Reviewing the Idea of Reviews

On the rare Sunday that I actually get a chance to sit down with the newspaper I reach right for the Book section.

Okay, that isn’t exactly true. I always read the Sports section first, but right after that I pick up the book section. See, the Washington Post has this really cool book review insert on Sundays. I think they call it Book World.

Here is the problem: I like the idea of reading book reviews while secretly hating book reviews. book-world1

I feel like reading a long review of a novel before reading the actual book ruins the experience. I don’t even really like reading the book jacket anymore. I want to be surprised as I read. I want the book to tell me the story. I don’t want to know the plot before I even turn the first page.

I am sort of the same way with movies. I almost don’t want to know what they are about.

As a writer I am sometimes asked to do book reviews. I always go out of my way (and this is much more important for fiction, in non-fiction you don’t have as many surprise endings) to not give away too much of the story. Of course my articles end up being pretty amorphous. This is perhaps why I am not asked to do more book reviews.

I don’t know if this is totally normal, or if it is a phase I am going through or if I am just getting old and crotchety. Tell me the truth – does the review ruin the book or movie or are you over there rolling your eyes at me? Or both?

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  1. I find that they usually ruin it for me – especially when they make me more critical and I don’t really want to be critical, I just want to watch/read.

  2. I just want to know if someone liked it and why. I don’t want to be told about it. So I think I agree.

  3. I prefer reviews that are more blurbs, just a few sentences, so they don’t give away the plot. If they have a star rating, that’s good too. I don’t usually read the long movie or book reviews for your same reasons.

    But you’re still old and crochety, now get off my lawn!

  4. I’m not sure I really have the time for the reviews. For the most part, the sort of books the papers review aren’t really the type I’d read anyways. I don’t mind if they’re short and sweet but can never be bothered with the really lengthy ones.

  5. I like to read reviews — and jacket covers. I would, of course, be mad if they gave away a good surprise ending — but I find that I actually have an easier time taking it all in if I have an idea of the bigger picture to begin with. Does that make sense?

  6. I’m with you, I no longer read book reviews, and I only read the dust jacket if I am going in to a bookstore totally blind. But if a friend recommends a book to me I dive in to it completely ignorant of why I am reading it. It just feels better to me.

  7. I don’t mind the book reviews; I guess I am just used to reading them as a librarian. But the movie reviews! They are awful. They give everything away, even the ending sometimes. I think the movie makers have decided we are all idiots who need to be told every detail so we will want to see the movie. Reviews didn’t used to be like that. And yeah, I guess I am a crotchety old lady. Because I think movies are too expensive and don’t even get me started on how expensive the snacks are!!

  8. I think a good book review is basically a blurb with a few oohs and aahs mixed in. Maybe that’s why my reviews are almost all about bad books. I feel compelled to tell people at length what’s bad and why it’s bad.

  9. I just don’t read them. 😉

  10. I still read reviews. If the book interests me, I’ll read it. Yes, it is tough to write a review without spoilers, but it’s possible. Tough call, isn’t it?

  11. I hate reviews that give everything away. Sometimes even the movie trailers show you the whole movie.

    I actually like to read reviews of books and movies and plays, but only after I have read the book or seen the movie or play. I want to see what someone else thought of it and try to get insights that might have eluded me.

  12. So many reviews seem to be more about the reviewer showing how very clever they are than about the work they are discussing.

    And I HATE it when they give away key plot points or the ending.

  13. I’m with you.

    The other day we rented Hancock. The movie was okay but I absolutely loved it because I was totally surprised during the movie. The act of being surprised made me giddy.

    But maybe I am getting old too…

  14. I don’t read them, either. And that’s bad, because I used to write book reviews for the local paper. Talk about not being a product spokesperson.

    To double-whammy it, if there’s a book that’s been made into a film, I prefer to see the film before reading the book. The book inevitably has more detail than the film, so it’s like getting a behind the scenes view.

  15. So true! I avoid reviews and the book jacket. With movies, I try to ignore previews as well. I even skip the “next time on…” upcoming scenes for my favorite TV shows. I’ve come to enjoy being surprised and find that having no expectation helps me to form a more true opinion.
    I prefer to think it’s a function of wisdom rather than age – haha!

  16. Certainly I don’t want the review to be so detailed as to ruin the book reading experience, but I’ve discovered several new authors based on book reviews.

    Also, unless one is familiar with an author and will read anything they publish, I think SOME sort of re review is necessary in order to decide if you’re even interested in picking up the book. Otherwise what do you do, blind pick books off Amazon and take your chances?

  17. I read the non-fiction book reviews. Otherwise I doubt I would ever pick up any non-fiction. As for fiction, I usually go into a book store and make notes of titles & authors that “look interesting” and then get them from the library. I read the movie reviews in the New Yorker and that’s it.

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