Monday, December 27, 2010

Good Book Hunting

“Wait, I have good taste.”

“Everybody thinks that they have good taste and a sense of humor but everybody couldn’t possibly have good taste…” Jess and Marie, When Harry Met Sally

There is no accounting for good taste, is there? And like the lines say, we all think we have good taste, but how can that be when we know a good number of people with bad­ taste. (g)

Taste, of course, is subjective. Never more so than now, in the season of gift giving, do we encounter the subjective nature of taste. I mean, Aunt Bertie couldn’t possibly have thought you’d like that sweater with the singing snowmen on the front. Could she? I mean retailers are banking on this divergence of taste –that and a lack of sales receipt- as they immediately mark down every item in their stores for the after Christmas gift exchange rush. They know you are going to hate half of what you get. They are salivating over that particular fact.

Some people give books for gifts. I cannot. Unless it’s to my little sister, I know I’m going to fail in a big way if I give someone a book. That’s not to say that I won’t recommend books to people but I always do so knowing that they might hate it. Because taste, especially taste in books, is that varied.

The thing is, I am one of those people who actually DO read book reviews. I visit lots of review sights. When I go trolling for a new book, I hit Amazon, read what the people have to say. I find it an invaluable resource.

So how to sort the gold out from the dreck? Well you can’t always rely on good reviews. Honestly, some books get rave reviews and I’m left wondering if those people were paid in advance or just jumping on the popularity band wagon. No, if you want to really find out if a book is just up your alley, you have to be a bit more determined.

Read a good cross section of reviews –both one stars and five stars.

Some books get low reviews because a particular low life variety of reviewer (the complainer) has brought it down. Ah The Complainer. I’d like to stick my foot up their ass. These are the people who give a book one star because they don’t like the price, are mad because the book isn’t available as an ebook, don’t like the cover… essentially, things that have nothing to do with the book’s content and which the writer has NO CONTROL over! Gah! I hate The Complainer. But by reading over both low and high reviews you can figure out who has a legitimate beef and who is whining because the paranormal they picked up was too “paranormal” and they don’t like “paranormal” books. :P

Find like-minded reviewers. If you find yourself coming across a reviewer that has similar tastes, go and have a look at their other reviews. Chances are you’ll discover some finds.

Visit review sights. Just as before, it will take some time to find a review sight you can trust. The same rules as above apply here. But beware of the Swelled Head phenomenon. This occurs when a review sight gets very popular. Writers woo these reviewers, make their own comments on other books. Suddenly the reviewer isn’t quite so stringent on some books. I don’t mean to imply that this is some nefarious plot. More so, just another faucet of human nature. The closer we get to people, the harder it is to be objective. But in regards to you, the reader, getting a pure review, well you might find yourself holding a dud.

Read sample pages. This is the number one thing I love about my Kindle. I love being able to read sample pages. Yes, if you are actually, in Church (as Jen calls it), the you can read pages to your heart's content. But if you are shopping on line, nothing beats being able to read sample pages. But please, publishers, for the love of all that's holy, please resist the urge to post sample pages that consist of 80% copyright, book reviews, and acknowledgements, and 20% actual content. You know who you are! Grrr...

But it’s all in the name of fun. I love books. I love finding gems, new and awesome writers who I can trust to turn out good stories. Trolling reviews sights is like a treasure hunt.

So what about you? Do you read reviews? Rely solely on the back copy and/or pages? What review sights do you trust, if any? And CAN everybody have good taste? (g)


  1. Kristen, I love Kindle for the same reason: sample pages. Love 'em and it sure beats standing in the aisle at the bookstore with two impatient boys tugging at me while I try to browse. I don't read reviews very often, especially if I think they'll be "spoilers" in any way. I read books recommended by friends, or select books by their back copy. And lastly, I read books from the library, so if I pick a stinker, no big deal. :)

  2. Kristen, I'm loving the sample pages on the Kindle! Such a great way to weed out the dreck from the must-buys.

    And the only books I seem to have any success with giving as gifts are autobiographies. For Christmas, I got my dad comedian and raconteur Stephen Fry's latest, "The Fry Chronicles" and he's loving it ... but gifts of fiction are usually a big old bomb. :-P

  3. This is why I love Jen's book reviews- you know she's calling it as she sees it because she's not afraid to point out where it doesn't work. I read the Amazon reviews as well- I find that you can reach a bit of a critical mass there where the percentage of people voting one way or another actually does give you a good impression of the book. There are always exceptions, of course- I find the same with the Metacritic movie review site. Some movies I've loved have received universally bad reviews- just shows my taste isn't always what you'd call good :P

    On recommending books, though- I worked in a bookstore for four years while I was studying, and I found I was pretty good at that. I think the main reason is I don't always recommend/ buy based on my own taste- I'm fairly good at judging what others will like based on their existing preferences and a good knowledge of similar authors/ stories.

    To me, that's the key to buying books for others- make sure you know exactly what they already like, and know a bit about what's out there along the same lines.

    (Though I admit, these days, I'm more likely to go with a voucher so people can choose for themselves :))

  4. I tend not to read reviews at all, except maybe those in the local paper or in the New York Times (or trade papers if I ever buy them - garn they're expensive!). I think it's because I've written a lot over the years, whether for the blog or for newspapers and, well... Not counting Amazon reviews where everyone is shooting from the hip, most reviews balance nice comments with an all around summary, and maybe point out a flaw or two. They don't actually say things like "this book is littered with typos!" or "the MC made me gag!". The Amazon reviews all say things like that but they're equally unhelpful, because you have to wade through a lot of poorly written gibberish to find a useful review.
    So, yea, I just don't make time for that sort of thing [g]
    Friends' reviews help if you know the sorts of things they like to read and temper their reviews based on that. If they're only into Dan Browns and things, for instance, you know how they're going to feel if they start reading something outside that frame of reference.
    Funny enough, I don't like reading sample pages either [g] If I start a book, I almost always finish it; I'd feel guilty testing the waters by only reading a few pages here and there - gosh, what if readers did that to me?
    I think between all the books I already own but haven't read, and forumites' recommendations (which I don't always agree with either - DG recommended Mistress of the Art of Death for instance, and I really didn't enjoy it!), and fellow bloggers whose books I'm reviewing, I somehow always end up with a towering TBR pile. It's been ages since I looked up and said, hey, I need something to read!