Un-Recommending Books

banner-discussionUhm so this is a warning that this is a discussion post and that I’m about to ramble.

Today I want to talk about writing negative reviews and thus un-recommending books to readers. I wrote a guest post for Oh, the Books! on reviewing average books in which I tried to explain my dislike for doing just that. But I have a different problem with writing negative reviews of books I disliked.

Namely: What if you read my review, decide not to read the book, and miss out on the experience of a lifetime? o_O (This is me right now.)

Ok so I’m placing a huge amount of importance on my own reviews/opinions but I have been in a situation where a commenter wrote something like: “Eh, I’ve had this book on my tbr for ages but now that I see you didn’t like it, I think I’ll pass (or move it way down the list).” WHAT? NO!!! This was not my intention.

Well, sometimes it probably was. There are books I disliked so thoroughly that I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone (except maybe my enemies – because revenge by terrible book is sweet) and would in fact actively discourage people from searching them out. These are books that feature behaviour that is unacceptable: sexist, racist, stupid. But in truth, these books are rare. I will often stop reading them in the middle because I don’t want to throw my life away by reading trash.


But then there are books that just weren’t meant for me. Either I’m not the intended audience (I’m not religious, for example, or particularly spiritual either, so inspirational books tend to… irritate me), I’m not in the right mood, or I accidentally pick up a book that features one of my many pet peeves. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: I didn’t like the book.

Now what? I write the review, rate the poor book with a 3/5 or lower rating and list the reasons for my dismissal (some of which are purely emotional, not rational at all). This is where you, the readers, come in.

In this world of plentiful books and crazy to-be-read lists I tend to rely on several factors to choose the book I’ll read next. One of those is the opinion of those bloggers and reviewers that approximately share my taste in books. Now, I know I’m no trendsetter here and that no book will become a flop if I rate it badly, but hear me out.

Imagine this scenario: I review a book. You see the title of the post in your reader, click on it and immediately scroll down to where I put my (bad) rating. You’re in a hurry that day and merely skim the review, noting several bolded sentences in which I rant over something that bothered me. You’ve had that book on your tbr but never got around to it and now you think: “Huh. Maybe I’ll just give it a pass for now.”

This has happened to me so many times. I respect the opinion of my favourite bloggers because I assume we’re a bunch of smart, well-read people. And to be honest, I don’t mind being on the receiving end of such an un-recommendation. But to be the source of one? So much responsibility!

What if that book was actually meant for you? What if you’ve missed on the story that would change your life? (Ok so I’m being overly dramatic here but you get the point, right?) What if, to sum it up, you miss out on a really good piece of fiction just because I was in a bad mood when I read it?


Honestly, I have no answer for you. This ramble doesn’t mean I’ll change my review strategies or that I’ll suddenly start giving better ratings to books I disliked. That’s not how this works. But I wanted to point out this dilemma and see if any of you struggle with it sometimes (probably? perhaps? maybe?).


Do you think of your readers when you rate and review books? Or do you do it for yourself? 

Does the number of your followers make you feel more responsible?

I’d love to hear your take on this issue, so talk to me! ;)

  • I try to be clear about things that I think are just bad writing and things that are opinion/personal taste. But it is hard to walk the line! I feel terrible when I pan something totally, especially if it’s a recent book.

    • Ugh, yes, good point! It’s horrible when a book is so young and fresh and I feel like I actually have the power to sway people’s opinions about it (I don’t, but still). If I rant about a classic or something older, it doesn’t feel as bad.

  • I’ve been thinking about this same a lot lately, too. I enjoy reading negative reviews. I enjoy writing them. I started my blog because I wanted to TALK about books. But not necessarily to recommend or not recommend books.

    I’m a librarian. I recommend books to library users all the time. I often recommend books that I haven’t read, or books that I have read but wasn’t particularly in love with. And I’ve recommended books that I haven’t liked if I like that library user might enjoy it.

    So when I get comments like “oh I don’t think I read this now” my immediate reaction it to say “NO! maybe you will love this book. It just wasn’t for me.”.

    • Yes, that’s it exactly. I like expressing my opinions but don’t necessarily want the responsibility of those opinions being treated as fact (if that makes sense?).
      I imagine the work of a librarian must be full of dilemmas like this! Have you ever had anyone complain you’d recommended a terrible book to them? :)

      • I’m not the OP, but I am a librarian, and I can tell you that, yes, my recommendations get shot down on a daily basis. Sometimes the kids take it home and return it to me the next day with a complaint, but usually they won’t even get as far as the library door.

        • Ick, that has to be tough. But I guess you get more happy “customers” that thank you for recommending good books to them? (I hope!)

          • It does get pretty frustrating when you’ve just spent 10+ minutes narrowing down some interests and the kid ends up shelving it anyway and just taking another CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS or DIARY OF A WIMPY KID book. But I also have kids who make me cards and write me letters thanking me for helping them find their new favorite books, so it’s worth the effort.

          • Aww that’s so cool! I’d love to work as a librarian in a children’s department – I remember getting good recommendations from librarians when I was a kid, in fact, I read The Lord of the Rings at 13 because one of them told me I might like it and I fell in love with fantasy because of it.

  • A negative review doesn’t necessarily turn me away, sometimes I actually want to check out a book despite the bad rating. I think it all depends on the content of the review. If something in the story didn’t work for you and you explained exactly why — let’s say, you don’t like sci-fi thrillers. But maybe I happen to LOVE sci-fi thrillers! — I wouldn’t automatically strike that book off my list or bump it down the TBR. Another way you can look at this is, do you necessarily pick up a book if you see a 5 star review? I don’t either. Sometimes one of my blogger friends who love New Weird will rave about a New Weird book, but through their review I would also know the book won’t be for me (I don’t do well with weird). I guess I don’t stress too much because the reviewers I follow are all very detailed. I may or may not write off a book because I see a bad review, but my decision would be based on the content of said review and specifically what the person disliked, rather than just the fact it was a negative review.

    In a technical sense though, bad writing is a whole different thing entirely. It wouldn’t matter how good a story is, if the writing riddled with errors and not well edited, then I just can’t do it. So yes, if I see a reviewer point out poor quality writing, I’d probably not read it :)


    • Well, this works well if you actually read the review :D I admit to skim-reading (and often not reading the review at all if the rating is mediocre/bad). I guess my process for picking new and fresh titles is that I wait for a couple of bloggers I like to read the book and look at their ratings first and if they’re great, I’ll probably add the book to my tbr.
      If I’m really interested in a book, I’ll probably read the whole review anyway. But if it’s a book I’ve never heard about and it gets a *meh* rating from reviewers I like, I often don’t read the whole review – I just don’t have the time for every book review out there :( I wish I did, but I don’t.

  • This is such a great post because I’ve had that from reviews before.I will post that I didn’t like a book for whatever reason and people will say they might give it a miss, and I just hate having that influence over someone’s book decisions. I only feel that way when I’ve discouraged someone from reading something, though, never the other way around. I want the power to influence people’s book decisions when it comes to encouraging them to read.

    It is daunting to think you can influence people in what they read, but then you have to think you are probably helping to encourage them to read a lot more books than what you’re discouraging them from. Also, if a book really is worth the read, there are plenty more blogs out there that might have enjoyed a book and will rave away about it so people may be influenced somewhere else instead.

    • Thanks! :)
      Yeah I understand what you’re saying: I love recommending books, even though people who read them eventually might not like them (I like how you formulated that: “I want the power” :D)
      And yes, I know I’m not the only blogger out there but the problem does extend to real life situations where you meet people who aren’t exactly bookish.

  • I have this anxiety too! Mostly because I (and likely we all) have quirky, picky things that will make me dislike a book. I’m also a pretty huge mood reader so if its just hitting me at the wrong time, how to be fair? I try to be aware if that is what is going on – if its likely just me – and make that clear in any review I write. But it doesn’t always happen so I have no solution either.

    Interestingly I don’t think I think of the reader so much when writing a poor review but I do when writing a review for a book I like and that I have specific ideas about who else would like it. I apparently have no problem helping someone to miss the book of their lifetime;).

    • :) I actually wish I could only review really great books so I would have no problem recommending them to people. I’ve thought about this – only posting about stuff I absolutely LOVED, but then there wouldn’t be that many posts on my blog + I like to think diversity of reading material is interesting to people who come by my blog (I may be wrong, of course!).
      Sometimes – with really bad books – I feel obligated to warn people away from the book :)

  • I feel like it’s EXTREMELY important to always rate books for yourself and your tastes. But I do get what you mean!! I feel horrible when I say I hated a book and a bunch of people say “yeah I won’t read it either”. Zomg! So much pressure! (Although I feel equally nervous if I recommend books really forcefully and then I worry that everyone will hate them and think I’m nuts. xD HAHA.) Ahem. So yes, I totally understand this. I like to say in my reviews stuff like, “Just because I didn’t like it, doesn’t mean you will! HAVE A GO!” I feel like reviews are really good for people who find they have similar taste to you. I have a “bookish twin” and literally, our ratings are like 90% the same, so it’s handy to know if she didn’t like a book, then I won’t either! XD

    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    • Hi, Cait, welcome and thanks for a great comment! :)
      Hm, I don’t feel as nervous when I’m championing a book – maybe because I think that reading one bad book is worse than not reading a GREAT one you might miss because of a bad review?
      I have yet to find my bookish twin, though one or two bloggers I met through this blog this year pretty much have awesome book taste!
      I like this thought – saying that people should give a book a try even though you didn’t like it. I think it works, especially if you explain why it didn’t appeal to you.

  • I’ve never really thought too much about my readers when I review a book. Well, I take that back, I guess I don’t really take into account how they will react to my review for the most part. I write my reviews to share my thoughts, and I don’t expect blog readers to take my review as the only one that matters to them, so I write what I thought, and if they think it sounds like something they’d like, then they’ll read it! :)

    • Yeah, me too – or at least that’s what I’ve been doing so far, but seeing a comment like “I won’t read this book because you don’t like it” (paraphrasing here, but you get the point) really brings out the fact that people sometimes actually READ these reviews and take my opinion into consideration when deciding whether or not to read a book! O_o CRAZY.
      I know I only get a comment or two like that but that’s exactly why I was asking – maybe some of the “bigger” bloggers have more experience with this :)

  • This is the great thing about blogs reviews, I think. When I’m buying for my library, I rely on professional reviews because they’re supposed to be “objective” (whatever that means). But when I’m trying to decide what to read next, if I’m looking through blogs, I can get an idea of the reader – what does she like and dislike, what do we have in common, and so on, especially if it’s someone whose blog I read often. Maybe I know they’re a real stickler for hard science in their sci-fi, but I know it doesn’t really bother me if the science is handwaved a little.

    I don’t feel bad panning books in my role as a book blogger. I’m not reviewing for Kirkus. It’s not about if the book was “objectively” good or bad, but whether or not I liked it. I just try to make that clear when I write a review. (Of course, I would never shut down a kid’s book choice in my role as a librarian.)

    • I never thought about it this way, but you’re right – we are being very specific and personal in our reviews. And I think I prefer reading such reviews to the professional ones – but then I don’t work in the book buying/publishing business, so I’m only choosing books for myself (and sometimes my husband).
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Rose! :)

  • Honestly, I just go with my gut. Sometimes with less than average books I just pass on reviewing them because I don’t have enough of an opinion. But when my opinions are intense (as they often are!) I just can’t be silent about it one way or the other. My blog isn’t big at all, so I figure the people reading it must care what I have to say, good or bad…right? I have often really liked books that other people hated (I loved Divergent and I’m not ashamed!) and really disliked books that others thought were decent, and I think it’s important to state that for the record sometimes. Although I do admit that when an author I love releases a less than stellar book, I’m less likely to write a full review of it – usually I’ll just post one on GR in that case.

    Too right, revenge by terrible book is the best. True evil is re-gifting a crappy book, imo.

    • That’s a sound strategy. Sometimes when I read a book (it often happens with romances) I just have such BORING thoughts about it that I don’t want to share them on the blog for fear of putting my readers to sleep.
      And you’re right – having a small audience probably means they’re interested in what you’re saying, especially if they come around often and comment! :) I feel like I have reached this point where I get comments on most posts, which is wonderful :)
      HAHA, re-gifting crappy books! I’m usually afraid people will think I liked it and that my reading taste is abysmal :D

  • Elizabeth Bogardus

    This is one of the reasons why I don’t use ratings. A lot of people just look at the rating and don’t read the why of the rating. I usually have a last paragraph that pulls it together of who would like the book and maybe compare it to others. I also like to write if it was bad writing, poor skills, or sometimes could have used better editing.

    • I think (the lack of) editing is often a problem. Sometimes a book would have been wonderful if it was a hundred pages shorter – and that’s not something the authors can decide for themselves, at least not objectively.
      I like reviews with ratings – I’ll read the review anyway if I’m interested in the book but they give a general sort of summary. I have to decide what to do with the rating on Goodreads anyway. But I also read rating-less reviews; I do appreciate the summary, though :)

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