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The DNF Dilemma

Dear Readers and Authors,

In our FAQ section, Jane and Jayne posted the following review grade explanation:

Our review grades are our own opinions, obviously, and therefore fraught with subjectivity. You may or may not agree with our opinions, our grades, or anything else. We’d love for you to comment on the reviews and tell us where we went wrong or what we got right. If you are wondering if there is any objectivity in a review, we can only provide you with the information below:

A: I loved it and would cry if someone took it from my library. I would need lots of chocolate to get over its loss.
B: It’s good and I would buy it again, given the chance.
C: Eh. Not bad but I probably would never read it again.
D: I want my money back.
F: I want my money back and repayment for the time wasted reading it.

At the bottom of this grading scale is one more grade:

DNF: does this really need an explanation?

I’ve decided that in my case, it really does.

What brought me to to this realization was the inauguration of our Dear Author Book Club. Naturally, I offered to read our first book club selection, Meljean Brook’s Demon Angel. After hearing Jane’s raves, I looked forward to the book and was excited to begin it.

At first the book and I got off to an intriguing start. The protagonists in Demon Angel run against type for the romance genre. Far from being a naive virgin or a savior of orphans, the heroine, Lilith, is an honest-to-goodness demon who initially doesn’t balk at using the good, kind Hugh in her scheme to bring about the downfall of the man he serves. And rather than give us another rakish alpha hero, Ms. Brook makes Hugh a virginal seventeen year old knight in the book’s opening section.

I liked Hugh and Lilith quite a bit, and though I wasn’t completely won over (the prose seemed a bit stilted in places, and Lilith’s conscience showed that she wasn’t as wicked as I wished she were), I had high hopes.

They didn’t completely pan out in the next 200 or so pages. Except for its end, a section in which Lilith and Hugh had brief meetings through the centuries failed to excite me, in part because of cryptic references to characters who remained offstage and whom I didn’t feel invested in, and in part because information sometimes seemed like it had been inserted into the characters’ dialogue a bit awkwardly.

Then came the contemporary section, where I began to feel a lack of setting descriptions. Some of the interiors were described as plain rooms; others were described very briefly. I could visualize the characters, but not much else, and I am a reader who likes to form pictures in her head as she read, and better yet, imagine scents, sounds, flavors and textures as well. That kind of sensory experience was missing from the contemporary section of Demon Angel, for this reader at least.

In addition, I didn’t care much about mankind’s fate, or the death of one character. I mainly cared about Hugh and Lilith’s relationship, but even that was developing too slowly for me. I felt that the book had bogged down. The pacing, an element which can make a 600+ page book race along or a 200 page book crawl, had decelerated too much.

But then, so had my reading. By the halfway point, I was reading no more than half an hour a day, a rate at which I couldn’t hope to produce a review on a timely basis. Pushing through and forcing myself to read more would just make me dislike the book, and it didn’t deserve that. Even with all the flaws I’ve mentioned, it seemed like a better than average book. The characters were interesting and a lot of creativity had gone into the world-building. But what was the alternative? A DNF grade? Could I really do that to Hugh and Lilith?

Several years ago, I had a habit of finishing nearly every book I started in the hopes that it would improve toward the end. But since then my time has become more valuable to me, and I’ve decided that I value it more than my money, and that life’s too short to peel grapes or to finish books I’m not in the mood to keep reading.

I’ve pretty much held to my selfish principle. I’ve skimmed, I’ve peeked at the end with impatience, and in the past year I’ve even dumped two books I’d read no more than a few pages of. I haven’t reviewed these books, because I didn’t feel I’d read enough of them that that would be fair to their authors. But I’d read enough of them to know that forcing myself to read every word would go down no better than a big plateful of Brussels sprouts on a full stomach.

Sometimes you want to give a book a fair shake, but you just can’t.

Plopped down beneath the F grade, DNF seems like it could be worse than an F, the worst kind of grade to give an author. I’m hesitant to use it in this case, since I suspect if I did, some people might think I was saying:

Dear Ms. Brook,

Your book was so bad I couldn’t be bothered to finish it.

Sincerely,

Janine

But they would be wrong. Demon Angel, at least the half of it that I read, was not a bad book. It just wasn’t a book that compelled me to read further. That says some things about the book, but it also says some things about me as a reader. I’m spoiled. I’m finicky. I have a short attention span. Sometimes I just don’t feel like finishing.

What about you? Do you always finish the books you start? If not, does it always mean they’re bad? And if a blogger doesn’t finish a book, would you rather see her give a DNF grade to that book, or a letter grade for the part of the book she read, or in that case, no review at all?

Let me know.

Sincerely,

Janine

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

93 Comments

  1. Barbara B.
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 05:25:49

    I think it’s better to give no review at all. If you don’t want to waste your time reading a book why waste the time reviewing it? If you read only half of a book you’re only qualified to review half of it. What would be the point?

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  2. Kristie(J)
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 05:48:20

    I have a separate category for these books – in fact I even did a post about it recently at RTB. I call them “it’s not you it’s me” books. The books can be quite good, but for one reason or another they just aren’t working for me. I can completely understand any raves said book can get and there is nothing wrong with a) writing b) characters c) setting or all of them – but for some reason, the book just doesn’t work for me. I don’t get rid of these ones thinking if I try it again at another day, in another mood, said book may turn out to be a keeper – and it has happened. Naked in Death is such a book, as is the recent Reason to Live by Maureen McKade. And in my case I don’t review it at all since I know it’s me and not the book.

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  3. Angelle Trieste
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 06:21:20

    DNF is a legitimate rating. For whatever reason you were just not compelled to finish it.

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  4. Dance Chica
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 06:35:58

    If a blogger doesn’t finish a book, I’d rather just see “DNF” as the grade, and the reason why they didn’t finish it. Sometimes seeing the books that readers didn’t finish is just as interesting as seeing the ones they did. As a reader, I know not finishing a book doesn’t necessarily mean the book was bad–everyone has different opinions and sometimes, even if something is well-written, it just doesn’t for you as a person. I think it’s perfectly okay to mark a book DNF and state that as the reason what you didn’t finish. I use to try and finish books all the time, even if I wasn’t particuarly enjoying them, but now I’ve come to realize that if a book isn’t working for me, it’s okay to put it down and find something else that does.

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  5. Tara Marie
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 06:57:21

    I lean more toward Kristie’s thinking. I have DNF’s that are so bad I can’t bring myself to actually finish them, poor writing, storytelling, bad pacing… But, I also have books that fall into the INYIM category, books that are well written, telling a good story and quite popular that simply don’t work for me. For me there’s a difference between the two.

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  6. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 07:17:51

    I have more books in my DNF pile than in my finished pile. Last year was a huge DNF year for me, because I made a point of reading every book anyone raved about from every author I didn’t know, regardless of POV or story line in the hopes of finding some new to me fave authors. I did find one. Marjorie Liu, (I love everything she’s written and in her books find deep characterization along with great plot and pacing) but on the whole, what floated everyone else’s boat last year didn’t get mine off the sand bar.

    Part of what makes a DNF to me is what you stated in your explanation. Lack of time, short attention span, and a read that doesn’t get me past the world I’m living and into the author’s world within the first chapter. Part of it is also personal preference. I read for entertainment and what entertains me when reading romance is deep characterization. With the trend lately in romance books to have first and foremost big worlds, big plots and big adventures, to the point the world in itself is a character, I’m not finding the connection to the (human or human like *G*) characters I experienced with romances on my keeper shelf. Books like Linda Howard’s MacKenzie’s Mountain, Catherine Anderson’s Coming Up Roses, or Sandra Canfield’s Night Into Day.

    While I can appreciate the authors’ attention to detail in their worlds and the adventures on which they send their characters and can totally see why other readers are loving a series, for me there’s a disconnect. I just don’t find myself caring about the characters and therefore not experiencing the romance. And if I’m not connecting in those areas in a romance, the world and all it’s trials and tribulations isn’t going to be enough to keep me reading.

    This has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, the story telling or anything other than when I read romance I read it for the opportunity to connect with the characters and to share their jouney to their HEA. If good characterization isn’t the strongest element of the romance for me, then the book will become a DNF because IMO, in romance. it’s all about the characterization.

    I do have a point. :-) Because of all the reasons a perfectly good book can be a DNF for a particular reader, (thinking of myself really here) I think it probably should not have a review at all. If the book just struck a reviewer as horrible and couldn’t be finished for this reason it deserves a low score and a reason stated, but otherwise I think a review of one person’s nebulous DNF should be left for another reviewer to write. Or if it is reveiwed, a caveat as to why it was a DNF stated so an assumption of worse than F won’t be made. That seems only fair.

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  7. Devon
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 07:20:00

    I agonize over whether or not to finish a book, b/c I’m a weirdo. If I decide not to finish, I will mention it, plus why I didn’t finish, because as Kristie points out, sometimes it’s the writing, sometimes it’s the reader. If I have the time/inclination, I might link to reviews already written. Maybe something will inspire a reader to try it, and their experience of it might be totally different than mine. And that’s cool, even if I disagree with their opinion.

    I mean, look at Demon Angel. I have a hundred pages to go, and I love this book so much that I gave the cover a kiss because I was so happy to get back to it last night.

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  8. December Quinn
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 07:40:24

    I used to always finish books, but now I do what you described–I’ll skip to the end, see how it looks, skim the rest. A book has to be–not awful, because if it’s awful I will probably keep reading for the sheer awfullness of it–but very, very dull for me not to finish it.

    So either poorly written, or as you said, it simply doesn’t grab me for whatever reason.

    I very, very rarely won’t at least read the end–I almost always want to know what happens. I just don’t always want to slog through the bland to get there.

    I think Kristie J’s “It’s not you it’s me” is a perfect description.

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  9. May
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 07:43:16

    Depends on how much I paid for it. But I read really fast, and if I have to, I can push through to the end in a single sitting.

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  10. Anne
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 08:56:11

    I’m finding lots of DNF’s lately… books I can’t finish because they aren’t to my liking. I’ve also run across some DNF’s that were F-quality because they were written and structured poorly, dialog was forced, etc. One thing I can’t stand is purple prose. Will be a DNF every time… not an F per se because the book may be great, just a DNF for me because I can’t be arsed to finish something that I don’t enjoy.

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  11. Michele
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 08:56:19

    My goal is to finish every book I start, but sometimes, especially if I’ve just finished a KEEPER book, I have trouble starting another book. I had the same exact response to Demon Angel, except I put it down after 35 pages. I tried to start the book 3 times and could not make any progress. I’ve put it back in my TBR and figure when I’m ready to go back to paranormal genre, I’ll pick it up again, hoping for a response.

    As for giving a DNF or a grade, I’d probably prefer the DNF, but I would view that grade negatively. I would still consider the book for purchase, since reading tastes between bloggers/reviewers differ, but I would probably wait to see additional reviews before purchasing.

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  12. kardis
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 09:36:32

    I usually try to finish every book I start. But sometimes a book is so boring that I can’t bring myself to finish. But even more rare is when I put down a book that I’ve been enjoying up to that point and just can’t pick it back up again. This doesn’t happen to me very often, but sometimes I’ll put a book down for the night and just never pick it back up except to put it on a shelf. If I reviewed books I would probably write a review for what I had read and then provide whatever reasons I could not finish it. I like that “it’s not you it’s me” idea, because sometimes that’s all there is to it.

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  13. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 09:45:13

    [quote comment="21115"]I think it’s better to give no review at all. If you don’t want to waste your time reading a book why waste the time reviewing it? If you read only half of a book you’re only qualified to review half of it. What would be the point?[/quote]

    Barbara and everyone else who has said this, thank you for your input. I have thought of giving no review at all. It presents a dilemma, however, because I’m spoiled enough that I’m not likely to finish many of the books that don’t appeal to me. For that reason, you likely won’t be seeing me give many D or F grades to books I finished. If a book is that disappointing, I will have a difficult time pushing through and finishing it.

    Lest I sound eager to hand out low grades, I want to explain that I’m not, actually. But I also don’t know that I want to become the Harriet Klausner of the blogging world, someone who never steers readers away from a book she doesn’t like. So it is a dilemma.

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  14. May
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 09:48:34

    If I want to review that book so badly, I make myself read the entire book. It’s only fair, IMHO.

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  15. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 09:59:41

    [quote comment="21116"]I have a separate category for these books – in fact I even did a post about it recently at RTB. I call them “it’s not you it’s me” books. The books can be quite good, but for one reason or another they just aren’t working for me. I can completely understand any raves said book can get and there is nothing wrong with a) writing b) characters c) setting or all of them – but for some reason, the book just doesn’t work for me. I don’t get rid of these ones thinking if I try it again at another day, in another mood, said book may turn out to be a keeper – and it has happened. Naked in Death is such a book, as is the recent Reason to Live by Maureen McKade. And in my case I don’t review it at all since I know it’s me and not the book.[/quote]

    You make a good point, Kristie (J). But for me, it’s not always easy to separate out how much of it is the book and how much of it is me. All reviewing is based on personal tastes. One person’s wallbanger is another person’s keeper, and that’s true of reviewers too. Look at the grades AAR gave to The Smoke Thief and The Slightest Provocation, two of my keepers this year. And how often does it happen that readers pick up a book they loved years ago, and find that it no longer suits their tastes?

    In the end, all grading is subjective, and we have to rely on our responses to books. If I don’t finish a book, usually there is something that it lacks for me. I’ve mentioned what these factors were in Demon Angel. To clarify, it is not that I feel that there was nothing wrong with the book, but that I don’t feel that it was a bad book. It did have some flaws, but it also had major strengths, and my feeling is that a DNF grade would not reflect that.

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  16. Keishon
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 10:09:39

    Sometimes I will post a review of a DNF if it was bad for a,b,c, d – reasons but if it was a DNF because I just wasn’t interested, then I don’t post a review because it wasn’t all bad or good but probably me not being in the right mood so I set it aside and start another. There are DNF books that are really just bad books and you can list reasons like crazy for them and then there are others that are just “not the right kind of mood” kind of books.

    As for Ms. Brook’s book, I would review it and assign it a DNF if the pacing was a hugh problem but also cite what was good about it as well. Make it a more balanced review that way. Pacing was a big problem for me in that book as well and of course it was a bit too long, too. As much as I enjoyed Lilith and Hugh, they started to overstay their welcome just a bit.

    However, I am anxious to read Colin’s book! So, I am a bit surprised that this one did work out for you but I completely understand your reasons. Maybe this is a book to try later? Perhaps?

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  17. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 10:10:16

    [quote comment="21119"]DNF is a legitimate rating. For whatever reason you were just not compelled to finish it.[/quote]

    Thank you for your input, Angelle. There are books I would have an easier time giving a DNF grade to, but a book that has as many strengths as Demon Angel does makes it difficult, because of the way the DNF grade is perceived. I may be off base, but I’m think that a lot of readers look at the DNF grade as a “This book sucked” grade. And there are many books that I don’t finish because they genuinely seem bad to me. But sometimes I also don’t finish books that are better than that.

    Maybe a second question to ask everyone here is this: when you see a DNF grade, how do you interpret it?

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  18. Jane
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 10:20:12

    I think this is an interesting concept. When I first started blogging, I would include all my DNF books because I’ve always viewed the blog as an extension of a conversation I would have with my girlfriends about books. Certainly, I wouldn’t think of not sharing with Janine or Jayne that I couldn’t bring myself to finish a book!

    And then, people started visiting. And sometimes paying attention. I once commented over at HelenKay Dimon’s review site, paperback reader that I couldn’t believe she finished a particular book. She mentioned that it was in the reviewer’s handbook (tongue in cheek, of course).

    Since then I’ve felt guilty about DNF reviews because of what you stated, Janine. It’s not always that the book is poorly written. A perfect example of this is a book that featured a marriage in trouble – one of my favorite themes. Yet, it started out with a lawyer who tanked a case on purpose because he believed that the guy was guilty for a crime, maybe not this one, but crimes in the past. Shortly thereafter, the guy left his wife and teenaged daughter to go find himself. For me, I found this to be completely non heroic. It’s possible that the book got better and redemption was just around the corner. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading.

    I don’t know that it would be fair to anyone for me to review that book. Like Sarah McCarty, it seems I have more books in my DNF pile than my finished pile at times.

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  19. Bev (BB)
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 10:21:02

    My problem is that there’s a big difference between stopping cold on a book and doing what I call the “mental edit” – meaning when I start getting either bored with it or am really not liking a part of the story (usually villain scenes NOT love scenes) and start skipping/skimming until I find a place to dive back into it. I’ve never quite figured out whether that comes from originally reading shorter books for so long or just because I’m impatient. :D

    Whatever, sometimes with the later I’ll go back and reread what I missed and sometimes I won’t. Depends on whether I feel like I actually missed anything, Hence the tendency to label it a mental edit. True do not finishes are rare enough for me that you probably won’t even hear me mention the book if it does happen. Skipping/skimming a major portion of a book that I otherwise liked or at least wanted to enjoy would be much more significant information for me to share I think.

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  20. Jane
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 10:22:45

    Let me add, though, that if you get 2/3 of the way through, and have a DNF it seems fair game because you have made it most of the way through. I don’t know. I feel a bit conflicted about it.

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  21. sybil
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 10:40:44

    Life isn’t fair… why do reviews have to be?

    I think we tend to over think things. This is a reader blog. No one here is paid to do jack. Nor are they charging for ads or are we paying a fee to be here. In my mind that sets the stage. You guys can do whatever the hell you want to do because tis your blog.

    But since you asked my opinion *g*.

    DFN and then grade what you read and explain why it didn’t work for you.

    You don’t owe it to an author to read the whole thing or dare not speak the books name. Really if you ‘force’ your way through a book – ten to one – you are gonna end up hating it more.

    As long as you say DFN, each reader can decide from there. If I as a reader think you have no business talking about a book you DNF, I know to skip those. It really is the same as any other review, whatever reason you couldn’ t finish it might make me run out and buy it.

    So I would rather hear about it…

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  22. Robin
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 10:40:45

    To me, the DNF dilemma simply amplifies the larger issues with grading books at all — to what extent to people pay attention only to the grade and not to the review itself and therefore miss what I would call “the important stuff.” All grades and ratings are so subjective to me that I immediately read past them to the actual substance of the review. B and C books interest me the most, actually, because sometimes those are the A or D books for me (and F book has to fail on virtually every level for me). DNF is another grade, as far as I’m concerned, that requires reading the review itself. I’ve started many a book, only to put it down and pick it up later and finish it. IMO if you give a book a DNF you’re not promising that you’ll never read it again or finish it, and nor are you necessarily condemning it to exile in failure. The key, IMO, is simply to offer the reasons for your grade as you would in any other situation. Every grade sends an incomplete message, which is why you have accompanying reviews.

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  23. Susan Wilbanks
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 10:53:19

    (long-time lurker, first-time poster)

    I don’t finish everything I read. IMHO, life is too short and my TBR pile too big to bother continuing a book that’s not working for me. Reading is my primary leisure activity, and I refuse to turn it into a chore. But the only books I blog about are the ones I like enough to finish.

    However, I don’t consider myself a reviewer–my blog just happens to include my reading diary. Since I’m A) a VERY persnickety reader and B) an aspiring writer, I decided it was a bad idea to publicly name names and point fingers at the flaws of books I can’t bring myself to finish. I don’t need the bad karma, and I don’t want to make enemies of established authors! But if I was a reviewer, I’d probably give books a chapter or two longer before giving up on them, and I’d make a distinction between “DNF because it’s so poorly written it made my head hurt to read it” and “DNF because I, personally, don’t enjoy books about the matchmaking efforts of a litter of sentient puppies, but, hey, if that’s your kind of thing, give it a try.”

    Because, yeah, a lot of the time it’s me, not the book. I’ve been going through a bit of a reading drought lately, in that over the last ten days or so I started almost ten novels and only finished two, both by authors I already knew and loved. I don’t think any of the books I didn’t finish are terrible, but one used a plot device I find overused and contrived, another was too earnest and depressing, yet another IMHO had pacing problems and wouldn’t stay focused on one character long enough for me to engage with the story, etc. If I’d been stuck on a cross-country flight with nothing to read but one of those books or SkyMall, the book would’ve won. But with dozens of other possibilities in my TBR pile, I gave up on them. I don’t like it when I go through a picky phase like this, so I’m trying to cleanse my palate with nonfiction in hopes that next time I try a novel by a new-to-me author, it’ll seem fresh and interesting enough to be worth finishing.

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  24. Bev (BB)
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 11:09:50

    Okay, I’m going to slightly modify something I just said because I think Sybil and/or Jane are probably right. (Not sure which said whatever triggered this thought. :D) Anyway, I suppose it does depend on where in the book the full stop hits as to whether I’m going to mention it in comments anywhere. I mean if I only read the first chapter or so and stop cold, that’s one thing. It has happened and I rarely if ever even think of those books. If I even remember them. A couple are memorable because of why I stopped but that’s also because it was an author writing trait that cued me into learning I didn’t like her writing.

    OTOH, if I stop cold towards the end of a book I’m much more likely to bring it up, not so much in comments, but more to question why the heck that happened in a book I was most likely enjoying up to that point. And also to see if other readers had the same reaction, That sort of thing.

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  25. Meljean
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 11:11:44

    Several years ago, I had a habit of finishing nearly every book I started in the hopes that it would improve toward the end. But since then my time has become more valuable to me, and I’ve decided that I value it more than my money, and that life’s too short to peel grapes or to finish books I’m not in the mood to keep reading.

    Heh. I’m the same way :) I used to finish everything — now, I have a mountain of half-read books. Some of them are just bad, some are just not to my taste, some where going well but then I lost interest halfway through because I was distracted, or a million other reasons.

    I can’t comment on this particular book, of course, but I think a DNF review is still a review — I’ve read several DNFs on this site that have intrigued me (not enough to pick up, but the concept behind it) and for me as a reader, it’s always been the review that matters, not the grade. What did and did not work for the reviewer might strike me the opposite (and even though technical flaws, like *cough* pacing *cough* aren’t as subjective, they still give me an idea what to expect when I pick it up … whoa boy, I’m in for a long one tonight!).

    …and this has been another unhelpful addition to the DA comment section, brought to you by yours truly.

    (And I’m sorry the book didn’t work for you.)

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  26. Jane
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 11:33:46

    Hmm. Now I think commenting on a book is fair game. I know that some people get mad about the comments at AAR to the extent: “I’m not going to read this book and here’s why” but I think that is a legitimate form of discussion. It’s not really about the book but about things that work or don’t work.

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  27. LinM
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 11:44:52

    I want it all: the favourable reviews; the unfavourable reviews; the DNF’s. It doesn’t seem to me that the visitors to DA are shy about posting; I’ve found some great books because of the feedback to less positive reviews. So, please, open the discussion.

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  28. Keishon
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 12:20:11

    How can there be a common code, rule book or whatever on something as subjective as reviews and reader discussions? I’m like Sybil. Honestly, nobody is paying me to review jack on my blog. It’s an opinion—my opinion– that may or may not have any importance to anybody out there at all. I’m done. Promise.

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  29. Jane
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 12:25:16

    Good point, Keishon and Sybil. I’ve been pondering the “ethics” of reviewing. I mean, we say that we “review” books here but we don’t take money for it but we have been getting free books. So does that make us “professional” reviewers? Do the books that we buy – are we more free to give our opinion on those?

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  30. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 12:42:54

    Sarah, that was a good analysis of what it is that keeps you reading. In my case, it’s a combination of an author’s prose style (also known as “voice”) and characterization. I’ve recently come to realize that pacing is a big factor for deep me as well. In the case of Demon Angel, I feel that the characterization was far above average, but I had some problems with the style and the pacing. Actually I think the two are related; a smoother, leaner style might have speeded up the pacing.

    This has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, the story telling or anything other than when I read romance I read it for the opportunity to connect with the characters and to share their jouney to their HEA. If good characterization isn’t the strongest element of the romance for me, then the book will become a DNF because IMO, in romance. it’s all about the characterization.

    But don’t you think that characterization is an element of writing, and that therefore characterization that lacks depth is a factor in the quality of the writing?

    I do have a point. Because of all the reasons a perfectly good book can be a DNF for a particular reader, (thinking of myself really here) I think it probably should not have a review at all. If the book just struck a reviewer as horrible and couldn’t be finished for this reason it deserves a low score and a reason stated, but otherwise I think a review of one person’s nebulous DNF should be left for another reviewer to write. Or if it is reveiwed, a caveat as to why it was a DNF stated so an assumption of worse than F won’t be made. That seems only fair.

    Thanks. I am considering both options. If I did give a DNF grade to a book that did not read like an F book, I would certainly include a caveat as to why it was a DNF.

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  31. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 12:48:35

    Devon,

    I mean, look at Demon Angel. I have a hundred pages to go, and I love this book so much that I gave the cover a kiss because I was so happy to get back to it last night.

    The book is clearly finding an audience among internet readers, and even though I didn’t click with it myself, I’m glad so many people are enjoying it.

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  32. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 12:59:41

    [quote comment="21138"]If I want to review that book so badly, I make myself read the entire book. It’s only fair, IMHO.[/quote]

    Making myself read an entire book when I don’t want to would only make me dislike it more. It’s hard for me to be fair to a book if I feel forced to read it. It’s like forcing myself to eat when I feel full. At that point, I just don’t enjoy the meal no matter how good it is.

    Honestly, if I felt I had to finish every book I started, I would give up blogging. I blog for the fun of it, not for any other kind of compensation. I’m willing to consider all the other options, including giving DNF grades, giving letter grades to parts of books, and refraining from reviewing the books I don’t finish. But forcing myself to finish when I don’t want to doesn’t work for me.

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  33. Lara
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 13:02:04

    IMO: When given a choice between placing my trust in a “review” blog (meaning your basic reader blog or a review site such as this one or AAR) known for integrity or 24/7 sunshine and roses, I’ll go with integrity every time. Even if it hurts. Even if I know the site is getting free books and charging for ad space. Those factors are (or should be) irrelevant to how any given book is treated in review. Otherwise, for your site’s visitors, what’s the point?

    To me personally, as an author, I perceive a DNF as a far tougher grade than even an F because it implies that for whatever reason–even if the reasons have more to do with a reader’s personal mood at the time of the reading–that book stalled out somewhere and didn’t compel you to turn a single page more. Reader disinterest is the kiss of death, as far as I’m concerned.

    And as a reader who doesn’t have unlimited funds to spend on the TBR, as well as an author who’s always trying to improve my own craft, I’d be very interested in getting a reader/reviewer’s opinion on that DNF book, regardless of how far the reader managed to get into the story. A DNF review might actually be more useful than any other graded review, whether from a reader standpoint or an author standpoint. (But don’t feel compelled to demonstrate my opinion by example, Jane. You know, unless you really have to.)

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  34. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 13:12:20

    Keishon,

    Sometimes I will post a review of a DNF if it was bad for a,b,c, d – reasons but if it was a DNF because I just wasn’t interested, then I don’t post a review because it wasn’t all bad or good but probably me not being in the right mood so I set it aside and start another. There are DNF books that are really just bad books and you can list reasons like crazy for them and then there are others that are just “not the right kind of mood” kind of books.

    Good point.

    So, I am a bit surprised that this one did work out for you but I completely understand your reasons. Maybe this is a book to try later? Perhaps?

    Could be.

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  35. Kimber
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 13:16:25

    I don’t often not finish books but that’s only because I vigorously screen them before reading (I’m one of those dreadful people reading the last chapter). I also speed read so finishing a book probably would take me less time than deciding whether or not I should finish.

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  36. Bev (BB)
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 13:25:38

    [quote comment="21163"]Good point, Keishon and Sybil. I’ve been pondering the “ethics” of reviewing. I mean, we say that we “review” books here but we don’t take money for it but we have been getting free books. So does that make us “professional” reviewers? Do the books that we buy – are we more free to give our opinion on those?[/quote]

    This is an issue that’s been tossed around for a decade or more within just the romance community online and I have yet to actually see very many actually show more than a half-way agreement on it. Well, accept for the formation of that reviewers group several years ago. I forget now what the name of that was or is. RIO? There were a couple of people within it who could actually explain the distinctions between commentary, reviews & critiques in ways that made sense to me. I respected that immensely.

    It bothers me when “review” is applied to simple comments by readers themselves and by authors. Yes, a professionally structured review is commentary and opinion but it is also supposed to be more, not so much more entertaining but springing from a more informed source about the material being reviewed. Notice I didn’t necessarily say more educated source but definitely more informed. It’s also supposed to be more detailed otherwise why bother to call it a review?

    I’ve seen readers taken to task for simply opening their mouths when they weren’t “reviewing” in the first place. They were simply commenting on something they liked or didn’t. I’ve also seen fairly “professional” reviewers taken to task for having opinions as if an actual review isn’t supposed to contain them at all. Well, you can’t have it both ways.

    There have actually been times over the years when I’ve been tempted to begin reviewing regularly, particularly whenever the above starts happening. Seriously. I know I could do it. The simple truth is that I prefer to stick with plain old off-the-cuff commentary because once I start calling it reviewing I’d have to take the time to do it right and I’m just too lazy. ;p

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  37. Devon
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 13:36:18

    On the subject of reviews and grading systems, for a long time I didn’t assign any sort of grade to my reviews, because I felt like what I wrote was so varied, in length, depth and content. Was it more commentary than review? I decided to do a grading system because I thought it might focus me more. (Yeah, good luck there). I kind of stick the letter grade in there at the end, because I’d prefer people looked at what I wrote. And I tend to grade a lot of stuff in the C range. That’s my “meh, just ok” grade, and I hope people would read the whole thing because what’s meh for me might not be for another.

    That being said, I’ll read a review no matter the grade. In fact, I make it a point to read the more negative reviews because I’m curious to see what made the book so bad or unfinishable. So even if it’s a DNF, I think it’s worth a mention at least, (perhaps not a review per se) because it’ll bring the book to readers’ attention and they can decide whether or not to pursue it themselves.

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  38. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 13:46:56

    I think this is an interesting concept. When I first started blogging, I would include all my DNF books because I’ve always viewed the blog as an extension of a conversation I would have with my girlfriends about books. Certainly, I wouldn’t think of not sharing with Janine or Jayne that I couldn’t bring myself to finish a book.

    And then, people started visiting. And sometimes paying attention. I once commented over at HelenKay Dimon’s review site, paperback reader that I couldn’t believe she finished a particular book. She mentioned that it was in the reviewer’s handbook (tongue in cheek, of course).

    Since then I’ve felt guilty about DNF reviews because of what you stated, Janine. It’s not always that the book is poorly written.

    Yes, that’s so true. The public nature of a blog is what gives me pause whereas in a more private conversation with friends I would have no difficulty saying that I didn’t finish a book.

    A perfect example of this is a book that featured a marriage in trouble – one of my favorite themes. Yet, it started out with a lawyer who tanked a case on purpose because he believed that the guy was guilty for a crime, maybe not this one, but crimes in the past. Shortly thereafter, the guy left his wife and teenaged daughter to go find himself. For me, I found this to be completely non heroic. It’s possible that the book got better and redemption was just around the corner. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading..

    Occasionally it can be a premise that turns me off, but for me, it’s more often the writing style. There have been books where an author’s prose did not work for me, and I didn’t get more than a chapter or two into it. A writing style doesn’t have to be purple or gramatically incorrect for that to be the case, there are plenty of other things, like too much repitition or not enough variation in rhythm, that can do that. Actually I think those are legitimate reasons not to finish a book, but I don’t know how helpful such a DNF grade would be to most readers since I get the impression that a lot of readers don’t pay as much attention to style as they do to other factors.

    Like Sarah McCarty, it seems I have more books in my DNF pile than my finished pile at times.

    You must read fast, Jane, considering how many books you do finish!

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  39. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 13:53:44

    [quote comment="21147"]My problem is that there’s a big difference between stopping cold on a book and doing what I call the “mental edit” – meaning when I start getting either bored with it or am really not liking a part of the story (usually villain scenes NOT love scenes) and start skipping/skimming until I find a place to dive back into it. I’ve never quite figured out whether that comes from originally reading shorter books for so long or just because I’m impatient. :D

    Whatever, sometimes with the later I’ll go back and reread what I missed and sometimes I won’t. Depends on whether I feel like I actually missed anything, Hence the tendency to label it a mental edit. True do not finishes are rare enough for me that you probably won’t even hear me mention the book if it does happen. Skipping/skimming a major portion of a book that I otherwise liked or at least wanted to enjoy would be much more significant information for me to share I think.[/quote]

    Bev, I usually don’t skim big portions of a book unless I know it isn’t working for me. Sometimes I’ll skim ahead because the suspense is killing me, but more often it’s out of a feeling that the book just isn’t working out. In the latter case, I usually don’t go back to read the parts I skimmed over.

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  40. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 13:55:59

    A question for everyone who favors giving a DNF grade. How much of the book do you feel the blogger should read before giving a grade of DNF?

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  41. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 14:06:25

    “But don’t you think that characterization is an element of writing, and that therefore characterization that lacks depth is a factor in the quality of the writing?”

    Yes, characterization is a factor of writing , but depending on the structure of the book, plot driven or character driven the level of characterization will differ. A very plot driven book will almost be like the structure of a video game where the characters function more like vehicles that guide the reader through the plot rather than defining the story.

    Now, pacing I agree. That can really make or break the story.

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  42. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 14:08:50

    Life isn’t fair- why do reviews have to be?

    Good question. :) Maybe I’m tilting at windmills, but it’s innate to my personality to want to treat people fairly, whether they are readers or authors. I do recognize that you can’t be all things to all people and someone is likely to be unhappy with any review I write, whether the grade is bad or good. But I want to feel that I’ve been as fair as I can be while being honest about my reading experience. Which is why I’m asking these questions.

    But since you asked my opinion *g*.

    DFN and then grade what you read and explain why it didn’t work for you.

    You don’t owe it to an author to read the whole thing or dare not speak the books name..

    Sybil, do you mean give a DNF grade, or give a letter grade to the part I read?

    Really if you ‘force’ your way through a book – ten to one – you are gonna end up hating it more.

    That’s absolutely true in my case.

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  43. Jayne
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 14:09:40

    How much to read before giving a DNF? My personal decision is 1/3 of the way through. I figure that by this point, a book should be holding my interest. It will also have given me enough time to decide if I like the characters, the plot, the writing style, whatever.

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  44. Christine Rimmer
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 14:10:07

    Right there with you, Janine. I simply don’t read books that don’t literally compell me to finish them. Not novels, anyway. That doesn’t mean the book wasn’t good. It only means it wasn’t for me.

    I give a book twenty pages. Seriously. Twenty. If it’s not holding me, I let it go. And I’m picky as they come. Because the truth is, there are more novels that *are* for me out there than I’ll ever have time to read.

    It’s really too bad that DNF sounds worse than an F. Because I don’t think it is. It just means…didn’t finish.

    Then again, I’ve never read a book that deserved a D or an F. I put it down before it got that bad.

    So that’s a thought. Maybe you should have A, B, C and DNF. Skip the D and the F. I mean, what’s the point of flogging yourself to finish a book that isn’t happening for you?

    But just a thought. Probably wiser to go with what others have said here; if you can’t get through it, don’t review it. Because I admit, when I see DNF in a review, I think it must have been *worse* than an F–though I know from my own experience that that’s not necessarily true.

    And what do you know? I’ve just totally contradicted myself. How very helpful.

    Argh. Tough one…

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  45. Keishon
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 14:17:27

    [quote comment="21183"]A question for everyone who favors giving a DNF grade. How much of the book do you feel the blogger should read before giving a grade of DNF?[/quote]

    I think if I am not caught or engaged after the first three chapters, it’s a loser for me as I like books that hook me fast. Now there are authors whose voice or style just doesn’t give you that “hook” so in that case the premise alone would be enough of a “hook” to get me past the first three chapters. Again, your question is a subjective thing, for me it would be at least three chapters, for others as I am sure they are out there, it would be half the book. If I’m halfway there, heck, I could skim to the end. But then I would mention that I skimmed as well. You have to have the hook otherwise it’s a goner (usually I don’t mention those types of books, they just get traded out) or the problems are seen almost immediately and it’s a DNF or the character may do something later that makes you kick or throw your book or a very expensive IPAQ at the wall and it’s a DNF or F. I think as readers, we do give books a lot of chances. Really, we do.

    Now, truly, I am outta here.

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  46. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 14:24:49

    Robin,

    To me, the DNF dilemma simply amplifies the larger issues with grading books at all — to what extent to people pay attention only to the grade and not to the review itself and therefore miss what I would call “the important stuff.”

    Yes, that’s the crux of it. I only read the C, D and F reviews when I have a reason to be interested in either the book or that particular reviewer’s opinion and writing. But I automatically read all the A range and B+ reviews I come across, because I’m always on the lookout for the next great book or for a wonderful author I haven’t tried yet.

    Grading is helpful to me because I don’t have the time to read all the reviews, and it helps me decide which reviews not to read. Occasionally books I’ve loved have received D grades, so I do wonder what other gems might be among the books that have been poorly reviewed, but I count on reader comments and on recommendations from trusted friends to alert me to those books. It mostly works.

    DNF is another grade, as far as I’m concerned, that requires reading the review itself. I’ve started many a book, only to put it down and pick it up later and finish it. IMO if you give a book a DNF you’re not promising that you’ll never read it again or finish it, and nor are you necessarily condemning it to exile in failure. The key, IMO, is simply to offer the reasons for your grade as you would in any other situation. Every grade sends an incomplete message, which is why you have accompanying reviews.

    The problem is that I think some readers do see the DNF grade as a failing grade. But maybe this is just another example that shows that none of us can completely control the way our words are interpreted.

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  47. Bev (BB)
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 14:41:00

    [quote comment="21188"]I think as readers, we do give books a lot of chances. Really, we do.[/quote]

    Yeah, and yet another issue that clouds the entire “is reviewing fair” debate. Is it fair or unfair for readers to keep raising and lowering the bar according to their own personal tastes? I mean, it could go either way. And does. And that’s not even taking into account “professional” reviewing standards, whatever those are. But one has to assume that those “standards” would give a lot fewer chances to the books than we as individual readers do. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told myself I just wasn’t in the mood for that particular book when a “real” reviewer would’ve probably have just said flat out it was a badly written book.

    Or would they?

    See, that’s the question lurking in the back of everyone’s mind, isn’t it?

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  48. Jane
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 14:42:43

    Maybe we should have DNF fridays were all the DNF books that week are tallied up or maybe once a month.

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  49. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 14:43:21

    (long-time lurker, first-time poster)

    Glad you came out of lurkdom, Susan. Thank you for your input. You bring up a point about the potential bad karma for naming names and having persnickety opinions. There’s a whole other blog in that one, I’m sure.

    Another interesting question that you and Jane have both raised is whether we bloggers are really “reviewers.” I don’t consider myself a professional reviewer or Dear Author a professional review site. Our letter-to-the-author format is the antithesis of a professional review format, but for all that, they are still to my mind some species of review. It’s a fascinating question, where do you draw the line between what is a review and what is just a reader comment.

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  50. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 14:49:57

    I had some problems with the style and the pacing. Actually I think the two are related; a smoother, leaner style might have speeded up the pacing.

    However much it takes for the reader to determine they’re not going to be able to finish it whether that is ten pages or one hundred. ;-)

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  51. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:02:14

    Heh. I’m the same way I used to finish everything — now, I have a mountain of half-read books. Some of them are just bad, some are just not to my taste, some where going well but then I lost interest halfway through because I was distracted, or a million other reasons.

    I can’t comment on this particular book, of course, but I think a DNF review is still a review — I’ve read several DNFs on this site that have intrigued me (not enough to pick up, but the concept behind it) and for me as a reader, it’s always been the review that matters, not the grade. What did and did not work for the reviewer might strike me the opposite (and even though technical flaws, like *cough* pacing *cough* aren’t as subjective, they still give me an idea what to expect when I pick it up – whoa boy, I’m in for a long one tonight!).

    Meljean, you are a class act.

    (And I’m sorry the book didn’t work for you.)

    They can’t all, but it’s certainly worked for a lot of readers. :)

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  52. Susan Wilbanks
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:04:35

    “A question for everyone who favors giving a DNF grade. How much of the book do you feel the blogger should read before giving a grade of DNF?”

    I don’t think there has to be a hard-and-fast rule, but I think the reviewer or blogger should indicate when and why she stopped reading, whether that’s, “I tried three chapters, and there’s nothing terrible here, but the author’s voice is a little awkward and the plot didn’t hold my interest,” or, “I threw the book at the wall 10 pages in because the writer clearly didn’t bother to research her setting AT ALL.”

    (The latter is one of my regular reasons for abandoning a book. I’m just a bit of a history geek.)

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  53. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:21:19

    Sorry. Tried to do a quote and it didn’t work. That rather confusing post of mine was referring to how long does a blogger or reviewer have to read before deciding to give a DNF not to what I actually quoted.

    The reply would be: However much it takes for the reader to determine they’re not going to be able to finish it whether that is ten pages or one hundred.

    Sorry again.

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  54. sybil
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:22:25

    [quote comment="21185"]
    Good question. :) Maybe I’m tilting at windmills, but it’s an innate my personality to want to treat people fairly, whether they be readers or authors. I do recognize that you can’t be all things to all people and someone is likely to be unhappy with any review I write, whether the grade is bad or good. But I want to feel that I’ve been as fair as I can be while being honest about my reading experience. Which is why I’m asking these questions.[/quote]
    To be my normal difficult self *g*

    I think it is great you are asking the quesitons… I am just saying I disagree with the idea a review is ever ‘wrong’. It is bad if it is a lie. It may not be helpful if it is just a sqqquuueee but no matter the style, format, grading whatever… as long as it is what the reviewer truthfully thinks – tis all good.

    So you decide what you want to do and we can bitch and moan or think it rocks but regardless of what you come up with it would be right.

    [quote comment="21185"]Sybil, do you mean give a DNF grade, or give a letter grade to the part I read?[/quote]

    They should be say up front DNF… uh as the category… and the grade as like the grade

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  55. Susan Wilbanks
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:22:41

    You bring up a point about the potential bad karma for naming names and having persnickety opinions. There’s a whole other blog in that one, I’m sure.

    Maybe I’ll blog about it one of these days. Basically, even though I’m annoyed by historical errors and sloppy research, I know it’s impossible to get everything 100% right, and I’m probably making little errors all the time without knowing it. So I figure I need to resist the temptation to go all Ranty McHistoryGeek on authors who botch the forms of address for members of the nobility or put rifles in the hands of soldiers who would’ve carried muskets, because otherwise I’m setting myself up for a world of hurt from the universe if and when I’m ever published and I botch something that seems trivial to me but matters to some reader somewhere. :-)

    Another interesting question that you and Jane have both raised is whether we bloggers are really “reviewers."

    I think bloggers can be reviewers (and I do consider this a review site). I just think it’s awkward to wear both a reviewer hat and a writer hat, especially as an unpublished writer, so I’ve chosen not to.

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  56. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:28:33

    [quote comment="21163"] I’ve been pondering the “ethics” of reviewing. I mean, we say that we “review” books here but we don’t take money for it but we have been getting free books. So does that make us “professional” reviewers? Do the books that we buy – are we more free to give our opinion on those?[/quote]

    Jane, I think we should have the same standard for all books, whether or not we’ve paid for them. The question to me is, does accepting ARCs mean that we should hold our letters to professional review standards?

    I lean on the side of “No” for that one, because there are a lot of authors who send out ARCs to bloggers who clearly don’t have professional review standards, and IMO what some of those authors are looking for isn’t standards or a professional review, it’s a rave that generates good word of mouth for their books.

    Nothing wrong with that IMO, as long as the bloggers remain honest. We state upfront in our Submissions FAQ that “If you are an author, we can’t promise that we will read your book or that if we read it, we’ll like it. If we don’t like it, we could post a scathing review. Some people don’t like that. If you are one of those people, please don’t submit your book for review.”

    If given a choice between free ARCs and having to finish every book I read, or buying my own books and having the freedom to put them down, I would choose to pay for the books I read.

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  57. May
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:40:45

    [quote comment="21203"][quote comment="21163"] I’ve been pondering the “ethics” of reviewing. I mean, we say that we “review” books here but we don’t take money for it but we have been getting free books. So does that make us “professional” reviewers? Do the books that we buy – are we more free to give our opinion on those?[/quote]

    If given a choice between free ARCs and having to finish every book I read, or buying my own books and having the freedom to put them down, I would choose to pay for the books I read.[/quote]

    I agree with this.

    MJ Rose brought this up after another blogger (I can dig in my archives if you want) said that all reviewers should disclose the fact that they got the book/ARC from the publisher/author.

    The gist of it was that it boils down to “Would you sell out for the cost of a book?” Which is about USD22.

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  58. Alison Kent
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:42:33

    [quote comment="21203"] The question to me is, does accepting ARCs mean that we should hold our letters to professional review standards?

    I lean on the side of “No” for that one, because there are a lot of authors who send out ARCs to bloggers who clearly don’t have professional review standards, and IMO what some of those authors are looking for isn’t standards or a professional review, it’s a rave that generates good word of mouth for their books.[/quote]

    Do you feel differently if the ARC comes from a publisher as opposed to coming from an author?

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  59. Jane
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:42:58

    There is some new disclosure rule that applies to someone (as you can see, I haven’t greatly researched it) but Paperback Writer blogged about it a few weeks ago. I don’t know if it applies to us or not. I should check. But, yeah, if I had to give up the blog or free books. Free books it is. I want the freedom to say what I want and am willing to pay for it.

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  60. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:49:17

    Yes, characterization is a factor of writing , but depending on the structure of the book, plot driven or character driven the level of characterization will differ. A very plot driven book will almost be like the structure of a video game where the characters function more like vehicles that guide the reader through the plot rather than defining the story.

    My view is different. I think a good book is one that has achieved the right balance of plot and character so that neither element suffers. I love a compelling, intricate plot but when the characters lack depth or resemblance to real human beings, I begin to feel that the author has neglected an important element of writing. It doesn’t matter to me if the author did this intentionally, to create a compelling plot, because when a character ceases to feel real to me, I don’t care if that character lives or dies, and then the most well-designed plot ceases to be suspenseful or compelling.

    Now, pacing I agree. That can really make or break the story.

    Yes, for me too, but maybe not for everyone? I think our conversation here shows how individual the response to any text is, whether in a review or just in reading it.

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  61. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:55:03

    [quote comment="21177"]I don’t often not finish books but that’s only because I vigorously screen them before reading (I’m one of those dreadful people reading the last chapter). I also speed read so finishing a book probably would take me less time than deciding whether or not I should finish.[/quote]

    Kimber, I am a slow reader so for me it definitely takes longer to finish a book than to decide to put it down. :)

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  62. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 15:59:33

    [quote comment="21186"]How much to read before giving a DNF? My personal decision is 1/3 of the way through. I figure that by this point, a book should be holding my interest. It will also have given me enough time to decide if I like the characters, the plot, the writing style, whatever.[/quote]

    Jayne, it is interesting that you read to the 1/3 point before giving a DNF grade. The 1/3 point is often where I give up on a book because if I’ve lasted that long, I sometimes feel that if it hasn’t improved yet, it’s not likely to.

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  63. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 16:03:34

    Then again, I’ve never read a book that deserved a D or an F. I put it down before it got that bad.

    So that’s a thought. Maybe you should have A, B, C and DNF. Skip the D and the F. I mean, what’s the point of flogging yourself to finish a book that isn’t happening for you?

    I may very well do that. I don’t think I’ve read an F book from cover to cover in years. I just don’t have the fortitude. :) I’ve finished D grade books but only very rarely.

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  64. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 16:19:22

    [quote comment="21191"][quote comment="21188"]I think as readers, we do give books a lot of chances. Really, we do.[/quote]

    Yeah, and yet another issue that clouds the entire “is reviewing fair” debate. Is it fair or unfair for readers to keep raising and lowering the bar according to their own personal tastes? I mean, it could go either way. And does. And that’s not even taking into account “professional” reviewing standards, whatever those are. But one has to assume that those “standards” would give a lot fewer chances to the books than we as individual readers do. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told myself I just wasn’t in the mood for that particular book when a “real” reviewer would’ve probably have just said flat out it was a badly written book.

    Or would they?

    See, that’s the question lurking in the back of everyone’s mind, isn’t it?[/quote]

    I can only speak for myself. I’ve had a very good reading year so it may not be apparent from the grades I’ve given out here, but I try to be fair to books without giving them too much slack. It’s not always easy to know if I’m lowering my standards too much or raising the bar impossibly high.

    Sometimes I agonize over a grade, like the B+ I gave Loretta Chase’s Lord Perfect. I was torn between giving it a B+ and giving it an A-, and I erred on the side of tough grading because I’d rather raise the bar rather than lower it. I read and reread the review grade explanation before settling on my grade for that book. The C for Mary Balogh’s Simply Love was a hard one for me, too, because I’ve loved some of this author’s books and technically she is a stronger writer than some other authors whose books I’ve given higher grades to.

    In the end, it comes down to the individual book and the individual blogger / reviewer. I try to maintain a high standard but since I’m a slow reader who can only read a limited number of books, I also try and pick the ones I think I will like. My grading reflects both these factors, I think.

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  65. Christine Rimmer
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 16:47:36

    Are you bloggers here or reviewers?

    Well, yeah. I’d say you’re reviewers on DearAuthor. You’re blogging your reviews, but…they are reviews. Who says you have to get paid for it to be a “review?” Who says you even have to be fair–aside from the fact that, if you’re not fair eventually people will find out and judge you accordingly? Lots of people frequent this site, which I see as very much an offshoot of the way you all call them as you see them.

    And in the end, a review–even a “professional” review–is just an opinion. We would hope an informed and honest opinion, but an opinion nonetheless.

    Janine, it seems from your thoughtful review of this book that you have behaved honorably. You stuck with it until you realized going on would actually lower the books rating for you. You saw the value in the book, though it didn’t hold you, in particular, glued to the page. You said what your experience of it was. I don’t think any author can reasonably ask for more.

    It’s the nature of the beast that some authors *will* ask for more. But not the reasonable ones–as Meljean herself has so gracefully proved.

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  66. kardis
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 17:22:12

    I think that one can post a DNF review whenever they want. To *me* as a reader I only care that the reviews I read are as honest as possible. If you put down the book after two pages and want to post a review, fine, I doubt it’ll be very interesting for me to read. I understand wanting to be fair, Janine, but I think that as long as you are honest in the reviews that you write then you *are* being fair. Of course, I am a reader and not a reviewer (turns out it’s hard :-) ) so you can take my opinion with a shaker of salt!

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  67. Kristie(J)
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 17:26:38

    There’s so many interesting points in this isn’t there? To answer Janine’s earlier question

    Maybe a second question to ask everyone here is this: when you see a DNF grade, how do you interpret it?

    When I see a DNF, I automatically give it a negative connotation. And in some cases that’s fair. I’ve read my fair share of books that are DNF because I just didn’t like them. But then I’ve read quite a number that I didn’t dislike – they just didn’t work for me at the time. That’s why I don’t mention them. Because if I think in negative terms when I see DNF’s, maybe someone seeing my DNF’s will think they same thing when really there isn’t anything wrong with the book at all.

    And in another area – I’ve never accepted books for review even though I’ve been approached a couple of times. First off – when asked, I feel an obligation to read it. And I’m much more of a ‘where the wind takes me’ kind of reader. As soon as I feel I have to review a book, that takes the wind right out of my reading sails. And then there’s the fact that I would think because I was getting it for freee – I’m almost obligated to like it. And I don’t like that pressure either.

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  68. Bev (BB)
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 17:49:07

    [quote comment="21163"]Good point, Keishon and Sybil. I’ve been pondering the “ethics” of reviewing. I mean, we say that we “review” books here but we don’t take money for it but we have been getting free books. So does that make us “professional” reviewers? Do the books that we buy – are we more free to give our opinion on those?[/quote]

    For what it’s worth, I think of this site as a review site and I don’t ever say that lightly. While I don’t read every review here, when I do read ones on books I’m interested in I know I’m going to find what I need to “inform” me about the book. And that’s a crucial element we tend to forget in all the discussions about opinions. When you get right down to it, what makes a review or preview more than simple commentary? INFORMATION. Details. Those crucial things that tell the consumer what they need to know to decide whether to purchase.

    Put it this way, how would you feel about taking those details out of what you write about the books? That should tell you something.

    Now, grades and ratings, I can take or leave. I truly have mixed feelings on them.

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  69. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 18:21:36

    Sarah McCarty — Don’t feel bad; I think we all understood what you meant to quote.

    And by the way, there are two ways to quote. One is the quote link near the posts. To quote in this way, click on the link that’s by the post you want to quote. The other way to quote is simply to select and copy the text you want to quote into the dialogue box where your post goes. Then select it again and click the “B-Quote” button at the top of the box. Good luck next time you try it.

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  70. Riley
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 18:35:03

    If you are a serious reivewer you have the responsibity to finish the book. If you can’t tough it out, you should hand it over to a reviewer who can finish it. A book consists of a beginning, a middle and a conclusion. You are doing a disservice to the author and the reader if you can’t complete it. A DNF is not a review. It only means that you couldn’t be bothered to read from the beginning to the end.

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  71. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 18:39:59

    [quote comment="21206"][quote comment="21203"] The question to me is, does accepting ARCs mean that we should hold our letters to professional review standards?

    I lean on the side of “No” for that one, because there are a lot of authors who send out ARCs to bloggers who clearly don’t have professional review standards, and IMO what some of those authors are looking for isn’t standards or a professional review, it’s a rave that generates good word of mouth for their books.[/quote]

    Do you feel differently if the ARC comes from a publisher as opposed to coming from an author?[/quote]

    Good question. To be honest, I may not give where the ARCs come as much thought as it deserves. I myself get them from Jane. Sometimes they will come with a note that mentions if the author or publisher sent them, but sometimes there won’t be one. And beyond thinking “Cool!” if it’s a book I want to read, I don’t think about its origins further. The answer to this question may be different for Jane and Jayne, or for other bloggers who get ARCs than it is for me.

    In my own reviewing, I try to be as professional as I reasonably can even though I don’t feel obligated by the free ARCs. Our unconventional letter format doesn’t always make that easy. It’s not the standard review format, it tends to be more personalized, and it can also be tricky to write them because they are addressed to the author but their primary intended audience is our readers. But I think the letter format is a big part of what sets this website apart from every other blog out there. It’s part of our style and panache, if you will. Whichever Ja(y)ne came up with it was incredibly creative, in my humble opinion.

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  72. Sybil
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 18:40:37

    [quote comment="21228"]You are doing a disservice to the author and the reader if you can’t complete it. A DNF is not a review. It only means that you couldn’t be bothered to read from the beginning to the end.[/quote]

    Why? How is it not a review? If it states what the book is about, what the author thought of it and why they couldn’t finish it… why wouldn’t that be a review.

    And as they are subjective – where are the rules as to what is and is not a review?

    Is the reviewer doing a disservice to the author by not finishing or is the author doing a disservice to the reader by not writing a book that she enjoyed.

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  73. Keishon
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 18:45:10

    [quote comment="21228"]If you are a serious reivewer you have the responsibity to finish the book. If you can’t tough it out, you should hand it over to a reviewer who can finish it. A book consists of a beginning, a middle and a conclusion. You are doing a disservice to the author and the reader if you can’t complete it. A DNF is not a review. It only means that you couldn’t be bothered to read from the beginning to the end.[/quote]

    Strongly disagree with that opinion. Dis. A. Gree. with it in its entirety.
    Your not the only one to think like this but I disagree with it. Period.

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  74. Keishon
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 18:48:36

    Also, what the hell is a serious reviewer? Rhetorical question. I would think anyone with an opinion would be serious about it. Wouldn’t you?

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  75. Christine Rimmer
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 19:23:10

    Riley wrote:
    >If you are a serious reivewer you have the responsibity to finish the book. If you can’t tough it out, you should hand it over to a reviewer who can finish it. A book consists of a beginning, a middle and a conclusion. You are doing a disservice to the author and the reader if you can’t complete it. A DNF is not a review. It only means that you couldn’t be bothered to read from the beginning to the end.

    Well, I’m an author and I think you are doing a disservice to the author if you continue reading a book that keeps on *not* working for you. Because. Guess what? All that’s going to happen is you’ll get really mad and hateful because for some crazy reason you’ve put it on yourself to finish a book that’s just not for you. I’m sorry, if a book doesn’t work for me until a third of the way through or more, it’s never going to work for me. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the ending is, I’ll just be thinking, that the book didn’t work. A brilliant midpoint or ending is no more a book than a grab-you-by-your-throat opening.

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  76. Bev (BB)
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 20:34:07

    [quote comment="21228"]If you are a serious reivewer you have the responsibity to finish the book. If you can’t tough it out, you should hand it over to a reviewer who can finish it. A book consists of a beginning, a middle and a conclusion. You are doing a disservice to the author and the reader if you can’t complete it. A DNF is not a review. It only means that you couldn’t be bothered to read from the beginning to the end.[/quote]

    About the only way I’d be that serious about finishing a book that I wasn’t enjoying enough to want to continue reading on its own merits was if I was getting paid hard cash . . .

    (As in a paid career, not that paid per book suspicious stuff Jane keeps uncovering. ;p)

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  77. Bev (BB)
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 20:54:39

    Just thinking out loud here.

    You know, on second thought, this does bring up something that had never occurred to me before. I’ve heard reviewers on various sites talk about passing books off to other reviewers up front if they know something in it isn’t to their taste, which sounds reasonable, but what about they ones they read and can’t finish then? Seems to me that not disclosing that fact in some way breaks the honesty code.

    Put it this way, readers coming to a review site tend identify the tastes of the various reviewers and learn which ones have similar tastes to their own. Right? So, wouldn’t knowing that a reviewer couldn’t finish a book be useful information in that regard? I mean as a reader I certainly don’t care what books a reviewer doesn’t even try to read but it certainly might be interesting knowing which ones someone with almost identical tastes to mine couldn’t finish. And why.

    So how in the world could that information be a disservice to anyone?

    Not sharing it, on the other hand . . .

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  78. Jane
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 21:40:28

    I don’t know that sharing of books like suggested is feasible for a blog with three people. First, as Janine says, she reads slow so it’s not likely if I sent her a book today that she would be done with it anytime soon. Second, I only get one copy of a book so it costs money to send to both Jayne and Janine. Third, who is to say that either blogger would be interested in a book that I’ve not been able to finish.

    Maybe if you have a big staff of reviewers, but we are just three people who do this for fun, and honestly the idea of having to mail out all the DNF sounds too much effort for this lazy person.

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  79. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 22:48:25

    If a book is boring me, I’m not going to finish it. Period. I have little time to read as is, and I’m not going to waste it on forcing myself to read something I don’t care for.

    Can’t comment much on the review issue because I don’t pay much attention to them but reading a DNF review doesn’t bother me. I don’t think the reviewer is obliged to finish a book that they don’t care for any more than I’m obliged to finish a book I don’t care for. As long as they give it a fair shot, who is anybody to tell said reviewer how they should review a book?

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  80. Janine
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 23:05:50

    And in the end, a review–even a “professional” review–is just an opinion. We would hope an informed and honest opinion, but an opinion nonetheless.

    I’ve made this point before as well. It is one person’s opinion and should not be taken as more than that.

    Janine, it seems from your thoughtful review of this book that you have behaved honorably. You stuck with it until you realized going on would actually lower the books rating for you. You saw the value in the book, though it didn’t hold you, in particular, glued to the page. You said what your experience of it was. I don’t think any author can reasonably ask for more.

    It’s the nature of the beast that some authors *will* ask for more. But not the reasonable ones–as Meljean herself has so gracefully proved.

    Thanks. I appreciate the vote of confidence, and it’s especially nice to hear this opinion from an author.

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  81. dee
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 00:49:08

    If given a choice between free ARCs and having to finish every book I read, or buying my own books and having the freedom to put them down, I would choose to pay for the books I read.

    Also a lurker here, and this is my first time posting. Gotta say that I LOVE this site though.
    I understand this dilemma. When someone sends me a book, I always try to read it all the way through. Notice the “try”. Sometimes , usually, I make it. Not always. Honestly though, that’s just when authors send me something. I think, as an unpublished author, I try to be really…understanding(?) with books. I don’t mean that I say nice, flowery things about everything that authors send me. I can’t do that and still think of what I’m posting as ‘reviews’. But I try to find at least three good things about every book, mainly because I know how hard it is to write.
    Thankfully, there aren’t many books that I don’t finish. And honestly, I don’t review everything that I read. Some books I read to review, and some books I read just for me. I don’t just review books that I like, but I read a lot of books that I would never review.
    Getting ARCs is hard, becaue then I sometimes feel obligated to review that book. But one thing that we make clear, just like you guys do, is that just because an ARC is sent does not guarantee a “good” review.
    I think you guys do a fabulous job, I love your format, and I appreciate your honesty. Keep up the good work!

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  82. Jaci Burton
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 08:45:02

    I’m an author but I’m also first and foremost a reader. And my reading time, because of strict deadlines, is severely limited. I often have DNF books. I tried to read a very popular paranormal that was released a couple months ago that’s flying off the shelves, and I couldn’t get past the first 80 pages. I tried to like it. I really did, but I couldn’t finish the book. It annoyed me for many different reasons. I have way too many books to read to force myself to finish a book I know is going to annoy me through every page. It just happens for various reasons and I don’t think anyone should apologize or feel bad for not finishing a book. What many readers love, some won’t for one reason or another.

    I respect the Dear Author group and come here daily to read reviews, because you never use snark for entertainment value, you’re always respectful to the author, and even when you dislike a book, you always look for something of value in the story and never fail to mention what you liked as well as what you disliked. Your reviews read as if you wanted to like the book, even when you didn’t. I never sense that any of you take any glee or satisfaction in a negative review, but rather disappointment that a read didn’t turn out well for you. As a reader, I know that feeling of disappointment. As an author (and we know how sensitive we all are ;-) ) I really appreciate that.

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  83. Amie Stuart
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 09:07:16

    Count me in with having more DNF’s than usual last year. Like Shiloh, if I’m bored I’m not going to finish a book, and nine times out of ten the book is just meh so I put it down and can’t be bothered to pick it back up. The tenth time is usually writing that doesn’t work for me for some reason. No you shoulnd’t have to finish a book, and typically I seem to give a book about 50 pages (this isn’t a hard and fast rule it’s just how it works out) before I walk away.

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  84. Janine
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 09:32:22

    [quote comment="21223"]And in another area – I’ve never accepted books for review even though I’ve been approached a couple of times. First off – when asked, I feel an obligation to read it. And I’m much more of a ‘where the wind takes me’ kind of reader. As soon as I feel I have to review a book, that takes the wind right out of my reading sails. And then there’s the fact that I would think because I was getting it for freee – I’m almost obligated to like it. And I don’t like that pressure either.[/quote]

    I don’t feel that kind of obligation because I think even the reviewers at major publications, such as New York Times Book Review, don’t review every book they get an ARC of, or write positive reviews because they didn’t have to pay for the book.

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  85. Jane
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 09:40:47

    When I first started getting ARCs from publishers, I did feel like a) I had to review them all and b) if I didn’t like them, I felt terrible. Then bookseller friend, who gets about 5 times the arcs that I get, told me that publishers don’t expect positive reviews. They are just hopeful. They also don’t expect every book to be read. I figured she would know and that’s when we crafted some kind of submission policy so that everyone knows what the deal is here.

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  86. Janine
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 10:29:53

    [quote comment="21228"]If you are a serious reivewer you have the responsibity to finish the book. If you can’t tough it out, you should hand it over to a reviewer who can finish it. A book consists of a beginning, a middle and a conclusion. You are doing a disservice to the author and the reader if you can’t complete it. A DNF is not a review. It only means that you couldn’t be bothered to read from the beginning to the end.[/quote]

    Riley, I well understand this viewpoint and have given it some thought. Maybe the truth of the situation is that I’m not what you consider a serious reviewer. Yes, I’m getting free ARCs but I’m not being financially compensated for my time, and my time is more valuable to me than the cost of a book. Even as it is, it’s not easy for me to find the time to write for Dear Author. My compensation is the enjoyment I get out of reading and blogging, and when I reach the point of not enjoying it, I will stop doing it. If that makes me something other than a serious reviewer, so be it.

    As I have explained, forcing myself to a book I don’t want to read more of will only make me like it less, and make it difficult to judge the book fairly. And as Jane has said, we have a small enough staff that passing the book to someone else who will want to read it isn’t practical. That being the case, what you suggest isn’t really an option. So yes, by your standards I’m not a serious reviewer. But I never claimed to be one.

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  87. Janine
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 10:53:58

    dee and Jaci Burton, thanks for your kind words.

    And everyone, thank you for weighing in on this issue. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

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  88. Charity
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 11:08:47

    So yes, by your standards I’m not a serious reviewer. But I never claimed to be one.

    Janine,

    I’m not a serious reviewer by those standards either. Nor, have I ever claimed to be or want to be. The thing is, even though dee and I are starting to get books sent to us, we make it clear we’ll be honest about what we though but never cruel. But the number of books we are getting isn’t huge, and we buy most of the books we review. Still, I have a few I bought in October last year that I haven’t read past the first few pages because I *cannot* make myself. I got as far as page 4 on one and gave up. I still may pick it up again someday if I have nothing else to read.

    I’m just a TDB to waste my time on reading books that I can’t dig. Okay, that’s not entirely true, I’ve read some stinkers, but the ones that I have to force myself to read? Aint gonna happen.

    I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be a “serious reviewer”, but that isn’t going to stop me from posting my opinions on the books I read. Read it or not, it will be there. As far as the DNF, the ones I have, I haven’t even read enough to tell you what the heck they are about, or I would probably post about them, too. The way your readers get to know if they want to take your advice about a book being good is if they see what kinds of books you didn’t like, JMO, of course, not worth much.

    I’m still working on my take on the whole genre thing, see busy!

    You guys are great, and I love reading your reviews. Keep it up!

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  89. ag
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 11:33:14

    I used to try to finish every single book, but sometimes I just couldn’t bring myself to continue. It’s a ‘me’ issue — sometimes it’s the plot premise, or the timing of my reading.

    Case in point: The Princess Bride and The Lord of the Rings. I think the timing was all wrong when I picked up those books, so when I reread them, I made it a point to give it due attention and justice. And it worked.

    That said, it’d be interesting to find out why a reader DNF a book. As DC so rightly put it, we all know the opinions are subjective.

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  90. Patrice Michelle
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 16:43:11

    I’m with several of you on the “too many books too little time” issue. I used to finish every single book I started. I guess I felt I had to, but now with deadlines and life in general limiting my reading time I have several DNF books in my reading stack…as well as many books still to be read. LOL!

    I agree with Jaci about the reviews on Dear Author. I check by everyday to read reviews, catch up on news and follow and/or participate in interesting discussions. When books have been given lower ratings and even when they’ve been given glowing ones, the reviewer usually spells out what didn’t work as well as the positive aspects of the story. To me, that’s a balanced, honest review.

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  91. Suisan
    Jan 25, 2007 @ 15:05:43

    Sigh.

    I can just tell that this is going to be a long comment. Hang in there; I have a point, I swear.

    I write on my blog about things I react to. My posts are my reactions. Sometimes, in order to get everyone on the same page, I have to give a plot summary, a character synopsis, and an example of what struck me about the book. THEN I can talk about my reaction to the book (or movie, or political discussion, or horse). Taken as a whole, when writing about books, the thing looks like a review. But I don’t think it really is.

    To make my point, I need to give an example. (See how this works?) I tried to read Anne Stuart’s Prince of Magic, and it was a DNF. But I never blogged about it because I had absolutely no reaction to the experience of reading it. I could see its technical merits, and all that, but I neither loved nor hated nor was bored by the book. There’s nothing there to write about. (At this point, if I had the job of reviewing a book, I could have continued reading, pulled out my literary criticism hat, and written an objective commentary and analysi. But I didn’t.)

    A few months ago, I pulled the book out again and read it in one sitting. This time it engaged me, and I would have had more to say about it in a post. However, I never wrote about it on my blog, because really, there wasn’t much there which struck ME as new, unique, interesting (or on the other hand, derivative, corny, or oddly plotted). I started putting something together about it, because I thought I should, but it never jelled.

    So, yeah, it was a DNF, but it wasn’t either a positive or negative DNF. I wrote enough papers about literatoor as an undergrad that I’ve lost the interest in doing that exercise. So I didn’t review it, but neither do I feel any conflict about not doing so.

    Another DNF was Isabelle Allende’s Zorro, which I was very disappointed not to have finished. I wasn’t angry at the book, and I don’t think I snarked on it, but I was struck by my own disappointment in the experience of trying to finish it, that I blogged about the book.

    A “professional reviewer” is to some extent obligated to deliver the goods. Some reviews are passionate and wonderful to read, but there are others which just sit on the page. All of that’s fine. However, I see blogging as a completely different enterprise with a different audience and intent.

    We are trying to learn what other reader’s reactions are to the books. Perhaps we will try to duplicate that reaction by reading a book someone raved about, or perhaps we are intrigued to sample some aspect of a book which did not work for the blogger which could very well appeal to us, the readers of the blog.

    So much of the “upset” about reviewing books on the internet by bloggers comes, I think, from not recognizing that all of the blog posts are in some way reactions. Personal reactions to a personal experience.

    So, to sum up (good grief, woman!) my rule is that if it’s your blog, you can do or say what you will. Others can and will react as they will. (Wait. Didn’t Sybil say that like 3 days ago using many less words?)

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  92. Tia Nevitt
    Jan 26, 2007 @ 05:22:25

    It’s funny how tastes change. I recently found a book that I loved twenty years ago and bought it with the hope of revisiting an old friend. I got over halfway through the book and encountered a plot twist that I had forgotten about . . . and that I hated. I thought it was silly and contrived. I put the book down and never picked it up again.

    I never force myself to finish a book that I have no interest in. But it does not mean that the book is worse than an F. It is a matter of taste. When I was a girl, I loved this book enough to read it to tatters. Now, I can’t be bothered to finish it. I would still give it a B in light of my former feelings for it.

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  93. Dear Author.Com | Kink by Saskia Walker and Sasha White
    Feb 01, 2007 @ 16:17:57

    [...] flipped to Sasha’s story. I came back, though to finish it, about the time we were having the DNF dilemna and I couldn’t make it past the fifth chapter and rather than forcing myself, I gave [...]

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