Reviewing the Reviews

by limebirdvanessa

I get a real kick out of reading book and film reviews. There is a lot of writing talent out there amongst those  reviews. Often I am bowled over by how well written they are. A few choice words, a cleverly crafted sentence; the thought that goes into writing them can leave me breathless. They can also leave me with the slight worry that the book or film may not be as good as the review.

Below are a few examples I have collected:

– The first was not a written one, but one I heard on the radio. Boyd Tonkin, Literary Editor at The Independent newspaper was speaking on Radio 4 of the late Booker Prize winning historical fiction writer, Barry Unsworth. He explained how meticulous Unsworth was in his research to ensure historical accuracy and added “…but never allowing the weight of his knowledge to burden the flow of his narrative”. What kind of genius line is that? As soon as I heard it, I rushed to grab a pen and paper to write it down. I didn’t know why I needed to write it down, but I just knew I needed to record it so as to be able to admire its brilliance at a later date.

– Russell Letson from Locus Magazine reviewed the technothriller book ‘Hard Questions’ by Ian Watson, describing it as “A pinball-machine adventure”. Wow! Such a vivid picture painted in such a few words.

– Richard Voza over at Brainsnorts wrote a thoroughly entertaining movie review of Prometheus, with great lines in it (and forgive me Beth for the rude word here), such as “Charlize Theron plays Meredith Vickers, a woman whose rank and role aboard the ship are not as clear as her ass through the fabulous uniform she wears”. I like a review that gets me laughing.

– Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times reviewed the book ‘Gold’ by Chris Cleave, and said “The book resembles a soap opera…If an evil twin had shown up, it would have fit right in”. I love that, it doesn’t try to be clever with words but the evil twin reference makes the point in a simple but perfect way that leaves us nodding wisely in complete understanding.

– Frances Wilson from The Telegraph reviewed the book ‘Missing Out’ by Adam Phillips, commenting at one point “Here he is one step ahead of us, and following his sentences around their hairpin bends is the thrill it used to be”. This one left me curious, what is it like to follow sentences around hairpin bends? I need to know.

As much as I enjoy reading the reviews, I don’t usually let them sway me too much in terms of my decision as to what I read or watch; they are after all just opinions. We’ve all experienced going to watch a film that was highly favourably reviewed by all the critics, and ended up hating it, or reading a book that rocked our world but was slated by the reviewers. Often I deliberately don’t read the reviews until after I have watched the film or read the book, so as not to be influenced too much.

Do you enjoy reading the reviews? How much do you let them influence your choice to watch the film or read the book?


26 Comments to “Reviewing the Reviews”

  1. I do like reading reviews! Lately I’ve come across entertaining reviews for a certain erotica, and they were a brilliant combination of wit and animated GIFs. When I want to read a book or watch something, I’ll take a look at the ratings and see what the general consensus is, then decide whether to go for it.

  2. Normally I steer clear of reviews because I like to formulate my own view of the book or movie. However, more often than not I take my friends’ opinions of books and movies into consideration (especially if we normally have the same taste in the genre of said books or movies).

  3. I’m not much of a pop culture junkie (I can’t even remember the last time I sat in a theater to see a movie), so I tend to read reviews to see what I’m missing.

    I take great pleasure in reading a well-written (read: passionate) one. Roger Ebert, especially when he really hates something, is a delight. I also frequently head over to The Onion’s sister publication, The AV Club — a savvier and better informed staff of reviewers there never was.

    • Really? I love going to see a movie myself, even if I end up not particularly enjoying the film, I like the whole experience of the big screen, the dark, the popcorn…

      Yes, a passionate review is always a good read!

  4. If it’s a book/movie I have already decided to read/watch based on other factors I will avoid the reviews until after I’ve formed my own opinion and then compare notes afterwards. On the other hand if I come across something that’s a possible maybe, then I might let a review or three influence my decision to spend the time.
    What I loath seeing is a review that is simply a summary of spoilers. There is no greater waste of time and space.

  5. I find book reviews in the New York Times very well written. So well, in fact, that I’m intimidated when I pitmy own reviews up on Goodreads or Amazon…

  6. I do enjoy reading reviews when I have the time! Not just on books and movies, but restaurants and retail establishments as well. They are usually entertaining, and sometimes even useful. It’s good to have an idea of what I’m walking into… but usually I find myself in disagreement with the majority. Oh well! 🙂

  7. Love reading reviews but take them with a grain of salt unless I’ve really come to know the reviewer and know that they have similar tastes to my own.

    I believe the sign of a great review is one that tells us enough about the story for us to know whether or not it interests us, without too much personal judgement interfering with our reader decision making ability. After all, no two people are alike, the skill is in giving people sufficient information for them to know if it is their thing or not while still being honest in the criticism.

    • Yes that’s true, if you read some particular reviewers regularly and get to know whether they seem to share the same opinions as you, then it’s probably worth letting them influence your choice somewhat. I don’t tend to follow any particular reviewers regularly I just catch them randomly here and there!

  8. I do enjoy them, but like others have said, I tend to go with my own instincts. Of course, that usually means not going to many movies in theaters these days. 😉 Too many just don’t look interesting or entertaining enough!

    • Most of my trips to the movies are to see family type films with the kids, but I still always enjoy the whole experience, and I think because I didn’t go very often as a child, it always feels like a bit of a treat for me to go even though I go pretty regularly now! With books I probably tend to go more on personal recommendations than anything.

  9. I agree, most reviews I read are quite thoughtful and well-written. They often cajole toward something I wouldn’t normally take the time to read or see. If there is something I really want to read or see, however, I often still follow my urges and compare my feelings with the reviews I read. Sometimes I disagree; most times, I should have listened to them!

  10. I try not to read reviews, honestly. But lately to try to keep from going out and seeing every movie that hits the theater I’ve taken to reading reviews beforehand and if they all seem mostly negative I’ll stay away.

  11. I aways read reviews. Books, movies, hotels, restaurants, you name it. Sometimes I go back and read the reviews after I read the book, watched the movie, etc. . . especially if I disagree!

    Excuse me while I put in a few hairpin turns in my manuscript.

  12. I try to find reviews where the writer is interested in saying something about the subject. Not just trying to be clever or obscure, using references that most people won’t get.


  13. I avoid reviews once they veer away from being objective. These are hard to come by though, so I ultimately avoid 99% of them, lol. I have fairly picky tastes anyway, so more often than not, a review is unhelpful to me.

    • Oops, I didn’t reply to your comment here! I don’t necessarily expect a review to be objective, I don’t mind the reviewer being opinionated as long as they are not trying to claim that their opinion is completely objective or unbiased.

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