Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fear of book reviews and the NYTimes solution.

I have an aunt who doesn't read movie reviews, and if she does, she won't see the movie. Similarly, if it's a book she's read, she won't see the movie, and if she sees the movie, she won't read the book. Why? Because she says it ruins the expectations.

Similarly, I don't read book reviews for the most part. If I do, it's for books I had little intention of picking up. Once in awhile, I'll read a portion of a book review, just enough to realize that the book sounds interesting enough that I might want to read it, so I stop reading the review right there. The exception to this are those tiny one paragraph blurbs you might find in People magazine. Those tend not to give away too much, and just give stars, so it's a safe bet.

Recently, I mistakenly started reading the NYTimes review on A Thousand Splendid Suns, and since then, have not been able to avoid synopses of the damn book that is still waiting to be read. I want to read it as my beach read, but I'm starting to feel like I need to read it before the plot is all but completely given away. As it is, I already know more than I like.

The thing is, part of the joy of reading a book is not knowing what to expect. Having little or no expectations, and figuring it out as you go along. I recently partook in this "debate" of sorts on McCarthy's The Road, which, if you've been paying attention here, is my #1 favorite book since I read it. Frank at Absolute Gentleman has a severe loathing for the book, as evidenced by his blogs, and he was having some back and forth with one of his friends, Tim. I had to be a nosy person and butt in, and one of the things that came up was this expectation, based, apparently, partly on reviews. And I think part of why I love this book so much is that I had no expectations on what it should be about. The back cover gives you little to work with; I hadn't read any reviews - all I had was a recommendation to read it, and it caught my eye at Barnes. I dove into it with nothing - not even a preconcieved notion of what McCarthy is supposed to be like, and because of it, I came out LOVING the book. I came out with my own ideas of what the book meant to me.

My point being, I generally don't read book reviews before I read a book because I think it spoils it. [I realize I'm being a little hypocritical here, because when I talk about books on my blog, I give it all away, but I don't consider myself a "reviewer", but someone who is trying to discuss what appealed to me about the book. After all, I'm doing this for myself, and not for the masses, nor am I getting paid to do this, nor is anyone really looking to me for book recommendations and opinions.]

Sometimes though, I sort of wish I could read the reviews. Just to get recommendations. I tend to read book reviews after I've read a book, if I really loved it, or was thoughtful about it, then I want to know what other people thought. But not usually before.

Anyway, this was a long-winded post though, to bring up NYTimes Book Review's new blog, Paper Cuts, launched yesterday. Their most recent entry gives you a very quick overview of reviews done by papers across the country (and the UK too), giving you the only thing you really want to know: is it worth picking up? I like that kind of review. That's all I want to know. Check it out.

4 drops:

Chainz said...

I feel the same way! My girlfriend picks on me a little because I can be pretty militant about it. In fact, if friends try to tell me too much about a book when they recommend it, I get a little annoyed.

One of the greatest joys of both books and movies is revelations of the unexpected and new journeys you didn't know you would take. Granted, some movies and books can overcome that when they are so well written, it doesn't matter that you know what is coming next. But for the most part, I love not knowing anything about a book before I read it. Which is why I don't read dust jackets.

moonrat said...

no WAY. I have to take a stand here.

First of all, from the point of view of the publishing industry, reviews are absolutely essential. We count on them for blurbs and expert opinions to excerpt and paste on the covers. We also also count on them (obviously, I hope) for getting the word out, because there is a small contingent of readers who still buy books based on recommendation.

But furthermore, I like reviews--as long as there are no spoilers. I've definitely bought books because I read a good review somewhere. Bought lots of books that way. So I FERVENTLY for the sake of my industry and my job hope both of you are in the minority!

moonrat said...

I don't read the dust jackets, either.

angelle said...

hey, if there's no spoilers, i'm all for it. but the thing is, it's really hard for a review to NOT include spoilers, just by the nature of a long-ass in-depth review. you can't just talk vaguely about the book if you're going to accuse of being bad one way or good in the other. i mean, i think all i really need to know about a book to make me want to buy it or not, is 1) a really really really light overview of what it's about and 2) is it good or not. nothing more. i don't want analysis, and nytimes book reviews in particular give too much away. i also don't want to be "looking for" whatever the reviewer points out the whole time i'm reading a book. i mean, i see that it definitely is necessary for the industry. and i'm not saying there SHOULDN'T be reviews. there definitely should be, overwhelmingly yes. but i just don't like to read them for fear of it ruining my experience of the book.

i DO read dust jackets though. and i hate when they give too much away.

Post a Comment