November 19th, 2011 | 6 Comments »

This post comes after a discussion on this topic on google+ some months back. I came a little late to the party, so there was already a long list of comments, and pretty much they all agreed that authors should not review friends’ books (making me instantly wonder, well, should they be reviewing enemies’ books, then?). In fact, one poster even wrote that people reading the reviews could tell whether comments were made by authors or by “real people.”

OK, of course I’m going to bristle at being called an unreal person, but I do get the point being made — it’s the belief that a review being written by a friend is not just going to be positive, but going to be falsely positive. Therefore, since the review is inflated and insincere, it is in some sense dishonest, and does a disservice to potential readers trying to decide whether to purchase a certain book.

I don’t think it’s any secret that I review friends’ books, but just in case someone didn’t know that, I’ll clarify: I certainly have, and will continue to, review friends’ books. It didn’t start out that way, because when I started reviewing erotica, I didn’t know any erotic authors. In fact, some of my erotica author friends are people I met after I reviewed their books. I found things in their writing that spoke to me, so I connected on Facebook or FetLife or wherever, and we started emailing, and became friends. At that point, did my book reviews become invalid? ;) (OK, I know that’s not what the original discussion was implying.)

But let’s take now. I have a few books in my review queue, and some of them were written by friends. Real friends, not just casual email acquaintances, but people I’ve spent time with, who’ve stayed at my house, whom I’ve shared meals with. In fact, one reason I wanted to review their books is because we’re friends, and through that friendship, I’ve come to know their values and beliefs as well as their writing, which lead me to think I’d like their future books.

Of course, no one was saying you shouldn’t read your friends books — only that you shouldn’t review them. But I still disagree. If I read a book, and I like it, I should be allowed to say so, whether I know the author or not. I know that I’ve read things by friends that I didn’t particularly care for, so it’s not true that I’ll like something just because a friend wrote it. That’s assuming I’m a lot more shallow than I am, thank you very much. Nor would my friends want me to write insincere praise. I don’t, for example, enjoy paranormal erotica. My friends who write in that genre aren’t offended by views, but they’re not surprised if I don’t ask for those titles to review.

Can a reader tell, though? If a review is insincere. You know, I’m not sure it matters — because I don’t think the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down is what influences readers anyway. Nor is the glowing praise or the scathing insults. What matters is a) the plot summary, and b) the reasons and descriptions a reviewer gives. If a review doesn’t tell me why the reader liked or didn’t like a certain book, then it doesn’t sway me one way or the other. And if the review does give me reasons, then I sometimes decide I wouldn’t like a book the reader loved, or that I would like a book the reviewer hated. I’ve experienced that in both directions. When The Kite Runner came out, for example, I can’t count how many friends recommended it to me, telling me how well-written it was. So I asked what it was about. Ah… really not my kind of book. (I’d confess here some books that got terrible reviews that I loved anyway, but I’m too shy.)

If you’ve ever read my book review policies on this site, you know I don’t write negative reviews — not because I never dislike anything, but because writing a review is hard work and takes time, and I don’t want to spend that on something I didn’t enjoy. I don’t necessarily even want to finish the book. I also review erotica for Oysters & Chocolate, and there (since I’m paid) I take what I’m given and I give my reaction, whether positive, negative, or a mix. However, even when leaving a negative or mixed review, I’m careful to give my reasons — and a thoughtful reader could read those reasons and still decide that he/she would enjoy the work in question and buy it anyway.

I don’t agree that opinions are like assholes, but I do think that opinions are … oh, no analogy. They’re just opinions! Not to say that an opinion can never be inaccurate (I swear to god, my local video store used to have A Clockwork Orange shelved in the “comedy” section), but if there are enough reviews of a book, one review that’s way off the others is going to stand out.

The reviews I do object to? Those by people who have not read the book (and yes, that happens!) and those that are only a sentence or two and say something like “I hated this book it was dumb” or “This was the best book ever, so you have to buy it.”

However, I don’t think those sway anyone’s behavior.

I’d love to hear from people whether they’ve ever bought or decided not to buy a book based on a review, and if so, what the deciding factors were. I’d also like to know, of course, what people think of authors reviewing the works of people they know. And finally, do you think you’ve ever read a review that was insincerely positive, and if so, how could you tell?

Thanks to dan for permission to use the photo of the rose on the book. Please see his portfolio of images here.

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