no are vitally important. Since my taste differs from your taste (and really, are any of us exactly the same in this regard), the *reasons* for appreciation and discomfort are crucial for translating your answer to a personal prediction based on my personal taste.

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  38. Wonderful post Ana. I always find it difficult to put across exactly what I think about a book. Sometimes it comes across more postive or more negative than I intended. However, I like reading about people's personal take on books so I try and put how I feel (which totally depends on my mood when reading and expectations.) However, I do agree with you that critical and negative do not have to mean the same thing. And if I didn't like a book, I would still expect others to try it for themselves.

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  39. Brilliant post, Ana! Loved reading every word of it. Expressing ambivalence in a review is quite a difficult thing. It is easy to say 'I liked the book' or 'I didn't like it'. But reviews which express ambivalence are quite fascinating to read. I loved reading your thoughts on books that you liked but which had issues. So beautifully written!

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  40. Fantastic post. I often find it hard to be ambivalent or show both good and bad parts. I'm often either too positive, forgetting to mention those parts that made me want to tear my hair out, or too negative, forgetting to mention the good parts. Difficult balance I think.

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  41. Are there that many people who read book blogs for recommendations? I read them more to find out about the mind behind the review. Probably there are as many reasons for reading blogs as there are for writing them. As a writing teacher, I will observe that the hardest thing to do in a first draft is clearly present a coherent point of view. And many blog posts are first drafts. They're exploratory, which is why the effect on readers is not always clear-cut.

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  42. I've been debating with myself whether or not to add a score to each review. In the end I decided not, for the reasons you've just mentioned.

    Still, I think it's very clear by my reviews if I "liked" a book or not. I must confess my occasional frustration with blogs that never publish a clearly negative review. it feels so... safe! I'm with Jeanne on this: I what to know about the mind of the reviewer, their gut feelings, and once in a while a well-argued "I hated it" :)

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  43. You are the best at discussing real issues and making it so coherent. I've been thinking about this so much lately. I've had difficulty writing reviews recently because I've been so ambivalent about most of the books I've read. Nothing has really grabbed me to where I can declare that I love it. It's so difficult for me to formulate a coherent post to express that.

    I always worry that saying something negative will discourage someone from picking up a book that they might otherwise enjoy, but just didn't work for me.

    Very thought-provoking!

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  44. I totally agree Ana, ambivalent reviews that are about more than whether a book was good or bad, liked or unliked, are often the most interesting to me. I try to be critical in all my "reviews", whether I enjoyed the book or not...sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don't, but I think critical approaches add depth and richness to thinking about books. Sometimes in my own writing I worry that the things I don't like about something sound more clearly than the things I do; that it's easier to write about things I find annoying than things I love, and that this gives a skewed interpretation of what I actually think about something. So yes, I find it hard to communicate that ambivalence sometimes, but it's almost always there.

    Great post :)

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  45. I try to provide both the reasons why I liked (or loved) a book and also the aspects that I may have been less than thrilled in regards to. I've been lucky this year because there weren't too many all out bad books that I have read and some were ones that I just didn't like as well as I had hoped.

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  46. I just joined Goodreads (well, I joined long ago, but I've just started actually USING it) and I've been finding that when I assign a "rating" to a book, I feel like I"m losing some of the depth I've enjoyed when I write about the books. I think you introduce good questions here: how does one critical examine a book without necessarily saying "LOVED it" versus "liked it"?

    For most of my book blogging "career" I'd just written my impressions and thoughts, trying to be somewhat critical as I examine what the book is about. But I think you're right, sometimes I find myself writing on a more superficial "like or not" level. And well crafted literature, I think, deserves more than that. One can not like some aspects but still absolutely love having read the book.

    Anyway, I'm not answering anything by this comment, but I do appreciate the thoughts you share here. It makes me want to go back to NOT trying to "rate" the books I read and instead to try to respond to the books as a whole. Which is what I want to do. It's just hard to find time....It does take much longer to write critically...

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.