Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Negative reviews, and Catching Fire

I decided not to post a review of Catching Fire today. I didn't like it very much.

I've been thinking about whether I WOULD post a review, ever since I read it back in July--before that I was sure I would, because I was sure I would like it.

And this got me thinking about the purpose of negative reviews.

It doesn't seem like most bloggers post them; I know some don't because if they don't like a book, they don't bother finishing it. There've been several ARCs in the last couple of months that I tossed aside because I wasn't enjoying them enough to finish them and they weren't "big" enough that I really wanted to read them so I could understand what everyone else was talking about.

I got started in book-blogging when I was reading all the Newberys last summer; since I also wrote short reviews of all of them, naturally some of those reviews were negative. Getting started that way may have made me feel more comfortable with posting negative (or more often, middling) reviews. But I still don't do it much, except on Goodreads, which serves a different purpose for me.

So what's the point of a negative review? Especially of Catching Fire, which you're all going to read anyway? I would, no matter how many negative reviews I read. I wanted to find out what happened. And I hoped to replicate that "Oh, I see I'm not going to be getting any sleep tonight" experience of reading The Hunger Games.

Wait, does that mean I sometimes I do write negative reviews in order to dissuade people from reading a book? That sounds awful. Okay, about ten years ago I remember writing a post to a listserv about why exactly I hated ...And Ladies of the Club and feeling very satisified when someone wrote to me and said "Thank you for ridding me of any desire I had to ever read that book." But otherwise I... don't care what you read, don't care what books you buy, am usually happy for the authors of books I dislike if other people like them (unless said book is truly offensive to me, hello ...And Ladies of the Club).

Really, I think I write negative reviews for the most part in order to have a conversation--with myself, even if no one else. It's often in the writing of a review that I'm able to really clarify my thoughts about a book. It makes me dig deeper into the book for concrete examples of what I'm trying to say. And when I read a negative review of a book I loved, it helps me see the reasons that I thought the book was so good. Either that, or it gives me a few moments of righteous indignation--if I'm of the opinion that the reviewer's dislike is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the book--and usually results in me calling my sister to complain.

I'm not sure that anyone is interested in having that conversation about Catching Fire, based on the reaction to the Entertainment Weekly review (which had some factual errors, but don't all of our reviews, from time to time? of course, we're not being published in big magazines, but you know; anyway, I thought it was pretty much spot-on otherwise), but hey, I'm around if anyone does. In exchange, you can tell me why you thought, like, A Swiftly Tilting Planet was bad.


Monica Edinger said...


I actually would really love to read your review of Catching Fire. I think the fact that so many loved it makes it all the more important to know why you didn't. I'm sure it would be thoughtful. I've heard from others who were not particularly enthused, but those were real life conversations. From those Newbery reviews I'm sure you'd do justice to this one too.

Melody Marie Murray said...

I'd also be interested in your review, though of course I'm going to read Catching Fire anyway.

When I used to post my book reviews on my blog (before I found GoodReads), I once savaged a (really awful) book and got a whiny, defensive and angry response from the author, who reposted my review on his personal website and asked for rebuttals from his friends. Another time I panned a book and the author responded snarkily. I think those sorts of authorial responses made me less willing to write negative reviews for awhile, but I'm feeling more confident again.

As far as ...And Ladies of the Club, well, I learned a lot from our discussions of it. It's impossible for me to lose myself in it quite the way I used to- but I remain convinced that it is an important and valuable historical novel from the point of view of a provincial little old lady who could easily blend into my family of origin without a ripple. Maybe it's an Ohio thing. I do enjoy going around in circles with you about it because I learn something every revolution. I hope you do too.

Jena said...

I'd like to read your review. Well, maybe not "like," but I'd be interested. I'm sorry you didn't like Catching Fire; I thought it worked pretty well--although (and I didn't say this in my review, which hasn't been tweaked yet), I can see the third book tipping my opinion of the trilogy in the opposite direction. It had better be a really good, thoroughly thought-out book.

But my inner teen self has thoroughly enjoyed both books so far.

Lenore Appelhans said...

I'd like to read your review of CF. I am a big fan of EW, and of Jennifer Reese in particular, so even though I enjoyed CF very much, I am not going to say she should be fired just because she only mildly liked CF. It's not like she trashed it and gave it an F for no reason. What does annoy me is how major publications have to compare every YA book to Twilight. But hey...that could just be an editorial demand since EW seems to be all Twilight all the time these days.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

I would love to read your CF review, as every review I have seen so far has raved about it.

I loved The Hunger Games, but am currently half way through CF and am very disappointed. It is beginning to pick up, but I don't know what I'll think by the end.

I think negative reviews are very important. As long as the reason for disliking the book is explained well then people are able to make up their own mind about whether to read it or not.

I look forward to reading your review. My (possibly negative) review will be posted some time next week.

Alexia561 said...

I think you should go ahead and post a review for Catching Fire. Less than positive reviews are important, as it gets a little boring when every review for every book on every blog is a glowing one. Different people have different tastes, and it makes for good discussions.

I've noticed that I find myself returning to blogs with negative as well as positive reviews more often, as I seem to trust their opinions a little more for some reason. Maybe because they're not afraid to post what they really think?

Great discussion topic! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone who has posted so far -- and with you! Negative reviews are very important. As long as they're done constructively -- which, of course, yours would be! :) -- I actually... enjoy reading them! I feel kind of bad admitting that, but it's true. Some books are just horrible and deserve criticism, if only to save other innocents from stumbling across them.

Regarding Catching Fire, I just finished it last night... and I have to say that while I definitely enjoyed it and can't wait to read the next one, it didn't capture me the way The Hunger Games did. Still, I stayed up until the middle of the night reading to finish it, so... I guess that says something right there!

SuziQoregon said...

I would love to read a less than gushing review of Catching Fire. I'll still read the book, but I like to see both positive and negative reviews of books. I think a balance of viewpoints is important.

Elizabeth said...

I do write, and gladly read, negative reviews, and it's because one of my main interests in books blogs is in understanding more about how stories are constructed. Hearing someone articulate why something doesn't work for them, or trying to do it myself -- which is often HARD -- is usually very informative for me.

Wendie O said...

Wendy, I think Catching Fire suffered in the way that many middles do, especially middle books in a Trilogy. It even has a name, Middle Sag or mid-story sag. Playwrights tear their hair over the Second Act. Writers look for that extra clothesline pole to hold things up and keep them going. That being said, I enjoyed it for what it was and am looking forward to see how she manages to end her story. Or will it go to 4 books like Rick Riordan's Percy and the Olympians series? wendie old (one of the other Wendies)