Discussion: Reading While Emotional


We are all emotional creatures and reading is an emotional experience. But there’s also this perception that book reviews need to be impartial and ‘fair.’

Is it even possible to make a ‘fair’ book review? And what counts as ‘fair’ in the first place? And who decided that was the standard?

I run into this issues frequently when I attempt to review books. There is so much that goes into my estimation of a book that has nothing to do with the book itself. What mood was in? What were my expectations? What was the last thing I read? What other books of this type have I read, and were they better or worse than this one? Am I in the midst of a depressive spiral? Am I still in a spiral after I read the book and when I sit down to write the review?

None of these things have anything to do with the book in my hands, but all of them color how I feel about the book and about the experience of reading the book. My gut impulse is to say ‘well that’s hardly the book’s fault, so it shouldn’t change my review of it,’ but how can it not? If reading is a subjective experience, then how can I separate the mush that is my brain from it? And who’s to say that ‘correcting’ for these perceived faults won’t lead to a biased review, but in a different way? Will I give the book too much ‘credit’ because I’m feeling bad for being depressed while I read it?

I tend to swing back and forth wildly on all of these questions, although most of the time I land on the side of letting my emotions color my blogging. After all, rarely am I trying to do anything like grade or evaluate a book; I’m reporting on my experience with reading it. I think, outside of some very specific circumstances, it’s misguided to even expect reviews to be impartial. After all, reading isn’t impartial. Our decisions on what to read or not read are not impartial. So why should we place that sort of standard on blogging? And (see note about swinging) here’s the part in my conversation with myself where I bring up a bunch of answers to ‘why.’ Because I can recognize when my feelings and the book are separate, because I know that – however small – my words have influence, because ‘fair’ might be vaguely defined in the extreme but it’s still a value that has meaning to me.

This post wasn’t mean to be an answer to anything, it’s just something that weighs on my mind a lot. I think where any of us fall on this issue changes not just from person to person but also from review to review. And I’m curious to know what others might think about it as well.

Your turn: any thoughts on being 'fair' to a book while reviewing?

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