Reading reviews – a huge mistake?


I’m reading 419 by Will Ferguson—a powerful story, well told, with turns of phrase that delight.

Storms without rain. Winds without water. She woke, and when she sat up, the dust fountained off her and the voice that accompanied her once again stirred, once again whispered, “Get up. Keep walking. Don’t stop.

Vivid imagery abounds.

Zuma rock denoted not only the traditional geographical centre of Nigeria-the “navel of the nation” as it was known-but also the border between the sha’ria states of the north and the Christian states of the sough. Zuma rose up, rounded and sudden, on striated cliffs etched by a thousand years of rainfall and erosion. The ridges carved down its sides were the sort of lines that might be left by acid or tears.”

A woman from Canada, a girl from the north, a young man from the Delta, and a 419er. How will the lives of these disparate characters be woven together? I’m fascinated, enthralled, eager to read each evening, yet dreading the end, dreading the time when the story will be only a memory. The narrative makes me cringe and cry. I know this is a book I will read more than once.

I email my young Nigerian friend to tell him about the novel. He responds:

“ 419 – an internet scam organized by Nigerian scammers (aliases: Yahoo Boys, G-Boys). 419 is an alias that dates back to the past (I believe 1994-1997) in Nigeria, when innocent people, mainly teenagers, were repeatedly abducted and killed. Their bodies or body parts were then used for big money rituals.
I’ve come across painful remarks on Twitter, Facebook, and some other interactive sites about Nigerians being fraudsters. That they target white people and rob them of their money using various means; including telling them pitiful stories just to incite their help.”

I’m about three quarters of the way through the book at this point and the urge to learn more about Ferguson’s research can no longer be ignored. Googling proves to be a huge mistake. The first items that come up are reviews from highly respected sources, and while they don’t lambaste the book, they do contain enough negative comments to diminish my pleasure in the reading and cause a rather sour feeling.

I turn away from the computer in disgust, push the reviews out of my mind, and return to my Kindle. I refuse to let someone else’s opinion color my own judgment, my own enjoyment of the novel.

Sitting now, writing this, I wonder if I should stop writing reviews. Am I guilty of spoiling another’s enjoyment, of perhaps causing someone, because of my arrogance, to dismiss a novel without even giving it a chance? Conversely, does a review I write of a book I love convince a reader to pick up that book only to find that it doesn’t work for them? What makes me think I can or should pass judgment for another reader?

But the author in me craves reviews. They’re our “word of mouth” and vital to marketing. If we’re to have sales at all, we need people talking about our books, reviewing them, recommending them to fellow readers.

Amazon sends me emails. “So, Darlene Jones, how did this item meet your expectations?” Do I answer? What do I say? My own sister, daughter, and aunt don’t always like the books I deem worthy of their time.

Yes, I did write a review for 419. Book buyers may or may not read it. They may or may not take it to heart in their decision making, but I’ve decided writing reviews is my obligation to fellow authors. It’s my “word of mouth” gift to them. I hope readers of my books will do the same for me.


16 comments on “Reading reviews – a huge mistake?

    • Yes, it is. I once had a woman email and say she tried reading my book while she was watching the Super Bowl. She couldn’t remember the heroine’s name. I asked her to forget writing a review.

  1. I think you have every right to review a book of your liking – you’re a professional writer, you know how to judge/assess a book professionally and it would be a loss for readers if you didn’t do it!

    • Thank you, Claude. Someone asked me if I wrote negative reviews. I said that if I didn’t like a book, I didn’t finish it and I couldn’t write a review of something I hadn’t read. Then they asked if only writing positive reviews negated the validity of my reviews.

  2. It’s an interesting question you pose, Darlene. I’ve grappled with it. I don’t finish books I don’t like either and I don’t write reviews of books I haven’t finished. When I write my reviews, I find the positive and then I make sure I include why I liked it so others can judge if it’s the type of book they’d like to read.

  3. We still need to review books. People can make their own decisions on whether to read a book or not. I’ve read books I thought were amazing, which others wrote scathing reviews on. Everyone looks for different things in a book. It’s good there are so many to chose from.

  4. A review is always an opinion. But it should also include enough distance that the review has a level of objectivity. However, for all its potential disadvantages, I feel it is still the most powerful way to share the experience of a book and both readers and writers need that.

    • I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and come to the conclusion that a review is the same as a verbal recommendation which I wouldn’t hesitate to give to a friend so, let’s write those reviews.

      • Bang on! And what’s more delightful than sharing with a friend something that has brought you enjoyment and perhaps even a poignant or meaningful experience. As they say down here in the South, “You go girl.”

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