Do You Trust Online Book Reviews?

There’s an interesting (but obviously not unbiased) post from The Guardian Book Blog called The Literary Universe is Bigger in the Blogosphere that discusses online reviewing.

“But why should we believe the blogger?” comes the cry. “Who are they and how are they qualified to tell us what to read?” The answer is: you should believe them and trust them in exactly the same way you would a critic in a newspaper or literary journal. There will be some you admire and some you think are stupid. Some bloggers write well and some badly and so do some literary critics.

Amen. (And yes, I am also biased. :))

Also: Does it matter if the reviewer gets free review copies from the publisher? (We do.) Or advertising dollars? This information can surely help you decide whether to trust reviews, but ultimately I think you either trust a reviewer’s integrity or you don’t.

Do you trust online book reviews?

11 thoughts on “Do You Trust Online Book Reviews?”

  1. My authoritative answer is: It depends.

    Reviews on Amazon.com, for example, I almost never trust; they’re generally about as intelligent and reliable as Wikipedia (motto: “we are waiting for someone to write us a motto”).

    On the other hand, if it’s a site like this one, or Neil Gaiman reads a certain book, or someone at the wonderful bookslut site enjoys a book, then the title sticks in my head. It very, very rarely sends me rushing out to buy it simply because my tastes don’t mesh all that well with anyone else’s. (And of course not. Why should they? They wouldn’t be MY tastes, or YOUR tastes if they did.)

    Magazine reviews — Newsweek, for example, or Entertainment Weekly — I tend to assume are dead wrong, because so often it seems the books are reviewed by someone who’s not a reader for the joy of it. And usually, they seem to miss the point of, er, everything.

  2. Sure do as much as I trust any reviewer. I’ll look over their reviews, see how they’ve reviewed other books that I’ve read and form my opinion based on that, not any in print or online only kind of bias.

  3. I enjoy book reviews to some degree, whether from a professional critic or Joe Blogger. If its someone whose writing I enjoy and who seems passionate about their response to the book, good or bad, then I tend to listen to them. I always make up my own mind in the end. If I know I may read a book I generally only skim reviews until after I’ve read it as some are better than others at warning of spoilers…I find that professional critics are worse about revealing major plot points than bloggers.

  4. Carl,

    Pay close attention to whether the venue writes reviews or critiques. To re-quote David Hartwell: “Reviews are for people who haven’t read the book and critiques are for people who have.” The professionals who spoil are probably writing critiques.

  5. Unfortunately, I think the professionals don’t always note the difference so succinctly. I’ve seen some of what Carl comments on. Not usually in the magazines (because they fear the deluge of angry letters) but on review sites. And in both mediums, they’ll hint at the thing they’re Not Spoiling, to the point where it’s spoiled to anyone who can put together clues.

    Though mostly, it’s a non-issue for me. I don’t tend to remember spoilers, or critiques, or reviews, or anything else when I’m reading.I just read to read, and I see what the book gives me.

  6. That quote sums it up. It is all about trust. If you get to know a reviewer (in the “read their reviews” sense) then you’ll know what they like, how it matches with what you like etc. So then you can find a reviewer you trust and has similar taste to you.

    BTW you get LOADS of free books! I should do a page like that.

  7. Trust but verify.

    I slowly come to trust opinions, comparing their experience with mine own in cases where I intended to buy the book anyway. Same thing with friends and acquaintances–I know their tastes, and know that a recommendation from x is usually congruent with my tastes, or in some cases, diametrically opposed.

    It doesn’t matter to me if people get free review copies. I trust the reviewer to be objective enough to not allow it to influence them. (And in point of fact, I gave a negative review to one of the very few books which I received an ARC for).

  8. I trust certain bloggers. I’ll form an opinion by reading a few of their reviews, especially of books I’ve already read. Sometimes I agree with them and sometimes I don’t, but I’m always interested in how they wrote about a book. A review doesn’t have to agree with my opinion for me to like it. It just has to show the author read and understood the book.

    Gal

  9. I would say that I trust the reviewer before I trust the review. The first, however, takes a while to build. While everyone has their opinion, some are more informed than others, and those people I trust more than someone who might only be a casual reader. Some of my favorites are on SF Reader. Some of them are not.

  10. It’s all about trust – and for that to work you need to get to know the reviewer (as others have said). I need to know enough about a reviewers taste to properly compare them with my own – this doesn’t mean I need to always agree with the reviewer, just know enough about them and their style to judge it against mine. One review isn’t enough – it takes time. That’s a reason why it’s so important to read reviews for books I’ve read before. There are a few reviewers out there that I ‘trust’ in this way – all others I treat as curiosity.

    Conversley – this is one of the ways I approach reviews I write. I want to write in a very consistent manner in which a reader can learn enough to judge my tastes versus their own.

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