Is It Just Me: Reviewers' Philosophy on Legitimacy and Objectivity

There is a book, and you can tell it is good. You can tell because it is diverse with a rich world. It is honest and raw. The characters are developed and you can feel that this book is well crafted. Except, it's not connecting to you. You see where it is good but you feel very little connection. "Objectively", the book is good, but there is something missing for you.

Sometimes, I wonder if it's even fair to say it is my fault. Books won't work for some readers, and as a reviewer, am I supposed to know when a book is likely to be enjoyed by other readers and it's just me? And if so, can't that be said for every book ever? All books that are published have fans and positives. Even things I can't stand are acceptable to different readers. 

It is impossible for me to read a book as anyone other than myself. I can try to be objective and consider other points of view, but even then, it's me imagining what other people think based on my experiences and particular perceptions of the world. I'm not even going to pretend I can be objective because I can't. Which leads me back to this question: if a book does not work for me, is there any merit in saying it is still a good book because I think that most other people would like it seeing as I am not most other people and it did not work for me?

Is there a problem if a book does not work for me? I would say, yes. I go into every book hoping to enjoy it, and if I end up not liking a book or feeling a disconnect, there is a problem. In general, I believe it is fair to say that some books are not meant for some audiences. For example, I am not going to enjoy another Poseur book ever again in my life because my reading tastes have changed and the mean girl storyline bores me. It's also fair to say I refuse to read a contemporary about marriage and a couple with an affair unless perhaps there is a murder or superheroes or some other really epic occurrence. There are genres I enjoy less than others and it's not unfair to say that I am not the right reader for these books and that is perhaps why I disliked them and fans of the genre would feel differently.

But let's look at this with some more complexity: first, I am a reviewer which means my thoughts on a book is somewhat relevant to me, if not to others. And second, as a reviewer, I know myself well enough to figure out when a certain book is not my type. I am well trained in the art of screening books for red flags and every book that I decide to read is read with the expectation that it will be enjoyed. 

Now, if after all this, after I expect myself to be the audience for a book and find out it does not work, is the, "not the right audience" explanation still valid? I think it is, from the author's standpoint, and even from some readers' standpoints. But I do not believe it is valid from the reviewer's standpoint. 

First, I do identify as a reviewer because I like to pinpoint what I like or didn't like in a book and engage in some kind of dialogue with the world about this book. The dialogue is often a monologue, but that doesn't bother me too much. And, as a reviewer, I need to judge. If it's accepted that I can't judge as anyone other than myself, because I really can't, is it fair to expect me to disregard my personal feelings for a book because I'm not the right audience? Especially when I went into the book with the expectations that I was the right audience and this book would be interesting for me? 

In other words, if I'm missing that connection or spark or whatever it is that can't be explained in terms of the quality of world building or plot, or any other rational matter, can I still validly write about why a book wasn't good? And furthermore, let's say there is something in particular I don't like as a reader, maybe I despise a certain character for some act that the author meant to made them despicable, is it fair for me to say "this is not a good book because I did not like this" when the author meant this flaw?

I think it's more the second question that is debated in the blogging world, and it's really that which is a little contentious. I have a strong belief that because I can't review for anyone other than myself, and because I don't believe my reviews have any real objective basis or even mean all that much more than one person's simple opinion, any thought I have on a book is completely valid. After all, a review is just my thoughts on a book, and it is quite flimsy. I don't think my review is a very legitimate anything other than opinion. To get a clear idea of a book, one must read several reviews and semi-legitimate statements about the entire book (it has good characters, world building, plot, etc.) are formed through numerous similar opinions. 

So how can a reviewer be expected to have any legitimate opinion on a book by herself? I would say she can't. It's more the trends that reviewers, each being completely honest to themselves and writing their own honest accounts, can collectively impart some sort of legitimate knowledge. If you believe like I do, than the only thing a reviewer has to do is write her opinion regardless of what she thinks others will say because ideally it washes out throughout the reviews of others. 

Of course, many people do not consider all reviews and not all books are widely reviewed, which is why sometimes, individual reviewers are much more important and have a wider share of legitimacy than one would think reasonable. Does this this mean that reviewers should consider other people again in their reviews? 

I think I'll stop here because frankly, I'm interested in other people's opinions at this point and I don't want this post to be any longer than it is (which I apologize, because it's pretty much an essay. Gold star for you if you got this far!). So please feel free to share any thoughts!


  1. Any opinion a reader or reviewer has on a book is completely valid because it's an opinion. It's wrong to say that it's not fair for a reader to say "I didn't like the characters in this book, and that's why I give it 3/5 stars." because, in their eyes, that book was not a 5-star (or even a 4-star) book.

    I don't think reviewer's should consider other people in their reviews at all, because that's not what reading is about. It's about a connection between an author and a reader, and between characters and a story and the reader. Said reader's friends/reviewer friends should have absolutely no influence on their interpretation of whatever piece of art they're looking at. I think the moment a reviewer starts letting other people influence their opinions is the moment they start to lose the trust that they had in themselves to form a truly honest opinion. Even if a book doesn't have that many reviews, all that means is that the book isn't getting as much attention as it might very well deserve. It shouldn't at all influence what any new reader has to say about it.

    I think the whole concept of "not being in the right audience" is not a very concrete one for readers/reviewers. Obviously, an author (ex: an epic fantasy author) knows their audience, they know what type of things most of their readers have read, and what tropes they are probably tired of and etc. But as a reader, you really only have things that you prefer reading and things that you don't. Some people who prefer reading similar things as you (say, fantasy and science fiction) may be part of the same audience as you, but usually only for certain books. One person may also love reading classics, and another may not. Even well-known authors are always going to have people who haven't read a fantasy book (or a horror novel, or a comic, etc) in ten years, and suddenly they pick up this book and find out that they absolutely love it. What audience are they in? I mean, do we really even know? Everyone likes different things. So, all in all, it's really flimsy and undefined.

    (Feel free to reply with agreements/disagreements, since pretty much 80% of everything I say is pulled out of my ass)

    1. 2nd paragraph, I think personally, I can't help it because I write my reviews with the maybe egotistical thought that they will be read, so they must be both entertaining and well-written (I fail at that too often) and something I'm okay associating myself with, which is where honesty comes in. It's a method of communication. Maybe in principle it's better never to consider it for anyone other than myself, but frankly I wouldn't write reviews for anyone than myself if I'm being honest because my favourite part of a review is posting it and having people's reactions, not writing it.

      Agree with the part about how the concept of audience is flimsy. But it's so commonly referred to that I wonder if it's there in so many people's heads, where did it come from and if it can be an actual thing without being a real thing. Maybe like an abstract concept type thing, because audiences do exist to some extent. I mean, that's how booksellers sell books. They have clients that come in and say, "I read this, I want this!" and they say, "This is for you!" or "I can't stand this!" would result in "You should stay away from this". Even if it makes little sense, it's something we seem to know intuitively. But maybe its abstractness is why we shouldn't take it further than that...

      (I know exactly how you feel. btw sorry took so long to respond, I saw this and was like, "Wow Hanna, thanks!" and then I was short on time and didn't see it again until now.)


  2. omg I've thought about this SO SO much during my reviewing lifetime. It's not an easy question nor does it have a straightforward or easy answer. I think my favorite thing you said is this:
    "is there any merit in saying it is still a good book because I think that most other people would like it seeing as I am not most other people and it did not work for me?" ——THIS.

    Sometimes I feel like I need to mention it in my review, yes yo might like this because this ___ might not bother you. but it bothered me. The harder thing to do is pinpoint when you like the book and everything on paper looks good EXCEPT you just for whatever reason don't connect w/ the characters. that's when its just tough. you just gotta post your rating and that's it. that's the tough part of being a reviewer, uu know? lol.
    Great post!

    -Diamond @ Dee's Reads

    1. I think that's the feeling that made me post this.I read a book I didn't like that others did, and a book I liked that others didn't, and I thought about how I had to justify it because I saw other's peoples highlights and lowlights but I experienced the book differently. This is pretty much the reviewer's dilemma.


  3. These are great questions for all of us in the book community to ask!

    In our opinion, because the vast majority of the book community consists of amateur or hobbyist reviewers (as opposed to professional reviewers -- meaning, reviewers who work for a publication or organization), the standards can be a bit more casual. That's not better or worse! Just a different tone. Personally, we find casual reviews to be more helpful than personal reviews when it comes to figuring out whether or not we would enjoy reading a story. However, we still believe there is a place and use for professional reviews too. Probably because they do have different standards (for example, not being allowed to DNF a book) and use different criteria (for example, they don't worry about "likability" of characters as much).

    1. I never read professional reviews. Maybe I should, but maybe I'm a bit scarred from reading school books that bored me? I personally have more faith in amateur reviews and a cursory Goodreads check than in a professional review because I feel like I have more in common with Goodreads people's tastes than the professionals.My expectations for reviewers is pretty lax like you said. It's all about knowing the specific reviewer and what's okay for them. Even Mari and I have much different styles and preferences.



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