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Discussion: How to Review Books Not Written For You

I’ve noticed a certain phenomenon among book bloggers in regards to “must read” popular books. Often, those that didn’t like them for one reason or another are ignored but when the drama starts it can be brutal. I’ve talked about being the right audience for a book before on my blog, discussing the fact that any number of factors from age to cultural background to country of origin can disrupt your experience as a reader of certain books. I talked mostly about target audiences at the time, and about how if you fall outside of a target audience and recognize so then you can just say that in a review. Of course, as we all know, the more diverse your reading tastes are the more likely you are to enjoy things you may not be the target audience for. But there are absolutely still times that not being the target audience will affect how much you like a book–even a darling of the bookish world.

What concerns me the most about trends in the book blogging world is when someone expresses they didn’t like a book–often due to factors relating to the target audience–and is accused of ignorance, bias, or plain discrimination. When a reviewer leaves a negative review for a book that espouses racism, homophobia, transphobia, cultural ignorance, or any other offensive content then yes: that is a bad review. However, if a reviewer says “this book was not for me, as I am not in X group, but I recognize its place for X group and appreciate its existence for it” that is not a bad review. A straight person recognizing that an LGBTQ+ romance wasn’t as enjoyable for them, but that it’s an important form of representation isn’t the same as a straight person saying they feel uncomfortable reading LGBTQ+ pairs in novels.

There tend to be books that are darlings of the bookish community–sometimes across multiple platforms, sometimes only popular on one–and those that don’t enjoy the book express nerves at saying so. Probably because there have absolutely been times that someone was dragged across book twitter for not liking a book–regardless of why. As I said, there’s a difference between not liking a book but respecting it, and having a major bias or hateful opinion that one expresses when explaining why they didn’t like a book. A reader who prefers historical fiction set in the sixteenth century may express they didn’t enjoy The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo because it doesn’t take place in their preferred era–that does not mean the reader is biphobic or specifically didn’t enjoy the LGBTQ+ aspects of the book. That leap is made very often–and not just in bookish circles. Celebrities are frequently accused of various forms of bigotry for things such as being silent about an issue they may not even know about, having worked with someone ten years ago that is now being “cancelled,” or even saying “no comment” in regards to a major event being discussed.

So then, how do we write reviews for this sort of book? Where we know the target audience isn’t ourselves, and we want to respect the book?

I honestly think it’s as simple as saying “This book wasn’t for me, but I appreciate that it exists for those that will love it, admire it, and need it.”

Let me know in the comments how you feel about this. Do you think it’s okay for people to recognize that a book wasn’t written for them, and that they didn’t enjoy it as a result? How do you feel about bloggers reviewing those books?

By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

6 replies on “Discussion: How to Review Books Not Written For You”

I completely agree. In that situation I think it’s important for a reviewer to mention it’s not for them, but they can appreciate what it’s doing. For me when I read someone say that it shows that they have greater understanding of literature than just what they like and don’t like, so I take them more seriously, especially when it’s a well written and in-depth review.

Liked by 1 person

This is such a good discussion! Many people say how reviews are biased, but we are reviewing based on OUR experiences and interal biases. They play a huge role in how we consume content. So instead of saying “this wasn’t good”, “this wasn’t good FOR ME” is a great alternative that puts things into perspective.

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I have so many feelings on this topic, particularly when it comes to adults reviewing YA for very teen characteristics. Like??? If you don’t like teen impulsiveness, perhaps don’t read books for teenagers? Does my damn head in. How hard is it to say “this wasn’t for me but may be for you”

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I think this is such an interesting discussion!!! I really think that when you read a book and you feel you’re not the audience for which that book is intended, you should as a first step be super respectful. I think it’s valid to give your opinion even in this kind of situation, but always knowing your place and making it clear what kind of audience the book might work for or be enjoyable for. A great perspective to have when writing our reviews, and we should always remember to be sensitive and careful about our words. 😊✨

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