Reading Book Reviews With a Grain of Salt

Reading Book Reviews with a Grain of Salt

Posted April 13, 2022 by Amber in Bookish Things / 8 Comments


Negative reviews are a part of book blogger life. We love to hate them, we feel either guilty or enraged when giving them, and we talk a lot about the best way to write them. But what about… reading them? I know I write negative reviews because I think it’s important to have a politely critical view out there, because maybe if I had seen one, I would not have read the book.

There are two stages at which we typically read negative reviews: before and after reading the book.

When I read negative reviews before reading a book, it is to get a round view of the book. I want to learn about the good and the bad of the book and find out whether it will be a fit for “me”. It is, in my opinion, the very best time to read reviews. If I read a negative review at this stage and it is written respectfully, I take the reviewer’s views into account, even when they’re disappointing. Flaming, unsupported reviews (i.e. “this book sucks” with no other context) less so.

When I read a negative review after finishing the book, it’s a different experience. If it’s a flailing angry person, I may get a bit defensive. I don’t reply – I’m not a combative person – but sometimes I feel personally attacked if it is a book I liked. Silly right? If it’s a very legitimate review about concerning elements the book I completely missed, I feel embarrassed. I should have caught those things! I should not have been so enamored by the book and let those things fade into the background. These reviews make me re-examine my opinion of the book, remember back to the parts referenced, and reconsider. Sometimes, a negative review will be caused by a personal preference. Those make me sad because I would like for everyone to have the same positive, uplifting experience I had. But, that’s also okay. We aren’t all going to like the same books, and that’s really good! It assures a wide variety of books will be written.

But what if you stumble upon a negative review in the middle of reading the book?

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

This happened to me recently, while I was listening to the audiobook of Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers. This book was extremely popular in 2021 when it was released. I let that hype die down before I read the book – in fact, it wasn’t on my TBR until about December 2021. I don’t go looking for negative reviews (or any reviews) of a book while I am reading it. Sometimes, when I am doing my problematic author research, I find one. Such was the case with Honey Girl. The good news? Morgan Rogers is not a problematic author (YAY!). The bad news? I couldn’t resist clicking on this review from The Arbiter.

McKenzie Heilman makes a decent case for their perspective, finding Honey Girl unrealistic and disliking elements such as the text messaging and lack of lyrical writing. This is definitely not an attack on Heilman’s review, because I think it was well-written and direct – certainly less flowery and rambling than my own review. Rather, I want to talk about my emotional response to this review.

My initial reaction was shock and offense. At the time I stumbled upon this, I was 48% through the audiobook and absolutely in love with it. Yuki is a historian who loves telling stories – that’s me! And Grace’s personal struggle, while a little aloof and definitely financially entitled, was interesting. I wanted to argue with Heilman and tell them their opinion of realism was based on their own experience and a book should not be discounted because it doesn’t fit in one person’s box. But then… that’s what all of us are doing with negative reviews, yeah? Explaining why we – one person – didn’t like it.

I’ve read this short, simple review five times since that initial stumble. Typically I don’t think twice about reviews, but this one stuck me with a pin and I kept looking at it, coming back to it, as I listened to more and more of the book. My opinion differs from Heilman’s, but that doesn’t mean either one of us are correct. Heilman couldn’t see past the romanticism of the story and that made it unenjoyable… and that’s okay! The romanticism is what made me love it. Heilman and I are different readers. We love and dislike each of our own books. We’re both correct, depending on who you ask.

And isn’t that something a bit beautiful about the readership community? We each throw our voices in the void to find one another. We discover kindred spirits and opposing views and we exist together, supporting and protecting each other in our best moments. You have to take negative reviews with a grain of salt. You have to take positive reviews with a grain of salt, too. We are all different people sharing our personal wisdom as we discover these stories. The best way to know the truth is to find out for yourself.

send me your thoughts

How much do reviews influence your reading?

Do you read book reviews before the book? After? During?

Share with me in the comments!

stay magical amber

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8 responses to “Reading Book Reviews with a Grain of Salt

  1. Awesome post! I like reading negative reviews to see if i agree with what the reviewer is saying or not and if I liked the book what i can say in the defense of book. Negative reviews make me see the book from different perspective. Sometimes, I agree with the reader while the other times I don’t. It’s definitely interesting to see so many different thoughts on the same book.

    • Amber

      Reading a variety of reviews is like a quiet, private practice in empathy. 🙂 I love the idea of it, even if sometimes I get frustrated by some of the opinions. And there’s always that warm happy feeling when you find a reviewer who saw the book the same way as you!

  2. Great post!! I tend to avoid reviews of books until after I have read them because I don’t want to be spoiled. There are exceptions to this though. If I trust a reviewer not to spoil the book I will read their reviews but most times I skip reviews. Once I’ve read the book I will read reviews and I love seeing how we each get something different out of the book even though we read the same book. I love reading the negative and the positive reviews because usually in both cases they are pointing out something I didn’t catch.

    • Amber

      Ugh, yes, I don’t typically go digging unless I’m looking for evidence for my problematic author page because I feel knowing someone else’s thoughts on the book creates a bit of prejudice and I’d rather come to the story fresh. 🙂

  3. I definitely can find reviews of books baffling. If I loved a book, it seems obvious to me that everyone should love it! If I didn’t like a book, but of course everyone would also not like it, right? But the reality is that we all have different experiences and tastes that lead us to respond differently to books–and that is indeed the fun of reading reviews and discussing books! It’s interesting to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

    Krysta @ Pages Unbound recently posted: Roxy by Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman
    • Amber

      You’re right – the differing opinions are one of the big, fun parts of reading (and the only social aspect really… except maybe lauding on praises with a buddy reader?). It challenges our own perceptions and even though it throws me sometimes, I really appreciate it. 🙂

  4. Thats awesome that you can accept other’s opinions 🙂 some people struggle with that but if we all thought the same thing then the world would be a really boring place! I try not to read reviews before I read a book because I am easily persuaded and am weirdly impressionable. So I try to go in with a blank slate and not have any pre-conceived notions. (easier said than done!) But I do like reading reviews after the fact to see what everyone else thought!

    • Amber

      Lol, well thanks Brittany – I try. I’m not always good at not being mule-headed about things and it’s a daily reminder and effort to be graceful. I’m actually quite stubborn and opinionated in real life! I think it’s a good idea not to read reviews before reading books… they can either dissuade you from a book YOU may have liked (even if the reviewer didn’t) or hype it up to much and leave you underwhelmed. 🙂 I’m like you – I like to see what people thought of books I enjoyed!