Saturday, October 10, 2015

On Reviewing...

There's an old saying that goes, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." That can't be more wrong. First, in order to teach something you have to have a basic understanding of it. Second, teaching is a skill all its own. You can be smart as hell, but have no idea how to teach someone what you know. Just about everything takes a skill... reading, writing, driving, eating, tying your shoes, etc etc etc. Anything. The only thing that really isn't... is reviewing.

Stay with me here. Reviewing something is basically stating your opinion. Now, a lot of people maybe can't state it in a way that's amusing to other people, or perhaps they can't quite express their opinion clearly and get others to agree with them... but absolutely everyone can say "I like this" or "I hate this". There is absolutely no right or wrong answer when it comes to reviewing because it's an opinion and thus purely subjective.

What makes a good review though? That's a question that confounds a lot of people. In my opinion, a good review is an honest one, which lists both positives and negatives about an item, and allows people to get the most information. Ideally, this would be in a format which is amusing, as well as being easy to read. The most important part about a review is honesty. If I wanted someone to blow smoke up my butt, I can get that. Might cost extra, but I can get it. Having someone be completely honest about something I wrote is worth a thousand sycophants, especially if it holds constructive criticism in it.

Not so long ago, Nessa Dearmond reviewed Knob Jobs and Broomsticks, and gave it an average rating of 3 stars. Not bad. Honestly, that's the best I can really hope for is "Yeah, it's ok" because opinions on art especially vary so widely. When they approached me to do a review, I was like, "BE HONEST. BRUTALLY SO." They were. And it wasn't that brutal. Reading it still hurt a touch because c'mon writers... when you have people read your stuff, you expect rave reviews, don't you? Even if you're being modest, you still expect it because it's something YOU like and you expect others to like it as well. So, reading it I was like, O.O but I appreciate the honesty. Nessa said what they liked, what they didn't, and found it average. I can deal with that. It was a good eye-opener, and I appreciate that more than anything, I think.

So now that I'm reviewing a lot, or at least relatively often, I do want to keep in mind the feelings of the author, but I want to continue to be honest. I can't not be. And even when it's something I don't necessarily enjoy, I can usually find something I did like about it, or thought was clever. I try to list positives as well as negatives, and give an overall impression. For instance, in Renee Jordan's shifter book I reviewed, I was blown away by the elegant simplicity of some of the ideas she had. I was like, "OMFG why didn't I think of that?!" even though overall, I thought the book missed a few beats. Positives and negatives.

When reviewing on a five point system, I always figure out how I would score it on a ten point system and round down. It makes me a tougher reviewer, but I just can't... give away five stars easily. Hell, some of my favorite authors wouldn't get five stars from me on most of their stuff. That's just the way I am. I'm also generally reluctant to give one star on things... because often the act of creating the piece itself is enough to bump it up to two stars. Not many people follow through with their dreams and ambitions and actually WRITE. That deserves some recognition.

To sum up, what I find good in reviews is:

  • Honesty
  • Positive and negative points
  • Ease of reading
  • Amusement
The last one is really nebulous, and I think that's what makes people read one reviewer while others read another. Our senses of humor are all different, and mine is rather perverse and weird at times. Some folks like it, and some don't, and that's ok. The one thing I've learned over the years is that you just can't please everyone, and it's best to not even try to. 

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