I’m going to take a break from reading to argue with my wife on the internet. I don’t see how this could possibly go wrong.
In her post “Not a Rant” on reviewing bad books, one of Gill’s key points is an early line, “I know the key to a good ‘bad’ review is constructive criticism…” We hear this all the time, often in the form of the “sandwich” method of criticism – place the tasty yet preservative filled meaty criticism in between two bland, tasteless pieces of white bread praise. I’m not sure where the mayo fits in there, but I’m sure it’s important in holding the whole thing together.
While there is some value in criticizing constructively when correcting a student, a co-worker, or even when editing an author, I believe when writing reviews of books for potential readers, constructive criticism is unnecessary at best, and misleading at worst.
The intent of constructive criticism is to help the person being criticized do better next time. However, reviews are not for the author. They’re for the reader. The reader needs to know the truth about the book as it is published. They do not need to know what should be put on the author’s personal development goals on their next performance review. The classic term for a reviewer was a ‘critic.’ Make no mistake – your job is to criticize. So do it right.
If a book is lacking in a particular area, it is the reviewer’s duty to call that out so that potential readers are aware of what they are signing up for. Plot holes as big as pot holes? Characters so thin they make a cardboard cutout of Wayne Gretzky from the back of a cereal box look substantial? A world that doesn’t follow its own rules let alone ours? Bad writing is bad writing, and should be called out as such.
As a reviewer, your job is to sound the alarm and warn readers – highlight the good books out there so we don’t waste our time on bad ones. Telling them the ways the author could have done something better is just weaseling out of your duty to try and seem like you’re being nice. It potentially creates false expectations – “the characters could be improved by giving them more depth” gives a different impression that “the characters are one-dimensional and make no surprising decisions throughout the story.”
I’m not saying be harsh just for fun. Don’t be nasty, but don’t pull punches. Speak truth. So by the time I wake up tomorrow, I expect the comments section to be filled with a dozen notes on what a horrible, nasty piece of writing this was. Well, at least one anyways. And I know for a fact she won’t hold back on me.