Monday, August 29, 2011

What if I Disagree?

I read a lot of book reviews, and often, if a review is of a book I’ve read, I do not agree with the reviewer.

Sometimes I feel like the reviewer didn’t understand the intent of the author. Or they are trying to assign adult morals and attitudes to teens in a YA novel (this happens a lot.) I’m tired of reading “these teens were too winey.” I work with teens every day. They do not respond like adults. They are winey! They are compulsive, and sometimes not very nice. They cheat on each other’s boyfriends, and talk behind each other’s backs. They can be friends one day and enemies the next. Yes, sometimes adults have these characteristics, but they are common in adolescents. I sometimes want to tell reviewers, “if you don’t want to read about real teens, then read adult books!” But I would never say that, because that would be mean. But, what should I say?

Sometimes I read “this character fell flat” or “I didn’t care what happened to this character” about a character that I said that I cried for, I felt connected to, and my heart pounded right along with them. Are we reading the same book?

Another example is, “the plot was well paced and I found myself enthralled by the writing (or the setting)” when I thought, “the plot plodded along and there were way too many details about characters or settings.” Hmmmm.....

Don’t you think we all bring our own experiences and histories to our reading? Perhaps I interpret a character (or setting, or plot) differently because I have been through a similar experience, or I’ve had educational background or travel experiences or relationships that allow me to view characters (or settings or plots) in a different way.

A great example of this is the book Sisterhood Everlasting, by Ann Brashares. I loved this book. I’ve read several reviews that didn’t like the book because the characters had grown apart, and they had changed so much. They just weren’t the same and the book didn’t have the same feel-good sentiment. I thought the characters were spot-on. Totally agreed with their new grown-up lives. Maybe because this is what happened to me. Most of my best friends were those I made in college. But we all have kids and lives and jobs now, and we are literally spread all over the country. My relationships with them have deteriorated greatly.

I hesitate to comment on reviews that I don’t agree with. But, on the other hand, maybe this could begin a fun discussion. I don’t want the reviewer to think I’m criticizing their review, or that I think they are stupid. But it might be fun to find out a little more about why we disagree. What do you think about responding to reviews you disagree with?

I appreciate your comments, even if you disagree....

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  1. I often find reviews that I don't agree with. I think you touched on it when you mentioned what you the reader brings to the story. We all have baggage of some kind that we are carrying around and that often influences our reaction to what we read. When I'm reviewing a book and I don't like a part of a book and it's because of a personal connection on my part, I make sure to point that out. I often find books that I think are great, well written, but had several things I didn't like - maybe a character or something happened I didn't like, but sometimes the things I don't like are also what make me like the book.

    As for what to say about a review that you don't agree with? That's a good question. I, too often wonder if we read the same book. I sometimes, will comment and say something along the lines of "my experience with this book was different . . ." and it will generate a good discussion. Sometimes, I don't comment or my comment is ignored.

    I'd love to hear what others think. Thanks for posing such an interesting question.

  2. I sometimes want to tell reviewers, “if you don’t want to read about real teens, then read adult books!” But I would never say that, because that would be mean. But, what should I say?

    I don't think this is being mean. I think this is making a very valid point and you should say it (which you did).

    I know what you mean - my philosophy to reading is to approach the book like I would a new person whom I'm meeting, and that's without prejudice, hype or pre-conceived ideas. I've found that I can get through and appreciate something about most book unless the writing or characterization is really bad. Sometimes, I do feel that some reviewers try and pick out something wrong or go along with the hype. I think being constructive is the key. Honesty always, right? It's possible to do it without being snarky.

  3. An interesting post and definitely one that makes for great discussion.

    I quite like to read reviews that disagree with how I felt about a book and I don't ever mind leaving a comment. Reading and reviewing are such personal things that I'm sure even people that agree still differ ever so slightly.

    I agree with what you say about teenagers, but I have found that on occasion characters can be too winey I don't think that means people should stop reading all YA. Its like characters in adult books, it's ok if you just don't get on with some of them, read something else.

  4. Fantastic perspective! I’m going to really work hard to give teenage characters a break, i.e. I will give the Percy Jackson series another try....

    Also, there’s nothing worse (okay, I can think of a few things) when someone writes a negative review of a book or character you loved. I want to highlight all the great sequences or funny dialogue because clearly they must have skimmed those parts :)

    I typically don’t comment if I don’t agree, but I’m only speaking for ½ of the Two Bibliomaniacs....

  5. Oooh, interesting topic. I like to know what other people if you ever disagree with one of my reviews I HOPE you chime in ;)

  6. Great topic.... I actually love when commenters tell me they had a completely different opinion then me, it is great discussion and sometimes makes me want to email them or continuing further.

    I do not enjoy YA just because I truly don't remember being that flighty etc and it drives me crazy that parents are not part of the story, ugggh. So if you told me read adult books then, I would totally agree with you. :-)

  7. Very well said. Sometimes I read reviews of books I read and the reader had a totally different opinion from me. I definitely agree with what you said about how our own lives make us relate to certain books/characters/plots more than others. I think that has a lot to do with whether we like a book or not :) People who haven't had the same experiences might see the book in a different light.

  8. Ooh, great topic! It always amazes me when someone feels completely the opposite as me about a book. I, too, wonder if we read the same book (good or bad). While I will sometimes comment on reviews I disagreed with, I usually don't make a huge issue of it. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

    But I agree about people reading YA through adult eyes -- they're WAY different, have much less impulse and emotional control, and do tend to fuss a great deal. But they're teens! We did the same thing when we were hormonal messes!

    Mary @ BookSwarm

  9. I think it can be really interesting to hear how someone responded in a totally different way to the same book.

  10. I think it's totally within your rights to kindly say, that you appreciate their viewpoint but you thought the book was such and such. I encourage a dialogue about my book reviews on my site. Not every book is for everybody. But I realize that every blogger is different and I appreciate that some might have different reactions.

  11. This is an awesome post.

    First. I think if you don't agree, you should say something. I think most bloggers appreciate a great discussion. Sometimes I say something a certain way because there are some things I don't want to get into or I'm trying to keep my review short. Sharing thoughts even if you disagree can bring out more discussions and explanations.

    Second. I think this happens with every post but I also can see this happening with YA reviews more. With any genre, people bring their own experiences and opinions to the tables. Just because I'm no longer a teen, doesn't mean I don't talk to them or that I'm not around them everyday. Sometimes authors are spot on. Teens are teens whether you agree with their actions or not. Sometimes they are not and authors use certain events/attitudes to further their plotlines as a means to an end.

    Third. Books are enduring and will be discussed throughout the ages. Well hopefully. Some books that are relevant now, might not be so much later. This is life. I think differing opinions whether or not they are considering the teens of today might be a good indication of the durability (I'm not sure if that is a great word) of a book. I think books that people disagree about are the greatest and most enduring...but that's just my opinion. So maybe it is a good thing when people disagree?!

    Okay that's all. Sorry for the super long comment. I just really liked your post a lot!

  12. I'm totally that reviewer who complains about immature teen characters :P I do try to point out that I'm not the target audience in these cases and I don't even try to write objective reviews.

    I guess though, or me, even when I was a teen certain things annoyed me. Whiny characters, characters that were indecisive. I just don't like spending a lot of time with that. And those kinds of characters are found in YA and adult books.

    I don't mind people disagreeing with me on my blog. I'm not an Authority. I'm not Right. I'm just talking books. If anything, when I don't like a book that someone else loved I feel sad because I missed out on the fun. It's interesting seeing how books affect us all differently.

  13. Just catching up on your posts Annette, but I love what you have to say here. I often don't agree with what other reviewers say, but after a rather snarky comeback to one of my differing opinions, I have backed off from commenting at all when I don't agree. I just make sure my review goes up :)

    PS hope the plans for the May wedding are coming along smoothly - it will get here far sooner than you think!


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