A lot of elements go into a book: the characters, the plot, the writing style, the voice, the grammar. Getting them all perfect—or even just really, really good—is tough! Writers know that better than most readers, because we (hopefully) have worked very hard at getting all of those elements juuuuust right in our own works.
After my most recent reading kick (though all those books were quite good), I’ve been thinking about this. Minor mistakes, or things that just aren’t my personal taste are kind of easy to compartmentalize. But how do you review a book that gets some of those major elements great, but one or two are executed only “fair” (or worse)?
Is one element more important than the others?
I listed five of the biggest elements of a book above: characters, plot, writing style, voice and grammar. Assuming none of them is bad enough to make you stop reading, do any of these elements bother you more than the others when executed badly?
For me, I’m most inclined to forgive minor punctuation errors. Though I try to avoid them myself at all costs, and though I know the rules, I don’t freak out over things I consider minor slips—using commas with interrupted dialogue when inappropriate, for example.
I can still enjoy a book that doesn’t have perfectly executed characters, or one that has a kind of bland voice. Writing style can get on my nerves sometimes. A bad plot? Bugs me after the fact, usually.
Does review = endorsement?
Another issue I find, especially as I’ve entered the publishing arena, is worrying about putting my name on a review—especially a book I review on my blog. I seldom write negative reviews—I typically don’t review books I don’t enjoy (and I try not to read them in the first place 😉 )—but what about a book with good characters or plot or voice, but poor mechanics?
Is giving the book a positive review an endorsement of every element of the book? Do you worry about someone buying the book based on your recommendation, and then being disappointed in your grasp of grammar/whatever? Do you feel compelled to make a note of particular elements—especially mechanics—when writing a review? Or is that maybe just appeasing your own pride, saying “I’m better than X author”?
I don’t know. I hope not the last, but sometimes it feels like it.
What do you think? How do you review?