Posts Tagged ‘Goodreads’

Is Any Book A Good Book?

Published by Kirsten on September 19th, 2012 - in Uncategorized

Well, the answer to that question is obvious, I think. Of course not. Some books are just not very good. As a review site, of course we discriminate between what makes a story worth reading, and what doesn’t. Otherwise, what good would we be as a resource for readers and librarians? We all have limited time and money for books.

But is just that. A resource. People see what we have to say and make their own choices based on that, and probably also recommendations from friends, colleagues, Goodreads, and other review sites, advertisements on the Internet, catalogs and flyers in your mailbox (if you’re a librarian) and reviews in magazines and publications of various kinds. You choose where you’ll go for recommendations, and who you’ll trust to direct you to the “next good book” as we like to say here. I hope you choose to come here and take advantage of our hard work.

To go a little further, is any book that gets people reading a “good book”? I think Dylan, the Monster Librarian, would say yes. And this is a philosophy that I see a lot. Are the Twilight books good books? They got a lot of people reading. That’s a good thing… but are they good books? I think the writing is pretty bad, so I’m going to say no, I don’t think they are. Would I buy them for my YA collection, if I were buying for one? With such high demand, you’ve gotta give them what they want. You don’t take books out of the hands of people who are desperate to read them, especially if this is the first time they’ve ever really wanted to read a book. And I do know people for whom Twilight was the first book they read from cover to cover. But not the last.

I don’t especially like the school of thought that says “well, it’s okay to let them get the bug with R.L. Stine, because at least they’re reading, and that will transfer into a love of great literature in the future”. Maybe, but that’s condescending to those kids. Stine doesn’t even pretend that his books have classic literary value. Like a lot of series books, his books use fairly simple language, predictable structure, and cliffhangers at the endings of chapters to keep kids going. Not everything kids read is great literature, even in the classroom. If you have seen some of the little phonics readers kids use you know that is not even expected. “I put my hat in the van. I put the map in the van. Dad gets in the van”. Simple language, predictable structure (no cliffhangers, though, sadly). We can share the cool books that aren’t Goosebumps or Twilight without seeing them as just a stepping stone. They’re where the reader IS. And maybe the reader will be there for a long time. There are enough Goosebumps books and knockoffs to last the kid who wants them or needs them for a very long time.

But there are also a lot of other books– fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels for kids that are funny and suspenseful and unbelievable. And someday kids will be done with Goosebumps, just like kids from 30 years ago eventually outgrew the series adventures of Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield and kids from 60 years ago eventually outgrew Nancy Drew to go on to other kinds of books. Maybe their interests will take them in the direction of new, similar series and genre fiction(which is often, despite its disreputable status in literary circles, extremely good) and maybe their reading will be shaped by other interests and experiences. Some of those books might be food for thought– but maybe not the ones we might expect. And some may be pure escapism (also maybe not the ones we might expect).

Not every book is a good book. But sometimes it’s enough to tell a good story, one that fits readers at their particular time and place. But those books don’t exist in isolation, even if the reader has a narrow view. Put those stories in the midst of many, and let serendipity take us on its meandering course on the shelves and through the stacks, whether that’s in the classroom, in the library, or at home.

Reading Is Not A Competitive Sport

Published by Kirsten on February 10th, 2012 - in Uncategorized

Dang it, just as I was writing about how crappy it is to shame readers about what genre and format they read, somebody at The Guardian was doing her best to insult both genre readers and the formats they read in, with startling efficiency. I am not a “furtive” ebook reader! I do not read ebooks to hide my addiction to genre fiction! And I think it’s revolting to inform readers that they SHOULD be furtive about their reading tastes- that they should buy the classics in hardcover for display purposes (instead of buying whatever they like to read in hardcover for the purpose of actually reading). Contrary to the assertion the author makes, READING IS NOT A COMPETITIVE SPORT.

If it were I would lose. I tried, but I can’t even keep track on Goodreads of how many books I’ve read this year already. The shelves you see on entering my house are not where I preserve “classics”. I am not doing my reading to impress anyone or to win anything. And I am angry that someone who thinks that displaying award winners to show how literary you are is more important that you, or me, or anyone, reading what we love. There is no shame in that. It’s something to revel in. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Waiting for Godot

Published by Kirsten on January 22nd, 2012 - in Uncategorized

I wasn’t paying attention, but there has been some sort of brouhaha online about reviews on Goodreads. Apparently someone on there posted a negative review of  a book, and a  friend of the author’s who responded  in a less-than-professional manner, causing a stunning flame war on Twitter (the author herself apparently was very gracious when she finally responded to the whole discussion).

I’m not sure what the big deal is here. Reviews on Goodreads or Amazon are reader opinions. As a librarian neither of those are places I would go to decide whether to buy a book for my collection, and as a reader, well, one bad review(or one good review) on Goodreads or Amazon is something I take with a grain of salt. Our philosophy here is that the individual reader’s taste is personal. Not everyone will have the same taste. And that’s okay.

But out of all of this craziness came this post by Maggie Stiefvater. Maggie Stiefvater, if you don’t know, is a bestselling YA author who has written a series called The Wolves of Mercy Falls. Last year she wrote an article for Knowledge Quest, the journal of the American Association of School Librarians, about the responsibilities of a YA author toward her teenage audience, which I thought was pretty good.

Apparently this Goodreads debacle caused her to step up and inform her readers that

A review is an unbiased, careful look at a book — basically it is a little academic paper. It involves an itty-bitty thesis on your opinion of the book, surrounded by tiny supporting sentences describing the strengths and weaknesses of said book. Every month, dozens upon dozens of these reviews come out in professional journals. Because they’re fair and thorough, they’re prized and respected in the publishing world.

I’m not going to quibble with everything she says here. A review SHOULD BE a careful look at a book. But it will never be unbiased and it shouldn’t be. At we have reviewers who enjoy and are knowledgeable about extreme horror and bizarro. Those are the people we ask to review extreme horror and bizarro, because they like reading it, have experience with it, and understand what it means to write well in those genres. If you write in those genres, be glad that we have those (awesome) people on staff.

Ms. Stiefvater’s post suggests that ONLY the reviews that appear in professional journals matter. I strongly disagree that a review must be a “little academic paper” with a thesis and supporting statements, though. If that were the case, I can guarantee academic and professional journals would not be publishing “dozens and dozens” of reviews(Also, her publisher wouldn’t have sent me a copy of Forever for review).  Just out of curiosity, I used the INSPIRE database Academic Search Premier (INSPIRE is Indiana’s virtual library) to find some “little academic papers” that have been published about Ms. Stiefvater’s own books. Reviews of her books have appeared in well-respected journals, including The Horn Book, Booklist, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. I’ve read all of these at some point, read some of them regularly and have great respect for the work they do.

But many reviews are mostly plot summaries. This is from the review of Shiver from Publishers Weekly. Eighty percent of it described the plot- only part of the first sentence and the last sentence provide an evaluation of the “strengths and weaknesses” of the book.

Stiefvater leaves the faeries oí Lament and Ballad for a lyrical tale… Stiefvater skillfully increases the tension throughout; her take on werewolves is interesting and original while her characters are refreshingly willing to use their brains to deal with the challenges they face.

Where’s the thesis and its multiple supporting sentences?

Here’s a review, this time of Linger, from the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Once again, a majority of the review was a plot summary. Here’s the reviewer’s conclusion:

The sequel is as enjoyable as its predecessor but might benefit from more action. Both stories are basically love stories with supernatural elements. The new characters in Linger keep the story interesting, and readers are unlikely to sense an opening in the ending for a third book.

And here’s a review from Booklist, for Forever.

Once again, a large chunk was devoted to a plot summary. Here’s the part that actually commented on the book.

The parallel love stories contrast beautifully with each other: Grace and Sam are sweetly innocent together, constant and enduring; while Isabel and Cole’s relationship is more knowing, with sharp edges and an uncertain future. Stiefvater’s emotional prose is rich without being melodramatic, and she clearly shares her fans’ love of these characters.

She clearly shares her fans’ love of her characters? Is that supposed to be a strength or a weakness?

If it matters, I’m happy to share the citations, in proper format, on request. isn’t Booklist, and doesn’t pretend to be. We strive to write honest reviews, and to remember the audience we’re writing for. Every one of us is a volunteer and many of us devote hours each week to writing reviews that are so much more than what you see above, that our reviewers put their hearts and minds into to provide librarians and readers with reviews and information they aren’t going to find anywhere else. Kirkus Reviews may produce 5,000 reviews a year, but how many books are there out there with authors who will never make their cut? Ms. Stiefvater is one of the lucky few who can count on getting reviewed in the journals that libraries and bookstores use to choose the books they order. Not everyone gets that chance. But just because their review didn’t appear in a professional review journal doesn’t mean that the book isn’t worth reviewing or that those of us who genuinely strive to serve a professional or reading audience matter less.  As you can see above, even the reviews written for professional journals don’t quite meet her vision. Most authors who wait for a “little academic paper” complete with thesis and supporting sentences are waiting for Godot.

But authors, readers, and librarians looking for honest reviews of horror and paranormal fiction and the related genres, or scary stories for kids, will find that here.