Judging a Book By Its Blog Review

I read an interesting article this morning about whether “book bloggers” are destroying the art and validity of literary criticism. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, ever since the Pulitzer was not awarded this year.

Who should get to decide what makes a good book? What is the criteria for a good book?

I hear about books most often through awards, and publications like The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Reviews, and ArtsATL. If a book has been short or long-listed for an award or mentioned in a magazine or newspaper known for a good book review section, chances are, I’ll pick it up. This is because I tend to read literary novels, and literary criticism, of course, focuses on literary novels.

Having said that, I very often don’t enjoy reading books that are critically acclaimed by prestigious publications. Jonathon Franzen is a good example. I think he’s very talented, and he seems very smart, but I had to force myself to finish The Corrections and I couldn’t get past the first few chapters in Freedom. The same is true for Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot. I had such high hopes for it after The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. But fifty pages in, I put The Marriage Plot down for good.

The problem with literary criticism, is that often a critically acclaimed book does not translate to an enjoyable read. I’m willing to bet that most readers who pick up a book want to be sucked into it. They want three-dimensional characters with creative plots, with suspense and surprises thrown in along the way. You don’t necessarily get these types of reads from what’s picked up by the Big Wig Critics.

What do you think? Where do you find your books?


6 thoughts on “Judging a Book By Its Blog Review

  1. I always search the library displays for good books, too, Robin. Those librarians know what they are talking about!

  2. I get my favorite recommendations from friends. I also do read People magazine reviews. And yes, the library. It gets dangerous wandering the aisles there.

    Honestly? With blogging reviews? Those are dicey. If it is a blog review from a FRIEND (for example, YOU) then the review holds some weight. But overall, I think far too many folks are soft on their reviews — in particular, if they have received the book for free or if they are afraid of insulting the author. And if I see the book was received for free, I rarely read the review, period. I think far too many bloggers are afraid of pissing off the hand that feeds them free books. I did give a bad book review once and yes, the author was pissed. But truthfully, the BOOK SUCKED. It was a children’s book and tried to read it to them THREE times and each time, they wandered off. It was horrible and I could not in good conscience recommend it to anyone.

    I have to confess that my bookclub hosted an author a few months back. I did not care particularly for the book and as such, did not mention it on my blog the other day when I reviewed some other books. it was not a bad book, but nothing that totally gripped me. It was tough to not include him because he is a local author, but I really only wanted to include books that grabbed me and left me thinking and thinking and thinking.

    Also, you did not miss much by abandoning The Marriage Plot. I was bitterly disappointed and resentful at the all the preaching in it.

  3. Goodreads is always a good spot for recommendations. I have to admit, I *loved* Marriage Plot. I thought it was brilliant. But I read it after Eugenides came to speak at a book festival in Madison….so maybe he biased me to it. That, and it takes place back in the northeast, in my old stomping grounds.

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