I’ve read a few posts over the last month and a half that frequently state not to bash the book or author but to give constructive criticism in a book review. It is true that bashing is not okay, but if you want the opportunity to hate on a book, give your readers a warning that this is going to happen. One example is that Samantha at Thoughts and Tomes labels some of her videos as “GUSH” for books that she’s going to majorly praise and “GRIPE” to complain about the content of a book.
My major concern centers on constructive criticism in reviews. Book reviews don’t need to have constructive criticism because it is rare for a book to change due to a review. At best, the author may be more conscious of the issues given in future works, but authors are not the audience for book reviews.
Constructive criticism is given when you expect the author to change the piece of writing. One example of this is in the creative writing classroom, where you workshop a story, an essay, or a poem to improve the work. Your classmates tell you where there could be improvement: more character development, inaccuracies about a business, too many or too few details, etc. They also tell you what is working. After hearing these criticisms and praises, you revise the writing so that it is stronger. This is constructive criticism. The best places to give that criticism is in developmental editing, like the example above, and in a letter from a journal or publisher about what could be improved in the writing.
Constructive criticism does not belong in a book review because a book review is not intended for the author. The audience of a book review is someone who might be interested in reading a book. In the review, they learn whether or not the book should be read or purchased and why that is the case.
What types of criticism go into a book review? Reviews have to be critical. Evaluative criticism is one. Positive criticism highlights a positive aspect of a story, which can help a less-known book become known or find something good in the controversy about a book. For example, A Fujoshi’s Kommentary posted a video about Killing Stalking, in reaction to the mainstream hate of the manhwa, enlightens people about why it has so many fans. Negative criticism is the opposite. I tend to see these criticisms come out in discussion/book talk posts because they seem to come out in reaction to hype or hate, like a the video by A Fujoshi’s Kommentary. Logical criticism could come into play if, say, a character has the ability to fly and then fifty pages later has never been able to fly. Practical criticism (“it does or does not work” in reality) is probably more of a concern in reviews of nonfiction, such as a book that proposes a solution to the problems of the current health care system.
Sometimes you might find aesthetic criticism where it concerns the cover of a book or the artwork of a graphic novel or picture book. If it concerns a book cover, that could start a whole new post or video talking about different covers in existence (e.g. Book Traveling Thursdays) or a cover change mid-series. For the graphic novel, aesthetic criticism is necessary since the illustrations tell the story.
The point is that these and other types of criticism are not necessarily intended to improve the story. The only person who can improve a novel, story, poem, etc. is the author. If you want to give constructive criticism, there are avenues to do that. For example, NetGalley has a place to submit a link to your book review and a place to tell the publisher what you thought of the book, which is a good option if you aren’t going to post a review of that eARC.
Perhaps the idea that bloggers are trying to get across is to mention what works and what doesn’t. That is fair to do in a review. “The plot was amazing, but it sucks that his best friend who has been through this entire journey with him is a flat character.” That makes sense, and it is good to point out the positives and negatives of a book. But there is no reason to have to write the review to the author, even if you would like the author to rewrite it so that it could be better.
If you would like to give constructive criticism, that is fine. Write a post about it. Send a letter to the publisher or author. When you go to write a book review, evaluate it for what it is, not what you wish it was. Don’t write it with the idea that the author will change it based on what you write.
Do you think constructive criticism belongs in reviews? What do you think should go into a book review?