Am I Being Unfair In My Reviews?

So, my dear ducklings, I found myself with quite a conundrum on my hands the other day. See, while I was reviewing a book and I was thinking, “You know, I really, really, really enjoyed this book…Buuuuuuuuuut, technically speaking, the book could be better. So how do I rate and review the book???”

Here’s the thing: I’m a very analytical, critically minded reviewer. While I’m not an English major, I have taken many a writing course and know a fair amount of literary analysis. So I rate and review things largely based on technique. But here’s what I’ve been realizing: literature, as an art form, seeks to evoke emotion and if we disregard how it makes us feel in the process of analyzing it, then we cannot say we have truly been fully analyzing it as we have ignored an essential element.

Now I’m not saying we should evaluate literature solely on how it makes us feel. After all, technique is the vehicle by which emotion is conveyed and it is my opinion that if a work of art’s technique is not strong, then it’s ability to convey its message and emotion to full capacity is crippled. But I’m saying that it is my personal philosophy that in all things–and perhaps  especially in analysis–we should strive for balance, for equal parts reason and emotion.

But where does that leave me as a reviewer? From what I’ve seen, book bloggers seem to be split into two camps–those who review and rate a book based on how it made them feel and those who rate and review books based on technique. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. The question then becomes not if we can write a balanced review based on emotion and technique, but how to do so.

That’s a question I honestly can’t answer, largely because how you write your reviews is up to you. But what I can say is that I will be striving to write more balanced reviews.

Do you rate and review books based on how they made you feel, their technique, or both? If you rate and review books based on both, how do you do so?

This Post Has Been A Part Of The 2016 Discussion Challenge!

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Lila is a 27-year-old college student studying physics and a lover of literature. When she's not busy reading or saving the world through science, Lila can be found singing jazz and blues and obsessing over hedgehogs (a.k.a. the cutest animals in the multiverse!)

22 thoughts on “Am I Being Unfair In My Reviews?

  1. I rate books mostly based on how they made me feel and if I will recommend this book to anyone. I don’t take the technique into consideration much, but if the technique is so bad that it’s impossible for me to enjoy the book I will point that out in my review.

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  2. This is definitely a tricky one! I like to think I sit in both camps but I definitely lean towards reviewing more as a steam of consciousness filled with fangirling emotions and many a tangent. But it’s still important to think about how well the book was written etc – I just feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about when in delve further into those matters.

    I reckon as long as your reviews make sense to you and you’re enjoying what you’re reading then it almost doesn’t matter ☺️ And it’s always nice to read other people’s reviews that are entertaining to read 😁

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  3. Wow, i had this incredibly long comment and then it disappeared… let me try again.
    I am myself an emotional reader, so i mostly write emotional reviews. Sometimes when something feels really wrong with the technique or the writing style i may comment on it.
    I think that it’s important that there are the two kinds of reviewers since people looking for books are all looking for a different experience. Some are looking for a more analytical kind of reading, many people enjoy the technique and style, some others are just plain looking for an emotion. So, it doesn’t matter what you write, there will be at least one person that will find your words inspiring and will, indeed, read the book because of what you presented them.
    In my opinion, if you write about emotion it’s great. If you write about technique, it’s great. Writing about both technique and emotion is great too. Sharing the word about books we love and books love a little less, it’s an amazing thing to do by itself. It’s important we talk about the both sides of a book, so i don’t think you are being unfair, you are just making justice to what you read, felt and experienced while reading the book.
    I personally really enjoy your reviews, so i may be a little biased here, but you know, i truly believe each one has a style of writing their reviews for a reason and for particular people looking for something that speaks to them.
    Gosh, sorry for the long comment! I feel i went over board. Still, love your work a lot ❤


  4. I haven’t studied English literature or even taken any writing courses so struggle with the technical side. I tend therefore to fall into the emotional reviewer camp. I’ll overlook little niggles if I loved a book. In writing a review I tend to ask myself key questions, did the story hold my interest, did I like the writing style (I never know the right words to describe it but you know if it works for you), how did I feel about the characters (did I care about them) and did it generate some kind of emotional response. A book I couldn’t put down, loved the characters and either ended up in fits of laughter or floods of tears is usually required for 5 stars. A book where my attention wandered and I really didn’t care what happened will probably get a 2. I save my 1 stars for books I absolutely hate so they’re a rare occurrence

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  5. With very few exception I can’t really *like* a book unless I felt it had solid technique. The way I liked The Lightning Thief is way different, and way weaker, than the way I like A Tale For The Time Being. I’m all for guilty pleasures, but I’m all for being honest their flaws and weaknesses.

    Of course I hate everything, so….

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  6. Oooh this is a difficult topic. I try to focus on both, but sometimes I realise later on that the technique wasn’t that great and that my enjoyment kind of blurred that out, so it’s hard! If the technique is terrible it will affect my enjoyment though, so in that case it’s balanced haha

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  7. Excellent discussion! I try to have an equal parts balance when I review, as you said. I think some reviewers come off as too analytical because talking about emotions is harder sometimes. If you like how the book made you feel, but can’t quite describe it, it may be easier to just talk about other literary elements, so your review actually feels legit. But I think balance is crucial on this issue – you can’t ignore emotion or analysis!

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  8. I review based on both and really think the two things are related. In my mind, it’s one thing to say “This book made me feel ___.” It’s taking the extra step to think about it and say “This book made me feel ___ because it did ____.” The second one is more along the lines of what a book editor would do. Saying “I didn’t like the romantic relationship” is valid, but it’s also kind of “easy.” It’s harder, but potentially more worthwhile to say something like “The relationship seemed flat to me because the pacing is rushed, and I didn’t feel as the characters had interacted enough to have a real connection. It would have helped if the author added a scene that did ___.”

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  9. Honestly, I think I’m right about in the middle! When a book gives me strong emotions (happy or sad) and I get goosebumps and (usually) I can’t stop thinking about it and I need the next book, I call that THE FEELS. And without that, the book is NOT going to get five stars. But even if the book gave me an ultimate amount of feels, if it was written really badly, or there were just a lot of problems, it will still only get 4 stars or less.

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  10. This is honestly such a hard question! I feel that it is infinitely easier to review a book solely on how it made you feel, which says something about the technique. If a book was able to draw you in, and keep you intrigued, there was something that worked there. However the other aspect, is just as important to take into consideration, but much more boring to read about. If a book only has technique, and no passion or suspense, that is also a dud. There has to be a good mix about it, and I believe that when that is accomplished, a book is able to become a classic and influence generations.

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  11. This is a really great topic to discuss!

    I feel like I’m definitely in both camps with a heavy lean towards my reviews focusing on how I feel. That’s mostly because I really don’t feel like I have the knowledge to entirely critically review writing. I get worried posting reviews because of my own lack of writing skills, haha. I do think plot, character development and writing style is important though so I’ll try to talk about those as critically as I can.

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  12. I’ve seriously never thought about this before! This is a very good eye-opener to everyone who writes reviews. I guess my opinion about books is based both on emotion as reason. I do realize that sometimes, after reading a book that disappointed me (emotionally), during writing a review I start analyzing the story (rationally) and turn out to appreciate the book more for certain techniques the writer used that I hadn’t noticed before.
    But a very interesting discussion point indeed! 😉

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  13. Fantastic topic! I agree with a lot of what others have said. I also would like to add that I try to take into consideration the editing / publishing help that the story has had. If it’s a really compelling story, but technically flawed, and self-published — I find I have a lot more patience. If the story has come out from a traditional publishing house, and gone through proper editing, then I am harsher on technical flaws.

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  14. Before I learned anything about literary analysis, I wrote a lot of reviews based on feelings. Now that I am an English major, I have to write a combination because I notice more things that bother me and can articulate it better. I notice more now when there are a lot of loose ends by the end of the book, not because it’s part of a series. I notice when characters are poorly developed. I feel like I’m in a weird place because some of these things make me dislike a book more than I would have a couple years ago. Is that due to my development as a reader and writer? Is this because I picked English as a major? I don’t know the answer to either question.

    In a different instance, I recently read a book where I was able to guess who this mystery love interest was very quickly, but I realize that had I read the book a few years ago I would have been as surprised as the protagonist. I feel like I can’t mark a book down for that. Maybe that answers the questions above.

    Then again, I was upset to find a lot of cheap, self-published ebooks on Amazon that desperately needed an editor. It left me despondent

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  15. Hm, I like this question. I *think* I do a bit of both in my reviews, I am an English major so I can’t get out of my skin and will comment on the consistency of characters and plot and whatnot. But reading is also my hobby so I’ll always say whether or not I like a book, what it made me feel, etc.

    I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to review books, though – I just feel more affinity with certain bloggers’ styles. So I usually seek out bloggers who have a similar strategy to mine – I can’t really handle the “feelsy” reviews.

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  16. I think I review mostly on how the book made me feel, but certainly not entirely. I think a balance is a good way to go, but I don’t think you have to feel bad about rating books based on your emotional reaction – after all, most of us read for enjoyment, so your enjoyment is probably the most important factor.

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  17. I’m in the third camp of reviewers that rates based on a combo of technique and how much I enjoyed the book/how it made me feel. It is difficult, trying to find this balance, and I pretty much always worry about whether I’m being too harsh or too lenient. But I just do my best to express everything as best I can in the actual review, to point out the flaws and the things the author did well and how much the book affected me, that way people don’t have to guess at what my ratings mean since ratings are so subjective anyway.

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  18. I wrote a post a way back on a similar note and the conclusion, which I very much liked, was to go with your own style. Do you enjoy rating/reviewing based on how a book made your feel? Go for it! Do you prefer being critical? That’s great! Do you vary between these two depending on the book or how you’re feeling? Completely valid. The point is: there’s no right or wrong. There are professional reviewers for papers and such that must be critical and objective, as they are trying to appeal to a wide audience. On the other hand, we – as bloggers – are putting our opinions out there to discuss. We want to share our reads and how we felt, which is very personal, and there’s no exact way to do it. It’s a matter of preference and style. At least that’s what I got from all the comments and I thought it was a lovely way to look at it. It removes any pressure from reviewing/rating and lets it be a more enjoyable activity this way 🙂


  19. This is a really fantastic discussion, and very thought-provoking too. I’ve grappled with this myself, and I still don’t have an answer. For my reviews, I usually try and do both. Though for me, it depends on what the book is trying to achieve. If the book is gauging my critical thinking, then I will think critically. If the book is light fun, then I’ll enjoy it as such too.

    Because of my degree, I am more inclined to analyze books with a sociological lens as opposed to literary technique. And I think that’s the really cool thing about reviewing in general: we bring our own unique perspectives and apply it to one book, hence the variety of opinions — which I think is a really cool thing in itself.

    GAH, I love your discussion. It’s going into my feature at the end of the month. ❤

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