Monday, April 20, 2015

What’s A Book Review Really Worth?

People recommend books every day.  Professional book reviewers, amateur bloggers, friends, co-workers, teachers, neighbors, and store clerks do it all the time.  But why should we listen to them and what are they calling upon to judge a book and then make a decision as to whether you would be a good fit for it?

Whenever I go to a restaurant and the waitress tells me some dish is a favorite of hers I want to cringe and lash out: “Who cares if you like it?   How do I know what tastes and preferences you have?  Besides, you work here.  How do I know what motivates you, much less informs you, of you ‘recommendations’?”

Think about it.  I’m a 48-year-old male with my own preferences for food and life.  How can a 19-year-old woman, with limited experiences and her own personal prejudices or physical limitations, tell me what I would like? All recommendations – for food, books, movies or anything – should come with qualifiers and disclaimers like this one:

“I am recommending this dish because I get a bigger tip based on its price and my boss asked me to push it.  Further, I like this item, but I also enjoy dog food, day-old bread, and the Olive Garden.  I haven’t tried 70% of the other dishes here due to allergies and because the owner doesn’t let us sample what he thinks are the good dishes.”

Testimonials and book blurbs are worthless because the author usually gets them from people he or she knows.  Almost no one reads the book that they gush over. In fact, the testimonial is often written by the author or publisher and it’s merely approved by the person swearing it’s a work of art.  Actually, it could be the assistant or unpaid intern to the blurber that approves of it.

Book reviews come in many forms.  Typically, a professional (paid and trained) reviewer will actually read a book and write a piece for a magazine, newspaper, or trade journal.  However, they’re limited by their values, life experiences, biases, age, race, genetics, religion, economics, region, beliefs, education, and mental make-up.  Further, they are limited in terms of which book they choose to review.  It’s not like every single book was offered to them.  Additionally, the reviewer writes for its reader, bending the editorial content to fit the stylistic demands of that particular publication.  Lastly, there could be external pressures on the reviewer – is the author a friend of the editor?  Does the book’s publisher advertise often with the publication?  Does the author have political views or social preferences – not related to the book’s content – that differ or align with the publications?

Lastly, just what should a book review say or not say?  At the very least, you want to know if you should read one book over another – and why.  For that matter, books can have a two-sentence review.  The rest is just filling in details.

I often read reviews to be aware of what’s out there and to use the review to save me time from reading the book it discusses.  I want the review to act as a summary and to be of value in sharing information.  I don’t rely on the review to inspire or dissuade my reading decisions.

The other book reviewers out there can challenge us.  We don’t really know who they are, or what their abilities, preferences, or agendas may be.  There are a zillion bloggers or people sharing their views on books all over Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Then you have organizational reviews of books – a newsletter for a church, a neighborhood discussion group, or people emailing their circle of friends and colleagues about a book.  In these cases, you may know more about the person sharing his or her views, but there could still be a disconnect between their perceptions and your needs or desires.

Authors rely greatly on reviews – if not for sales, then for ego-stroking.  They look on Amazon, GoodReads,, and other key outlets like Publishers Weekly, or Kirkus, hoping to find a few words of praise that somehow legitimize their writings – and their lives.

Think about what’s behind every book review or recommendation you get.  Perhaps we should review the reviewers and rate their picks.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This s copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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