Thursday, January 17, 2008

Am I swayed by the critics?

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This week’s question is suggested by Puss Reboots:

How much do reviews (good and bad) affect your choice of reading? If you see a bad review of a book you wanted to read, do you still read it? If you see a good review of a book you’re sure you won’t like, do you change your mind and give the book a try?


If Iris Murdoch came back from the dead to write another novel I would buy it and read it even if James Woods said that death had not helped the quality of her prose. I think I would stand by my man Richard Powers too. Equally, if the Times praised Danielle Steele's next product from now until next Thursday little on earth would persuade me to read it. But reviews frequently convince me to read books that I wouldn't have thought worth it or that weren't on my radar. I first read the Harry Potter books based on a review, otherwise they were so popular that I wouldn't have been caught dead reading them. Scott Pack turned me on to Sarah Salway's Tell Me Everything; I'd never heard of it before. Mary's Library told me about The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Mark Sarvas inelegantly beat me over the head to read The Indian Clerk. I'm pretty sure that The New York Times Book Review turned me on to Phillip Pullmans' His Dark Materials trilogy and the writer John McGahern. The New York Review of Books frequently introduces me to things I've never heard of - particularly non-fiction. It was a review there that introduced me to Revolution on My Mind, about keeping a diary under Stalin's rule and which is now on my Russian Reading Challenge list. It also introduced me to the stories of Mavis Gallant. On the other hand, I didn't read Zadie Smith's second novel because of the reviews it received, even though her first novel convinced me of her talents, and her third blew me away. Although I read many positive reviews of Ian McEwan's most recent book On Chesil Beach, those reviews convinced me that I would have no interest in reading that book, and I haven't. Sometimes a review will persuade me that maybe I should borrow a book from the library rather than purchasing it. So yes - professionally published criticism, blog posts chatty and serious, interviews with authors, and the opinions of my reading friends in particular all sway me, but it depends upon the author, the genre, my mood. The short answer is yes, but...


7 comments:

Barbara H. said...

My thoughts are pretty similar.

Jeane said...

Like you, the influence of reviews on me all depends on who is doing the review, what I already think of the book, and how popular it is. Good reviews rarely make me read a book I feel is unlikely for me, tho.

Jaimie said...

Yes it depends alot on who is doing it. A college student mad because he/she had to read a book would not sway me at all but a mature well informed reviewer might.

Chris said...

Same here. It's who's doing the reviewing that influences me, if it does at all. Some authors I'd read no matter what.

verbivore said...

absolutely - no quantity of positive reviews could convince me to pick up Danielle Steele (and others in her category) But for the most part it does depend on the reviewer and what I've already decided about them (publication or person)

Matt said...

I second NYRB. The series has introduced a lot of "new old books" to me that fill up my basket even quicker! Like J.P. Hartley's The Go-Between and the recent read Envy.

What matters to me is who does the reviews. That is why I take book bloggers' opinions very seriously. I pay attention to those who share a common reading taste and see what they are reading.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Yes, but... is the perfect way to answer this! There is a lot to consider when reading a review, just like when someone tells you to vacation in X-land. You still have to do your research before you book the hotel.