When someone reads and finishes a book, they have the option of leaving their thoughts about it on Amazon. Amazon calls these thoughts a review. Well, wait, aren’t reviews just someone’s opinion? Why doesn’t Amazon call these reviews A Reader’s Opinion? Or A Reader’s Thoughts? Or Feedback from a Reader? Why call a person’s take on a book a review? It’s not a review at all, is it? I would think a reviewer of something is a professional. Say, an art reviewer, but I suppose that’s called an art critic. What about a person who goes around to restaurants and tastes the food and then writes about it? They are called food critics. The definition of a food critic is someone who “analyzes food or restaurants and then publishes the results of their findings.” Now, if we are talking about someone who shares their opinions about the food in food columns in newspapers and magazines, they are known as food columnists. According to Wikipedia, food columnists are “often experts in the field.”
Now, we can go a step further and see that “Food criticism is an excellent career for those passionate about culinary arts and writing” (and they make a living at it). The emphasis on the word passionate is my own. Can we call ourselves passionate about the art of reading? Some of us would enthusiastically answer “Of course we’re passionate about reading. We love reading!” We’d wonder why we were even being asked such a daring and stupid question in the first place.
We can expand that thought and ask: are mainstream readers experts in the field of reading? Well, I can venture to say that most of us have graduated high school and some of us have gone to college, so at least we know how to read. Most fiction books are at sixth grade reading level (I’ve heard Stephen King’s books are at fifth grade level), so I can believe that most of us can read and comprehend what we are reading. But this is where the line of black and white of “okay, we’re all basically readers and we’re comprehending what we’re reading” dims.
If we delve deeper into the subject of whether or not readers are experts in the field of reading, the harder it is to understand. Because the next step is taking our whole life thus far, mixing in our background, demographics, our perception of the world, our understanding of words and meanings, our in-depth complex thinking (or not), and catapulting these variances into a mixing machine full of the books we’ve read. This machine would analyze all of this data, categorize and organize our thoughts in such a way to form an opinion of what we’ve just read. And this happens every time we want to give someone our opinion of what we’ve just read. Whew! That certainly gets complex.
But of course it’s complex. Humans are complex. Our lives are complex. We have problems, we have issues, we have conflicts. Some of us more than others, depending on where we were raised, and whether we scrapped and scrimped or even received a new book in our childhood, if we were read to, or if we were even allowed to read (or only had to read for punishment). As we can see, there are many facets to the theory that anyone can be an expert at reading. Because, of course, as we very early on realized, everyone is their own expert, just as we have our own opinion about something.
Ten of us can read the same book, and we’ll know at the outset, or at least expect, that we’ll have ten different opinions about what we thought about the book. We tend to gravitate towards those who think like us, so we may not realize this if we’re in a bookclub with readers from our own neighborhood, or our own age group.
In the real world, what one person thinks is asinine, another one may take time to question and find a different angle on it. We all have different expectations of how a story should end. What if it doesn’t end as we thought it should? We may feel betrayed, and likely to leave a poor opinion. On the other hand, a different person, say, a person who loves the outlandish, or adores puzzles, would find the story that another found asinine, quite challenging and daring, and absolutely loves it. Well, that’s their opinion, of course.
We can throw a book down the second we finish reading and write something within two minutes if we wanted to. But is this what a reader expert would do? If we were an expert in the field of reading and we took our job seriously, wouldn’t we want to read, analyze, ponder, maybe even ask other experts their opinions, or at least read their analytical reports, to get a sense of what their expert opinions were. We’d write our review and hold onto it a while and go back to it. Because after all, it’s a review from an expert, which demands high standards. There may be many who read this review and this critic’s review may mean how long she stays in the business of being an expert.
Just for fun, read this next sentence and really think about it. Looking at the worst Amazon review you’ve ever seen, change the word review to opinion. How does that make you feel? I admit that I feel a little more at ease about my books’ occasional low reviews when I remind myself that it’s someone’s opinion. They are not paid experts. They don’t write their review to place it in a newspaper or a magazine like a food columnist would do, and it’s not their job. It is not required that they ponder too long on what to write, and there’s no requirements about how long it must be. They simply write their thoughts about it.
Then comes the next thought: these readers are just regular people, entitled to their own opinions. We need to be reminded that they a) are not experts but readers who want to be entertained; b) may have a busy life and if they don’t write out their thoughts right this instant, they may forget to do it; c) are not writers, and d) have no frickin’ clue how much weight their thoughts really mean to an indie author.
Whether you are a Reader or an Author, I’m sure you have an opinion about what a book review is or isn’t. You can call it a review, an opinion, a thought or simply a bunch of words. I’m sure we’ll have a difference of opinion.
What do YOU think?
*As you may have realized, I’m not talking about editorial reviews, which are often reviews from a person employed by a newspaper or a magazine. Nowadays, though, it’s often volunteers and regular readers who write reviews that can legitimately be posted in the editorial review section of a book listed on Amazon (such as a review from Readers’ Favorites).