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Sunday Survey: The Usefulness of Book Reviews

Intro: What is the Sunday Survey?

I’ve explained all about Sunday Survey in my first ever Sunday Survey report. Click here to read the complete explanation. Basically it’s a book discussion I conduct on my Twitter account, @GeekInc18, that starts off with a basic book-related (or not so related) question such as “What’s your favorite book?” or “What do you think of book translations?” The result of our discussion goes up here to Bookerie.

SUNDAY SURVEY, 17 June 2012: How Useful Are Book Reviews?

One of the things that has always mystified me, as a book reader and a user of websites such as Goodreads and, is about BOOK REVIEWS.

Or any reviews in general, to be honest.

I write reviews for a living. As many of you know, I write mainly movie reviews for a film magazine, but I’m also in charge of the Lounge Books section in which I review books. In my entire career of writing reviews that went way back to the days where I was still working in a bookstore, I’ve gotten very few feedback from the readers. So I suspected that either no one read my reviews or they didn’t find my review useful for them.

I’m neither surprised nor disappointed with this situation. And the reason for that is because, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t care less about reviews.

Too many times I find reviews, either by professionals (i.e. people who are paid to write reviews) or fans (i.e. casual readers/website users who write reviews for their own enjoyment), that are very unhelpful to the point of being useless. Some say too little, some say too much. And there are rude ones, pretentious ones, and subjective ones. In the end, I simply believe that it is virtually impossible for any review to be objective because the nature of reviews is, in fact, subjective.

In my reviews, I never aim for objectivity because it’s something that I don’t believe can be achieved. But I definitely try to be helpful. Because sometimes I look at reviews for specific purposes – to find clarifications for certain plot points that confuse me,  to check out whether or not a book contains any ‘squicks’ of mine, or simply to see if the language is easy to follow. So when I write my own reviews, I try to point out the things that will answer these questions.

So I’m one reader who doesn’t put too much stock in reviews, even though I write them myself. It probably sounds weird that way but that’s what I feel about it. I wonder if anyone else felt the way I do about reviews so I went looking for answers during the Sunday Survey last week. The feedback I got were filled with variety of answers – it is simply fascinating what other people think about reviews in general and how they use them.

I went through a moment of self-reflection after discovering people’s opinions on reviews, to see how I can make my reviews more useful to whoever reads them.

Survey Result

I asked my friends these questions:

1. What’s your general opinion on book reviews?

2. Do you write/read/buy books based on reviews?

3. In conclusion, are reviews useful or not?

4. Have you ever been disappointed by a book that you bought/read because of a review?

Here are their answers.


Reviews help me consider to buy/read books, so it’s quite useful. Even so, I often go with a hunch when reviews not so good…

…after all, reviews can be quite subjective. ie Eat Pray Love; reviews are quite good, yet I found it boring. Subjective. Right.

In a way, reviews can be seen as part of book discussions. Others can agree/disagree with how we interpret or see a book.

but at the end, it’s back to you to decide if you’re game to buy/read it. You may end up with an unforgettable story.

I agree with how reviews can be considered as ‘discussion’. This happens often enough in websites like Goodreads. Just as long as they keep it civil. (In my personal experience in the aforementioned website, civility is something that can be non-existent in several cases unfortunately.)


Based on the writer. Coz I believe every person has a different point of view, so read it whether it has good or bad review.

What I mean is I never read review coz I believe everyone has a different feel, so I chose a book based on the writer. :D

This is pretty much what I do. Whether a book is praised or bashed, I would still read it if it came from my favorite authors. The way I see it, a writer’s reputation often plays a larger part in influencing readers than a reviewer’s opinion.

This next opinion from her, though, is so true that I couldn’t have put it better myself:

Hahaha. Review is like a trailer on film, you don’t get the real meaning when you just watch the trailer.

Very well put.


For authors I’m not familiar with, yes I sometimes count on reviews. But for well-known authors, I go by gut feelings :)

Reviews are useful if the reviewers are objective–and you can see this through their writings/choice of words, I think.

Oh yes, definitely. Some examples would be ‘Eat, Pray, and Love’ (lucky I didn’t buy it!), ‘One Day’, and some local books.

Gut feelings, in my experience, usually work better than reviews. But that’s just me, I guess.

And it is true that some reviewers can be more objective than others by the way they write. It’s one of the reasons I continue to train myself to write better.

The third line refers to “which books have you read that disappointed you that were recommended by a review” and, I’m sad to say, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is indeed notoriously famous for being much-recommended book that disappoints. :\


I mostly just read what I want, but I sometimes consider reviews if a book is kinda expensive or has been running for some time.

But if it’s from a writer/series that I like, whatever the reviews, I’ll go for it. I only use reviews for new books.

I never believe a review 100%, I’m a “reading is believing” kinda guy, but yes, I have been misled by a review.

Mostly happens with comics, reviewers said an artist is good, but when I read the book, it turned out to be rather disappointing.

Ah, therein lies the rub. I, too, still depend on reviews when it comes to comic books for no other reason than, I’m still finding my way in the world of comic books. I’d be lost without them, to be honest, because I’m not savvy enough to know which ones are good and which ones are not.

Most of the time I also read comic book reviews to get more information on a certain work. The insights of comic book reviewers help me understand the comic book culture better. So, in this case, yes, I do depend a lot on the reviews.


I read reviews of course, to watch out some disclaimers, like if it’s contained disturbing plot, then I could be prepared.

reviews mostly useful. Mostly I read reviews from certain web, like some newspaper’s website that have book reviews

but mostly, I read the reviews from Goodreads. So, I could see a lot of perspectives from people who just read it

Newspaper websites with the best review section? For me it’s The Guardian’s online reviews, not the New York Times’. For some reason, after trying out books that The Guardian reviewed, I find them more satisfactory than the ones I sourced from NYT. (I used to think this is because I’m an anglophile, but no. It’s just a matter of how they reviewed it.)

When asked whether she’d ever been disappointed by a review, she said:

yes, mostly they got snobbish reviews, really convincing, then after I read it, I was thinking either I got punk’d or I’m dumb.

My feelings exactly. :|


I think reviews are useful, if it is objective and well-written. I’m actually a part of a book reviewer community in Indonesia!

I find reviews from some people quite informative and suit my liking. I usually look for their reviews on Goodreads.

Books that disappointed her that came from reviews:

yes. I read the rave reviews of Blood Red Road by Moira Young & Divergent by Veronica Roth. read the books. they turned out bad.

There goes my wish to read Divergent. Sorry, Ms. Roth.


I think it’s generally useful, but again, it’s someone’s point of view. In the end, I buy books often rely on my feeling =)

Feeling, yes. We’ll get to this later in the survey.


not always, i only checked review if i’m gonna buy unknown books, unknown genre (preferably if they attached some sample too)

especially if someone review about artbook or comic, need sample (that why i provide sample in artbook review that i’ve done)

It’s definitely a good idea to use reviews to find information for books that you’re not familiar with. In my case, it’s always non-fiction books and comic books. But in the case of design/art books, I prefer seeing everything by myself physically in the store or wherever they sell them, just to be sure the book is really of good quality.


Sometimes I read book reviews just for the sake of enjoying reading them. Not necessarily as a “guide” to buy new books.

If I buy a book because of a review, it’s because I’m interested of the plot, not whether the reviewer thinks it’s good or not.

So I seek the “informative” nature of the review more as consideration to buy books.

I admit, I do sometimes read reviews for the sake of reading them. But I’m a bit too cynical and skeptical to be able to do that. However, the general reviews – containing more synopsis of the story than analysis – can be an attraction in its own right. I wouldn’t say no to “quick plot fix” in reviews. ;)

I asked Nico to give me a recommendation of a book that he found through a review but disappointed him and he gave me the below title. I read the synopsis on Amazon, got interested with it… and then remembered that Nico – who is my friend with great taste – was disappointed by it. What happened next? I stopped being interested in it.

Off the top of my head is Alex Gilvarry’s “From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant.”

So maybe mouth-to-mouth “review” can be more trusted then? ;)



Book review tends to be subjective, that’s why I decide to buy books by seeing the average stars. 4 or 5 stars out of 5: YES

Starred reviews can be just as misleading, but it saves more time!


I love it when a reviewer is sober but point out exactly the problem(s) I’m going to have with a certain book.

Can we have more of sober reviewers, then, please?


sometimes it’s helped, however I rarely read reviews other fr newspaper or mag, so I mostly decide to buy books fr synopsis-

-and peek the book at bookstores *lol* it more convincing to be able randomly peek the book.

Really, are we going to make confessions? Because now I have mention that sometimes I trust more in “peeking at the books in bookstores” than reading reviews. Highly effective, this.


as a book reviewer, sometimes I read reviews of books ppl talk about too. But for books I firstly spot at store, use feelings!

And since she mentioned feelings again, the next part of the Survey happens to be…


I asked my friends whether they got more satisfactory reading materials out of using their hunches/feelings or reading reviews. The answer is kind of surprising!

A few opinions:

@aksamala my hunch is a lot more helpful and satisfying. Personally, I rarely read reviews.

@karynakirana I’m gonna vote for hunch. If I find the cover and/or the synopsis interesting,I’d buy it. Usually it turned out to be a good read

@kepikbadut I should say reviews, so far. The last book that make me curious because of the cover turn out to be such a time-sucker

But the end result is…

ndarow, kepikbadut (2)

rizqkramadhani, NicoNovito, birucahya, TarunaD, brigidalexandra, karynakirana, aksamala (7)



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This entry was posted on June 17, 2012 by in book reviews, sunday survey on twitter, thinky thoughts.
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