And I mean bad reviews as in absolutely scathing criticisms of unforgivably bad books.
At this point in my blogging career I’ve written well over 300 book reviews. I would say that most of those books are mediocre. They’re inoffensive, adequate, all around medium books. A rare few are absolute gems, perfectly written pieces of art. Some books are comically bad and can still be somewhat enjoyable reads. And then there are the real stinkers.
I’ve seen a trend on many other book blogs that I find upsetting. These bloggers proudly claim that they only write 5/5 rating reviews. That either means they give everything they read a now meaningless 5/5 or they only bother to write reviews for books that they truly loved. If I did the latter I’d only post once a month or less!
But there’s a much bigger problem to this strategy of only saying something if you have something nice to say, it’s bullshit and doesn’t help anyone.
I struggled with how to present this post. You can find many of my bad reviews by searching through my site but I don’t want to give any extra press to books I don’t think you should buy. Any mentions of books or authors in this post will be kept to books that are already best sellers, I can’t really send any more or less buisiness their way at this point so we’ll use them as examples.
Allow me to break down my defense of bad reviews.
My History of Hate Reading
Long before I started Amanja Reads too Much I was already in love with reading and reading absolutely everything. Since I started school I’ve always been in advanced reading classes and nothing would thrill me more than debating a teacher on the content and value of a book they assigned to the class.
I specifically remember trashing Wuthering Heights and refusing to finish it on principle. I still got an A in the class because I’m really good at bullshitting my way through essays.
I also excelled in these classes because I truly enjoy tearing apart books. I’m one to take notes, I write in margins, I get an adrenaline rush when I find something that contradicts an earlier point.
I also excelled at becoming obsessed with literary failures. It all started with the bible.
I was brought up very very Christian. Church of some form at least 3 times a week, read the bible every day, pray before any action kind of Christian. And I was into it. I was a true believer. I remember numerous occasions being so moved by my heavenly father that I was brought to tears during group prayer sessions.
Then I started to really read the bible. Critically. I had a spiral notebook with pages full, front and back, of notes, questions, and critiques before I even finished Deuteronomy. This got my brain really reeling. So I started to read every religious text I could get my hands on.
I’ve read em all. The Quran, Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Satanic Bible, Book of Mormon, even Dianetics. After that I started in on philosophical texts. Then I moved over to the atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens. I continued to read criticisms of all sides until I landed on the path to deprogramming.
I am currently an atheist but not as militant about it as I was when I was still recovering from my lost sense of belonging and purpose. This is all because I read for more than pleasure.
After the handful of years I spent reading religion and philosophy books I wanted to get back into fiction. Just to pass the time and maybe not get stressed about it. Well, my brain doesn’t work that way. I quickly got bored just reading for fun so I needed to step it up.
That’s when I found Twilight. This was just after the fourth book came out and everyone was super into sparkly vampires. I had a friend who said he’d read them with me so that we could see what all the fuss was about so I borrowed some copies.
The fire was reignited! My eyes lit up at how awful these books are! The mythology is full of holes and just plain stupid, the relationships are toxic, and the main character is a boring brat! Not to even mention how problematic Jacob “imprinting” on an infant is. I spent weeks devouring these books and laughing with my friend about every reason people should hate them.
Twilight made me realize that I don’t just enjoy reading, I enjoy being critical. And sometimes I’m a total jerk about it but I’ll own that.
Flash forward to me blogging. I no longer seek out really bad books to hate read. I don’t have the energy for spite that I used to. But I do still come across some really awful books. There is, though, a fine line between an unreadable book and one that can be hate read for fun. I must admit I get a little excited when I start a book and I realize it’s going to be one of these.
If anyone wants to send me copies of the 50 Shades of Grey books I’d love to tear into those. I just refuse to spend money on them or have them mess up my library app recommendations. And yes, I did just put the bible and 50 Shades of Grey in the same category. And no, I will never apologize for it.
Some books are bad because they’re boring, these do not provide enough entertainment to even make a good bad review. But the books that are offensive, wildly ridiculous, completely un-self aware, and contradictory make for some solid hate reading.
You can check out my scathing reviews of Red Rising and Fight Club 2 to see what I mean.
Bad Reviews Allow for Constructive Criticism
Bad reviews are important for all forms of media. They allow a forum for constructive criticism, without which everyone would think their creations are perfect and keep putting out garbage.
Too many people have become unable to receive negative feedback. Not everything you do is perfect. People should be allowed to say so and tell you how to do better next time. This goes for writing and everything else in life.
I think that many self published authors have their books beta read by friends or family who are maybe not completely honest with them. Blogger reviews might be the first time they’re seeing anything less than complimentary about their work. Seeking out constructive criticism should be a priority before publishing. Then maybe there’ll be less to criticize later.
I’ve written many reviews for new authors and their first books. Some thank me for my insight and some demand I don’t publish my opinions anywhere lest I tarnish their name. I truly believe the ones who are better equipped to find the useful parts of a negative review will publish far better books in the future than those who feel insulted by less than a 5/5 rating.
Seriously, I had an author beg me not to post a 3/5 review on Goodreads. Calm down, I wish that was the worst thing that ever happened to me.
Constructive criticism provides ways for authors to improve their future works. I always try to include some useful feedback in my less than favorable reviews. It’s important to say more than, “I didn’t like it.”
And Maybe not so Constructive Criticism
“I didn’t like it” can still be a valid review though. Reviewers and readers everywhere are entitiled to their opinions whether the authors like it or not.
Sometimes I just don’t click with a book. That’s okay. It’s not exactly constructive to just simply not like something but sometimes that’s all that can be said. Part of being a prolific book reviewer is having a following that has similar tastes. If I like something, they might like it too, and if I don’t they might not as well. It’s like having a friend curate a recommendations list for you.
The only reason I can see to not give bad reviews is because you’re worried about hurting someone’s feelings. I get this, I’ve had to give some very nice authors 2/5 or 1/5 ratings. It doesn’t feel good. But I’ll tell you a secret, the authors who are actually nice people respond well to this.
Sure, they’re disappointed and might ask some follow up questions. They have every right to be upset with a bad review but the good authors take the constructive criticism and use it. They also accept that sometimes I’m just not the audience for their book.
Authors who are good people are ready to accept criticism, you’re doing them a dis-service by lying or not reviewing their books.
Bad Reviews Call Out Assholes
Not all authors are good people. Some authors use their novels as ways to display their sexism, racism, or otherwise assholish natures. Long time readers of my reviews will know that I reserve 1/5 ratings for books that aren’t just bad, they’re offensive.
Sexism is the most common offense I find in books. So much so that it’s driven me to write about it more than once:
Fridging and Inherent Sexism in Literature
Anti-Feminist Literature, A Rant and a Promise
Sexism is far too common in literature. Bad reviews of books like Red Rising allow me a forum to call out the authors for furthering negative stereotypes, degrading women, and just being assholes in general.
I’ve also published reviews on very sexist indie and self published novels and sent them directly to the authors. Guess what, they weren’t happy about it. But someone needs to put them in their place! Politeness is for the weak, assholes NEED to be called out! Stop letting them just get away with whatever they want!
One such author told me it was unfair to judge him based on the content of his fiction novel. Here’s the thing though, what you write is a reflection of yourself. People write what they know and nobody should be writing sexist or otherwise demeaning literature just for funsies. Plus, that author put himself on the cover or his book so I feel very justified in thinking it shows his own personal values.
Another author decided he needed more attention and took his arguments from our emails to my Goodreads page. I think we was trying to publicly shame me? Jokes on him, I like attention too.
I do not care to spare these authors’ feelings. Their books are bad and they should feel bad. And yes, I’ll tell them right to their face and stand by it all day long.
Bad Reviews are the Most Entertaining
My final defense of bad reviews is that they are simply fun to read. Please don’t lie to me or to yourself, you know it’s true. If you see a review about a book you already know you want to read you’re likely going to skip it to avoid getting spoilers. If you see a review for a book you already love and the reviewer loves it too you might just get a “yeah, I agree” out of it.
But, when you see a review that tears open a book that really deserves some hate, that’s entertainment. I get the most engagement on negative reviews. On both Instagram and directly on the review, on bad reviews I receive more feedback than any others.
Schadenfrueude is a powerful force. Everyone loves to laugh at a failure. All of you enjoy that feeling you get when you feel like you’re better than someone for at least a moment. Remember, my scathing 1/5 ratings are reserved for offensive assholes so, go ahead, point and laugh at them. Ridicule them with me in a public shaming. It’s okay, we can’t make fun of most people anymore (and we shouldn’t) but these assholes set themselves up for it.
Bad reviews are also the most fun for me to write. I get to break the formula and break my boredom. I’m glad I don’t only read bad books but it’s honestly refreshing to switch gears with my reviews once in a while.
So you can call me mean and you can disagree with me but I’m going to keep writing bad reviews when I read bad books. I defend that stance.
17 thoughts on “In Defense of Bad Reviews”
You’re everything wrong with the direction culture has gone in the last decade. You’re not cool for not having fun. If a book is bad, anyone with anything better to do at all would stop reading it and read/do something else. Stop being so self-righteous and smell the roses every once-in-a-while. You probably have an Android phone just to stick it to Apple. Have fun with your socialism.
One of my favorite movies of all time is considered one of the worst films of 2003. But beyond the threshold of subjective taste there are objective components that make something either bad or good.
The Brown Bunny (2003) Understand that I abhor the director as a person and his politics, but I don’t think any true fan of cinema can watch that film and not be profoundly moved. It’s like Zadie Smith said, writing is the best self.
Interesting. I have feelings about this movie. But I have to premise that I already dislike road trip philosophy cinema so I was primed to dislike it from the start. And I think that Vincent gallo’s narcissism knows no bounds
I enjoyed reading your insights. I do agree with you on the need for “bad reviews”.
I enjoyed reading this post. I agree honest reviews and constructive criticism will help the writer to grow and also lets them know what people really think about their work. We must remember also, that not everyone has the same likes and dislikes when it comes to books. I myself have read many bestsellers and sometimes find myself wondering why they did so well.
That too. It’s an opinion. Someone else may love that same book
great article and a reminder that the gems from a reviewer are needed, even if a writer doesn’t appreciate them at the moment.