Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Are You a Tough Judge?

Not long ago someone recommended a book. She raved about the plot, originality, and theme. So, I eagerly checked it out from the local library because I trusted this avid reader. Bummer! I couldn’t finish the book and I returned it (thank goodness I didn’t buy it). I try not to be a tough critic because I know how much effort, time, and energy is dedicated to writing a book. I know literature is subjective, but who or how many people decide on what makes a bestseller?

How do critics do it? I am not sure I would like to be in their shoes, especially if the book is written by a fellow writer or blogger.

Have you critiqued any books professionally? Are you a tough judge? What do you take into account in order to consider it a great book?


  1. I've never done a professional critique and think there should be more! I appreciate why there are reviews on say, amazon, but sometimes I don't understand a mean review of a book or one that just says, "I hate this book, do not buy". That's why I'm all for more intelligent considered professional reviews! LOL!

    Anyway - if I don't like a book despite all the rave reviews, I just move on - it really is no big deal to me - what I don't like, others like, fair enough but I won't go and make my negative opinion public on a public review site. What's the point!??!

    If I read a book and I love it then of course I'm there raving about it - cos it's made me happy so I don't see why others can't share this happiness too!

    I guess for me a "great book" would be one that I'm unable to stop reading even for a toilet break! :-)

    Take care

  2. Do you mean critique as in a professional judge in a contest, a peer critique, or a reader review?

    I've done well over 800 peer crits and I review occasionally if the book strikes me strongly enough.

    Many times books that are well received do nothing for me. I have to remind myself that there is no size fits all. Some things I just won't like even if the masses loved it. And vice versa.

  3. Hi Jennifer,
    I've reviewed (actually, given my opinion) on Amazon, LOL! Some good and some not so good (always being respectful, of course!). The only critiques I've done have been for fellow writers who have asked for my opinion. And you're right, a great book is hard to put down ;)

    Hi Maria,
    Yes, I meant judge in a contest AND reader review (e.g. for a book launch or a book club). Since you've critiqued peers, did you find this difficult?
    I usually choose books by reading the first page of it or the inside of the book jacket. I have to admit that I sometimes read some books based on the newspapers reviews :O Guilty!

  4. Ref: difficulty critiquing peers

    I don't find it difficult at all, but then I tend to surround myself by professionals who don't take things personally. They realize we're discussing a draft--and I'm addressing the work, not the author.

    Every so often I crit a newbie and here I have to hold back my punches because they're very fragile in the beginning. Everyone thinks their baby is beautiful, and it's disconcerting for someone to point out it has six toes on one foot.

    I love analysis. It helps me to be more cognizant of my weaknesses.

  5. Hi again, Maria:
    Oh, I remember when I was a newbie and I was so attached to my work. My mentors taught me to detach from it. Glad I listened to them! Yes, and like all beginners, I used to take critiques very personal; not anymore! In fact, I welcome them ;)
    I like editing because it has helped me edit my own work. Unlike you, I do find it hard critiquing my peers. I am extra extra careful not to hurt their feelings even when I'm being professional in my critiquing.

  6. I'm afraid I'm a tough judge. Nowadays, anybody can publish a book. This has both up and downsides. The upside is pretty obvious: who wouldn't want the chance to be heard, or rather, read? The downside is that, unlike in the old times, you don't necessarily need certain special skills anymore. Like painters who do Cubism because they do not possess the skills to do Realism. Automatically, quality leaves room for quantity.
    Like you said, it takes time, energy, and effort to write a good book. It doesn't take a lot to just write a book, though. Maybe that's why I'll never write a book: it would take me time, energy, and effort to just write a book!
    I'm a tough judge, I know. The same one that begs you to keep writing and perfect yourself as you are doing: we need good writers here!

    A good book to me is the one I enjoy and learn from.

  7. Hi Jacopo,
    Thanks for sharing your comment. Yes, unfortunately, there are a lot of people who attempt to write (or hire a ghost writer- without mentioning names, celebrities specialize on this-) and call themselves authors/writers. Technology has made this easier for these so-called writers but difficult on real writers. Not only competition is tough but publishers and agents are making it tougher for writers in general as they have to be extra selective. They have to be tough judges. Oh, and you're right about your definition of a great book ;)

  8. I'll throw a book at a wall. Bad mouth it to friends over a pint but (with the exception of a brief dabble at Good Reads reviews) never expend time on rating it in words or stars. Life's too short. I'm still amazed at how a couple joint wrote a book that made the NY Times top ten a few years ago. Appalling tosh but why pollute cyberspace with my views and deprive another innocent the pleasure of throwing a book against the wall and watching its spine collapse

  9. I post some book reviews on my blog, goodreads and amazon. I only post if I really like the book though. I have to get wrapped up in a book to give it a 5 star rating on know, like I can't put the book down until I finish it.

    Sorry you got burned on the book you read. Everyone has their own taste...That's why I only post reviews of books I's a reflection of me.

  10. Hi Mike,
    LOL!!! That's a very unique way of rating a book; throwing it against the wall until its spine collapses. I have a visual image ;)

    Hi Sharon and welcome back! Glad to hear you had a nice trip. :)
    Sharing your comments and opinion on the books you liked is already a good review ;)

  11. I don't know how critics and book reviewers do it. There are many books, some of them quite good, that I simply don't read, or don't finish once I've started. I would not be a good critic.

  12. Hey there, Adam!
    I think critics have to be unbiased and subjective; it's more of a personal taste, IMO.
    I rather stick to writing.

  13. Nice to meet a fellow Canadian - although I'm on the west coast. Following now as a result of your participating in BlogFest!

    Hope you'll check out my blog as well.

    As for your question: I review books on my blog, but don't critique them (critique is much more involved, IMO). I look for value in what I've read and review, even when it's not to my taste.

  14. Hi DG,
    Nice to meet you, too! Thank you for joining my blog. I'll come over to yours in a bit.
    Yeah, some bloggers review books (some of them because they belong to a book club). I usually read books that appeal to me and not necessarily because someone recommended it to me. ;)
    Happy blogfest!

  15. Love the blog! Was directed here by "Writing Nut"!

    Oh, dearie, yes, absolutely. Since I'm in the middle of editing my own work, I've found it next to impossible to read fiction without my inner editor cutting adjectives here, putting a question mark there, etc. And some books, as you describe, are just unreadable. I don't know how critics do it, either!

  16. Hi Raquel,
    Thank you for visiting!
    Editing, ugh! I think it's tougher than writing the story :(
    I think critics have to be unbiased yet, objective.
    Thanks for sharing your comment. Hope to see you around.

  17. I came by for Halloween Hop, but I wandered around a bit, clearly ;) I find it interesting how people "judge" books because it's rarely very judicial. That's why I read everything and review nothing - it's hard look at a piece impartially after you invested yourself in reading it! For example, I hated "Zombie" by Joyce Carol Oates, but that doesn't mean it was poorly written (it wasn't) or that she's a poor writer (clearly not); I just was not the right audience for it. I also have an acquaintance who love, love, loves Margaret Atwood, but thinks "The Handmaid's Tale" is the worst book ever written because it's so disgusting and unreal. Again, it just wasn't for her (personally, I loved it!), but she went ahead and rated it 1-star with her angry red pen. Not only is that unfair to Ms. Atwood, it's untrue, because my friend knows it's not a bad book in the purest definition of the word, she just didn't like it. But good luck trying to tell her that ;)

  18. Stupidly, whilst waiting at the airport, browsing in W. H. Smiths' paperback section, I was drawn to a sci-fi tome - and I mean this book was massive in thickness! And why did I choose this literary house brick? I liked the cover. I cannot recall the author or book title, but whilst on holiday I did the unthinkable, I put the book in the bin. Yup, I threw away a book. Please do not misunderstand, I know it's a heinous thing to do, and I have a very good visual mindset to trundle me along in my own version of 3D-surround-sound-technicolor-HD-knock-your-socks-off-imagination to immerse myself within whatever universe/setting I'm reading... but this book lost me totally. I think it was the description of an alien race that were, in essence, floating ferris wheels fitting with lasers. My internal dialogue acted as though shit-faced, my eyes lost focus, and my vocal chords and tongue went on a verbal bender of gargantuan foulness as to begin a genesis of new swear words.