More often than not, it’s the gushing, positive things in reviews that help convince me to read a book, and the negative ones that make me steer clear. However, very occasionally, as I’m sure is the case for many other readers, criticisms in a negative review won’t turn me off a book… in fact, on occasion they’ll make me think it might actually be up my alley. This is of course mostly due to personal taste, for example if the reviewer mentions something they dislike that I don’t, and more rarely, due to things that make me suspicious as to the reviewer’s motives.
So I thought it might be interesting to identify some of the main kinds of criticism that don’t tend to bother me. I did some thinking, and also took a look at some negative Goodreads reviews of my favourite books, and in the end I picked eight types that crop up the most often. Of course, these are indicators of my personal taste and not necessarily a criticism of reviewers who mention these things:
1. “Too much romance”
One of the first things that makes me think a review isn’t a reflection of how I’ll feel about the book is any sort of criticism along the lines of “there was too much romance” or “too much sex”. I know there are readers who don’t like romance or sex scenes in their fiction, but I’m not one of them. Sure, if they’re badly done I’ll cringe like anyone else, but I love a great romance, be it a sub plot of the full-blown focus of the story.
2. “Scientifically inaccurate and implausible”
I’ll often ignore criticisms of implausibilities related to the world-building, science and technology. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I don’t much care about plausibility as long as the story is good. Sure, if there is something glaringly illogical that even I would notice, and its central to the plot, that’ll bug me, but questions of whether or not a mountain range could be located where it is or a particular gadget could work just don’t bother me. I’m more likely to be annoyed by implausibility in the actions and emotions of characters.
3. “Needed more worldbuilding detail”
This might seem strange for someone who likes fantasy, but while I love clever and fascinating world-building, I don’t absolutely need it to enjoy a story. I’m not someone who revels in endless details about imaginary places and languages. Broad brush strokes and hints at things I’m not supposed to fully understand will suffice as long as the story and characters are compelling. So if a reviewer lists a bunch of things they wanted to know about the world, or is disappointed they didn’t get a map and glossary… that’s not going to be a problem for me.
4. “Morally questionable”
If a reviewer thinks political or social issues weren’t presented in the right way in a book, or that a particular minority or gender should have been represented differently, I’ll certainly take note of it, especially if I trust the reviewer – but I won’t necessarily decide not to read the book. Instead I’ll check to see if other reviewers have said similar things, or I’ll just read it and make up my own mind. Moral judgements are just too reliant on subjective interpretations of the story. I’ve seen reviewers make connections between things in a book and the real world and then denounce it as morally corrupt, classist, racist, sexist, ableist, or capitalist/communist propaganda… only to read the book and have no idea how on earth they made those connections or came to those conclusions. So I always take politically-motivated or moral criticisms with a grain of salt.
5. “Inelegant, shallow, uninspiring writing”
Reviewers who criticise the writing of a book with these kinds of adjectives generally have a different taste in books to me. Sure, I don’t like clumsy, poor quality writing any more than the next person, but I also don’t expect each sentence to be a beautifully crafted work of art that blows me away with its unique genius. If the writing is wonderful that’s awesome, but it’s the story, the characters, and the ideas that’ll keep me around.
6. “It was too much of a young adult / science fiction / fantasy book”
I guess this should go without saying, but if a criticism of the book stems solely from it using the tropes of a genre I like, or if the reviewer prefaces it with a disclaimer that they don’t like this kind of book, I ignore it. It’s fine to have different genre preferences so I don’t get annoyed by this – in fact I think it’s helpful when reviewers mention it. The one thing that does annoy me though is when “young adult” is used as a synonym for poorly written, e.g. “the writing was YA quality,” because I’ve read a lot of beautifully-written young adult books, so it feels a bit insulting to those authors.
7. “Too hyped”
I 100% agree that there are a lot of books out there that get far more attention than they warrant, but I’m a little wary to trust it when a review levels this as the primary or only criticism. It makes me wonder if they’re saying it because they genuinely felt it, or because they want to be the rebel who gives it 1 star just to prove how unique they are, or provoke an argument.
8. “This wasn’t a continuation of the series, characters, or universe I’d hoped for”
If I haven’t read the other book/s the reviewer is referring to, this lack of continuation obviously isn’t going to faze me… but even if I have, over the years I’ve become less attached to sticking with one set of characters or one story, and am more partial to shorter series, stand-alones, and new things by the same author. So this sort of criticism is more likely to be a positive for me. If, however, they’re saying they think the book is objectively worse than others by that author, I might take note of that.
Those are just the criticisms I personally don’t pay much attention to, but I’d be curious to hear what types of things other people tend to ignore in negative reviews. So if you have any of your own examples, please go ahead and share them in the comments!