Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Whom Do You Review For?

My mini-series on book blogging continues. This post grows out of previous discussions on "I"-centered reviewing (part 1, part 2). The third post on the problem with pleasure is here.

 This post starts with a confession: I haven't written a review for this blog since January. It's not because I haven't been reading (I have) nor is it because I don't want to (I do). It's because I can't seem to formulate what I want the reviews to do here: I only know what I don't want. I don't want impressionistic "I loved it/hated" reviews; there are plenty places people can get that. I also don't want to try to emulate mainstream reviewing templates, again those exist well enough out there.

What does that leave exactly? I'm not exactly sure.

I have realized though, that what I need to decide first is whom I am reviewing for. This seems like a relatively simple question, but damn and blast, it is not. There are a great many possible audiences and deciding which of these audiences are of interest seems the crucial first step in resuscitating my reviewing. I should note that I am not talking about "taste" here but more about what the reader wants from the review, not what they want from the book being reviewed.

Here are the possible audiences I've come up with:

1. Readers who are looking for a recommendation
I think most book blog reviews write for this audience. This reader basically wants to be persuaded to read a book. The reviewing strategies for this reader can still be varied, but the central goal of the role will be judgment. Frankly, this doesn't interest me as a primary task.

2. Readers who have already read the book
Writing for readers who have read the book opens up a whole range of discussion possibilities. You can mostly eliminate the tedious task of summary and judgment. You can delve deeply into the content and form. You can ask questions and start a discussion (reviews of books most readers haven't read don't tend to generate many comments).

3. Readers who like to read reviews
These folks might fall into the other categories as well, but I do think there is a subset of people who enjoy book talk. They like hearing interesting ideas and particular readings. Their interest might not be so much in the book under discussion but the discussion itself.

4. Writers
 Some reviewers write with the author in mind and consider the review space as a kind of instruction. What does the writer do well and what do they need to work on?

5. Review Copies
Book bloggers love review copies and writing positive reviews is a good way to get on that train.

6. Writing to History
This is more the purview of academics, but some reviews function to place a work in social-historical-artistic context.

7. Yourself
Writing a review of a book can catalyze thinking that doesn't necessarily happen in the process of just reading the book. It can serve as memory, just capturing thoughts, and it can serve as a kind of crucible, in which your thoughts about the books are crystallized. It can also be a space of discovery, of engagement with the book that leads you to places you wouldn't have reached otherwise.


The more I think about it, the more I think Groups 2 and 7 interest me the most. I'm not exactly sure what that means at this point, but I think it means something for my future reviewing.

Have I missed an audience segment here? Do you think about who you review for? Do you think about how who you review for informs the kind of books you read and the kind of reviewing you do?


  1. Who is our audience? Good question. I think I like #2 & #7: #2 because I want to have a real conversation with other readers who have read the book (mostly in comments-sometimes between blogs, which I guess is intertextual?). I also want to have a conversation with myself, find out what I think and why (that's #7). But if you are reviewing for others who have read the book, then what about advance copies of books? That means your audience will be fairly small.

  2. How about the authors? I bet you had a smile on your face nine miles wide when you learned that Jon Clinch read, tweeted and admired your review/commentary of/on his novel. Granted, this is a drastically smaller percentage of the population of book blog readers, but it's always satisfying when an author responds back, right?!

  3. ...and, I'm an idiot. Totally missed #4. Color me blushed.

  4. I'm getting in a little late on this discussion, but I'm really enjoying it. I personally started my blog with myself as my primary audience. I have a kind of lousy memory, and I wanted to remember what I read. Then people started to follow my blog, and I started to receive review copies, and I realized I had an audience outside of myself. However, I still write for me mostly. I have an academic background, so that sneaks in when the book I'm reviewing has provoked it. I don't have any desire to publish professionally anymore (at least not right now), so the blog is also my outlet for my theoretical thoughts, and also for my likes and dislikes.

  5. I think you can write a review for both 1, 2, and 7 at the same time. Am I wrong? It's one of the things I love about books. The reader can extract the big picture concept as it applies to life itself. By discussing these themes, the reviewer starts up a discussion that motivates others to read the book. That's my take.

  6. I definitely write my reviews mostly for myself, though I think it's impossible to do that without also writing for #1 and/or #2. My blog started as part of a graduate class in reading as an extension of a book journal I kept for years. At the time I had no idea that I would enjoy the community so much and want to stick with it, but I find that there is secretly a writer in me that wanted an outlet. While I occasionally accept author/publisher requests to review a book, I usually find those reviews harder to write than the ones that I do from books I read strictly for myself. I do find myself torn between audience #1 and #2 when I write reviews. I suppose that you can't be all things to all people, but I find myself trying to discuss the content of the book without giving too much away, which can be frustrating.

  7. Another fantastic post. Like you, I'm finding myself more interested in #2 and #7, largely because I'm finding myself bored with more community-oriented posts on book blogs (does anyone really need to know what books you picked up at the library? what you found in your mailbox? your list of the ten cutest vampires in literature?). I've noticed that my straight review posts don't draw as many comments or attention as do general posts or "reviews" that are more recommendation or reflection, but I'm most satisfied with those posts. I started blogging because, after a year of not being able to talk about books I felt I was forgetting how; and I'd like to return to my early idea of my blog as a way of clarifying my thoughts on my reading.

  8. One and two, my friend! I am in a unique position, though. Most of the books I'm reading have well known plots, so even though I am recommending/not recommending, I can basically skip all the summary. Even if you've never read Great Expectations, you probably get the gist amirright?

    Ok, in all actuality, I'm reviewing for your mom. (Ohhhh buurrrnn).

  9. My answer: #7 and #2, to start, and a bit of #3 now.

    I write for #7 because, as did one of his other commenters, blogging is a means of remembering what I think about the books I read and I want to force myself to think more about them in a slightly more structured way than I would without blogging.

    I write for #2 because I want to know what other people thought of the books and have some discussion, at least occasionally.

    While I did not start writing for audience #3, I do write for them now. They are probably the biggest portion of my "audience" (and I am part of that audience on others' blogs) and I do want to make their visits worthwhile.

  10. I always like reading blogs like #2, where there can be a discussion around a book. That's originally what I had hoped for my blog, but it didn't really pan out the way I had expected. I'm happy with the way it's gone, but I do love when discussions come up.

  11. #7, #2, and a little of #1 (only when a book is so good I have to). #3 is the most fascinating, though, and the one I would like to head more towards.

    But there's so many books, and I like to pick what I read out of selfish or subconsciouc motives, so the likelihood other people have read what I'm writing about (or vice versa) is too low to put that much into practice.

  12. Well #7 is obvious for me. I write it for me first and foremost and it does me good to write down thoughts that would evaporate in a few weeks time! This also means I mostly read for me :)

    I spend a lot of time online around people that like to talk about books and I'm in the same group. I think #3 would be my primary audience.

    I do get books for review but I'm not going to write positive reviews just to get more of them. Given the chance, I like to give feedback to writers too.

  13. Good questions Ape ... No. 7 is the main reason I started blogging. I liked the discipline that a reading journal didn't give me to take time to properly put some thoughts together.

    And then I started looking forward to comments - not that I get a lot - but to sharing ideas about the books, to further some thinking. When people who've read the same book comment it can be enlightening. And this sort of brings me to No. 2 - for people who've read the book. More and more I write to avoic spoilers even though at the beginning I said I wouldn't. I haven't resolved this one yet but I've really like to write about the whole book without being coy about the end. I do used Spoiler Warnings but I've noticed that now I just don't spoil at all, Am still pondering this one.

    Unlike Ellie, I'm not a No. 3 person myself. I look at WHAT my favourite bloggers are reveiwing but I don't read the review properly if I haven't read the book and I think I would like to. I'm the same about newspaper and journal reviews. Even if they don't give away the ending (and I'm not much of a plot person anyhow), they make an assessment and I'd rather read with fresh eyes. It's impossible to do this totally as you can't avoid picking up the "buzz" but it's what I try to do.