It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

How to write a good review


First, see this review of Michael J Sullivan’s Theft Of Swords on Strange Horizons. See its long comment thread. This post is not aimed at Liz Bourke, who has written an excellent review of what is plainly a bad book. This post is for some of the commenters on that thread, who clearly don’t understand what a review is for, or how a book is reviewed.

1 A dishonest review is a bad review.
2 Not all books are good.
3 It’s not just good books that deserve reviews.
4 If a book is a bad book, it’s dishonest not to say so.
5 If a book is not a good book, it’s dishonest to refuse to review it.
6 Books can be bad for a number of reasons; most of those reason are a result of failure of craft.
7 Reviews are not written for the author of the book being reviewed; their audience is potential readers of the book being reviewed.
8 A good review is not opinion because it will contain evidence supporting its assertions.
9 Whether or not a reviewer enjoyed a book is completely meaningless, since enjoyment is unrelated to quality and is entirely subjective.
10 A review does not have to meet the expectations of people who have read the book being reviewed.
11 A review is based on a critical read of a book; this means the reviewer has probably put a lot more thought into their reading of it than you have.
12 If you come across a negative review of a book you thought was good but you did not read the book in question critically, then you are not qualified to comment on the review’s findings.

5 thoughts on “How to write a good review

  1. Well, that does sound like a terrible book and your points are interesting but I’m not sure I’m convinced that the demarkation between critical analysis and one’s subjective point of view is quite as clear-cut as you suggest.

    If enjoyment is completely unrelated to quality, what purpose does it serve being of good quality?

    And if it were true that critical analysis was always strictly objective, then disagreements between critical reviews would never arise.

    As I said, I’m not entirely disagreeing, nor suggesting that there is no difference between opinion and critical analysis. I just don’t think it is always quite as distinct as you suggest.

    • People’s levels of enjoyment are set at different thresholds, and for some quality is clearly an important criterion. I enjoy van Vogt’s novels, for example, but I’d never describe them as good. I suppose its people’s response to a book that are subjective, whereas craft can be judged mostly objectively. But even there, perhaps there is a level of subjectivity regarding acceptable or unacceptable levels.

      Having said that, the above points were chiefly aimed at some of the commenters of the SH review, who seemed to think it was okay to attack the reviewer simply because they disagreed with the review. That’s the behaviour of stupid people.

  2. Truly ‘Thief of Swords’ has found the fans that it deserves.

  3. I once had a book that was so bad I couldn’t finish it and had to send it back to the publisher. I couldn’t review it because I had nothing to say.

  4. Pingback: More on the Reviews Dust-up | Cora Buhlert

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