The Words “I Wanted” Do Not Belong in Book Reviews

From Book Riot:

My professional life has swung more and more to writing about books over the last few years. This means that in addition to writing a lot more reviews than I used to, I read a lot more reviews than I used to. It also means that I’ve developed some opinions about how to write useful, thoughtful reviews, and here’s the one I truly wish everyone would start paying attention to: the words “I wanted” don’t belong in book reviews.

I’m not arguing against critical reviews. I’m all for critical reviews, both the ones that point out misogyny or racism or homophobia in books, and the ones that simply express an opinion about something that didn’t work — plot, character, prose, etc. Reviews are subjective. If someone doesn’t like a book, and they can explain why without using the words “I wanted,” that information can help other readers decide whether or not they want to read it. But if that review is just sentence after sentence trolling the book because it wasn’t the book that reviewer wanted to read — that’s not helpful, and it’s not even a real critical review.

Let me let you in on a little secret. If your book review is peppered with the words “I wanted,” it probably means that you should have DNFed that book. It almost certainly doesn’t mean the book you read was bad. It almost certainly does mean that you’ve written a bad review — not a critical review, a bad one.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

10 thoughts on “The Words “I Wanted” Do Not Belong in Book Reviews”

  1. Really? You can’t say “I wanted this book to be good, but it was awful?” Sometimes you think a book will be good because it has elements that excite you, but the execution was terrible. Or you wanted it to be good because you like the author, but the author was off her game.

    This is like Rian Johnson saying he intended to subvert expectations with the Sequel Trilogies for Star Wars. And he did: fans expected the movies to be good, but instead they sucked. Expectations subverted.

    Reply
    • That one was so bad I haven’t bothered to watch the last of the Disney aprocryphals. Not even free. That franchise is dead to me as long as Kennedy is mismanaging it.

      Trek did the same stupid thing: they announced they were doing a series set just before the original. Everybody expected the obvious: Young Spock under Captain Pike and “Number One”. A can’t miss.
      Instead, they did the least Trekkish show they coukd, a miserable attempt to copy THE EXPANSE that nobody wanted or watched. After three seasons they gave up and did STRANGE NEW WORLDS. And they finally have a new Trek that actually plays like Trek. You’d think that after 4 different shows they have a clue what the franchise is supposed to be, but no. They had to do *their* vision.

      Right.

      Hopefully Amazon is taking notes of w hat not to do with the next STARGATE series.

      Reply
      • I’ve only begun my binge of Stargate (schedule conflict kept me from seeing it before). But I was initially excited for the Mandalorian … until I saw Kathleen Kennedy’s name in the credits. I knew she would find a way to screw it up, and she did.

        If Amazon learns from their mistakes with the Rings of Power, maybe they won’t screw up Stargate. If they don’t learn … don’t get your hopes up.

        Reply
  2. I disagree with the universality. Here’s a perfectly legitimate review:

    “I wanted to learn something about a subject in which I’m just a beginner, but this book just kept repeating what I — and almost everyone else who can even spell the name of the subject — already know.”

    For an entire field full of this problem, try “cabinetry.” And that’s just one example.

    Reply
    • That is often tbe case with dissastisfied reviews.
      Or may be the author’s reputation or previous works promised something otber than what was delivered.

      Some reviews do judge the book by the reviewer’s biases and preferences but other (most?) reviews of dissatisfaction stem from unmet expectations from covers, blurbs, mis-marketing, or just plain *bad* writing. (I’ve run into all the above in both print and video.) The latter is more common than their peddlers pretend.

      While the establishment likes to pretend their gatekeeping only allows “good” works to reach market, the reality on the shelves says that Sturgeon’s Law rules there, too. Sometimes, despite tbe reviewer’s best efforts, the product just fails. Can’t blame them for being candid.

      Reply
      • Some categories are rife with conflicts of interest that result in products that make Sturgeon seem an optimist, too. And it’s not a new problem. If you followed model railroading in the 1960s and 1970s, you’d have discovered that two of the three publishers of contemporary books were owned by the two major manufacturers of small-scale equipment. I’ve heard similar complaints about quilting/sewing and other handicraft/hobbies. We just… won’t… mention writers’ magazines, ok? (Pretend the preceding sentence was edited out by a book doctor who happens to be related to the Publisher/editor of such a magazine.)

        So it could be worse. Which is pretty appalling.

        Reply

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