Monday, January 30, 2012

Reviews vs. Reactions

If I were to ask, "What is a review?," how would you answer?
Well, Meggie, I have a question for you: If books are subjective, what are book-reviews? 
Also subjective...or objective?
For me, as a blogger, when I write a review, I feel like I'm giving a slightly-glorified opinion. 
I have no intention of being scholarly, or academic, or unbiased, or objective, and I hope I haven't given off that impression. I don't write for PW, or SLJ, or any other professional company or organization. Because of this, I don't feel the need to make my reviews sound professional. Coherent? Yes. Respectful? Yes - hopefully. Persuasive? ...maybe :) But "Imagination in Focus," my blog, is the little corner of the universe where I can post about my reading experiences. That's it. And I hope that what I write is meaningful to you all and may prompt you to either pick up the book I've reviewed, or not. But I don't blog in order to persuade you, or get you to feel the same way.
For me, fun-reading is not an objective experience, because I feel like literature, as an art form, is a very subjective thing. It's all about interpretations and feelings. And I don't know about you, but when I read professional reviews, I find that the reviewer writes as if making statements of fact, or declarations, or other telling-sentences. And that's what I would expect from a paid professional. That's certainly how I'd write, if I were in that position.
But here, when I write a review for a book, I'm basically telling you how the book made me feel, as well as the various reactions. I guess, then, that instead of saying "Review - Legend" maybe I ought to say "Reaction - Legend."
So here's the breakdown of my review/reactions:
How I, as a reader, reacted to
 - the overall plot: Was it exciting? Was it dull? Did it drag in the middle? Sometimes I'm so busy telling you how I reacted to the plot, that I forget to describe the plot for you. Oh, bother.
- the main character(s): This is what I would call the most subjective aspect of reading. It all boils down to the characters, and whether or not the reader likes the protagonist. For me, if I don't like the main character, I might as well stop reading. But the kind of character I like may not be the one you like. Characters like Jace Wayland, Noah Shaw, Prince Ash, Finnikin, and the like drive me absolutely batcrap crazy. On the other hand, these may be the kind of characters you love. It all depends. 
As far as characters are concerned, I'm old-school. I like my heroes to be heroic. Did I say perfect? Absolutely not - que aburrido! But there are some flaws I don't like to see in a hero
And usually I like the conflict in a novel to be plot-induced, rather than coming from the characters' actions or behaviors. I try and stay away from "angst," as well. But that's just me.
 - the love story/romance angle - let's face it: nearly all YA books (paranormal, dystopian, or fantasy) have some sort of romance angle. Usually I mention something about this - whether or not I found it believable, or appropriate (given the characters' ages and backgrounds), or sweet, or maddening, etc.
- the writing style - here is another example of subjectivity: how I react to the style of writing. Sometimes I like the flowery, descriptive-prone writing style; sometimes I like the writing style to give me the scoop and get on with it. It all has to do with the story, for me. I've been bored to tears by books that are what I would call overly descriptive, and I've been unable to wrap my head around what's going on in a story because of not enough descriptions. 
What I [usually] avoid:
 - Summarizing the plot. Most of the time, I post the Goodreads summary of a book before I delve into the "review." I usually don't summarize the story in my review. I assume that if you're reading the book, you have either read the summary I've pasted at the top, or otherwise have a basic knowledge of the story. I assume that if you want to know more about the book, you'll follow the link to Goodreads. Maybe I ought to do a better job of summarizing the book in the review. Not sure.
So the bottom line is: 
When I post a book review, I'm basically talking about how the book made me feel, and how I reacted to it. I'm realizing that this may not the most informative way to review, but to be honest, I used to try and structure my reviews to be informative, and those were the book reviews you could stretch around a 1-mile track. Just because of who I am, where I come from, and what I do for a living, I do try to mention content in the novels I read, or provide links to sites that do a more appropriate job of gauging content in books - just so that the information is there for those who are curious.
But when I review a book...I'm posting my reading reactions. My opinions. They have as much or as little value as you allow. As for me, I like reading about other people's opinions of books, especially those of like-minded readers, because they also help me to know which books to check out and which to avoid. I can't tell you the last time I actually read a professional review from PW, SLJ, or...some of the bigger blog/websites who fancy themselves professionals...Que aburrido! 
But readers' reactions and opinions, especially the quirky, humor-prone or short-n-sweet ones? The matter-of-fact and detailed ones? Oh, I could type all night about those! 

So what's your review style? What do you seem to talk about the most in your reviews?
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