Do you write negative reviews? The TLT RA philosophy
The other day I walked into work and two of my co-workers told me they were reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children because they had read Cuyler’s review of it here. Sometimes it is jarring to see your work life and your, well, other work life intersect. To be honest, it is nice to know my co-workers read TLT and it is also nice to know that what you are doing makes a difference and that people are reading and discussing the information you are putting out into the universe. The universe is sometimes a silent partner in the blogging world.
If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I put tremendous value on the importance of communication. Because I believe in it, I put out a weekly communication to my co-workers called Monday Musings. Sometimes it even appears on a Monday. I’m not gonna lie, it has been late. The last part of my musings always involves what I call the Teen Title of the Week. Here I review a book that is owned in our collection and offer similar read-alikes that fans of the title may like. I believe that staff are empowered with information. And, as we all know, I think everyone should read the occasional YA title. My goal is that all staff will become familiar with the teen collection and be able to have positive interactions with teens because I can’t be there 24/7.
And I am telling you all this why? The other day a friend at work asked me about the blog and commented on the fact that I didn’t seem to give negative reviews. I actually have spent some time over the years thinking about negative reviews and, well, this is what I think about them . . .
A good book is a good book
To be honest, a lot of the books I have been reading lately have been really good, satisfying reads. I genuinely believe that the quality of YA literature has improved over the years and even those books that set out to make a point do so while still telling a good, well written story. There are always exceptions, but this is definitely a great time in ya lit.
My two sets of glasses
Otherwise known as, at the end of the day – I am not a teen
For me, as a librarian, I have to separate my personal opinion from my professional opinion on collection development and reader’s advisory. When I read a book I read it with two sets of glasses on: the personal and the professional. Even if I love a book I always sit back and ask myself one important question: will teens love it and why? If I want to be successful at my job, getting teens to read, then I need to make sure I am getting them the books they want. As a reviewer I can’t help but reflect parts of myself in the review, but in the end I also have to make sure and answer the question we all want to know: should we buy it? As a VOYA reviewer and reader, I have always put tremendous value in their review system, the way they acknowledge the difference between quality and popularity. The two do not always go hand in hand. And as a person who constantly has to defend their love of zombie fiction, I begrudge no one their right to read the things that interest them.
What’s Your Message?
At the end of the day, the idea of telling someone not to read a book is just counter-intuitive to my life’s goals. I am not the person who is going to shove a rotten gallon of milk in your face and say, “This tastes horrible, try it.” Never has made sense to me.
But in terms of doing collection development and RA – which is what I view this blog as being – it doesn’t seem beneficial. What I want is to introduce you to titles that I think you should purchase for your collections so that you can get your teens into the library and reading. None of us has lots of time, so what is the value in reading through a negative review so you can determine that nope, you are not going to buy that book.
My hope is that while reading TLT perhaps you will find a teen book you want to read and then share it with teens. Or maybe you will remember that I said if teens like book A then they will probably like book B and so a teen walks out with 2 books instead of 1. We could tell you, or our patrons at the circulation desk, how much we hate a book, but there is more value in being able to steer them towards books that we think they will like and helping them have satisfying library and reading experiences; this is how we build a happy customer base. In most cases I can tell you that I hate a book but that a certain type of patron would probably like it. For example, I hated the book (wouldn’t you like to know) with a red hot fiery passion of burning putrid hate, but I could totally see how older teen boys and young adult men would like it. So even though it was not the right book for me, I could sell it to the right type of patron. I was completely the wrong reader for this book – which is not the same thing as saying it was a bad book or badly written. That’s what RA is, matching the right reader with the right book and our personal opinion is not part of the equation.
Of course, we always tend to push the books we love the most. And at the end of the day that is probably why we don’t really write negative reviews: we love the books we love so much we need to share them and just don’t have time to talk about the books we hate. (Although, for the record, if I never read another love triangle again it will be too soon. In fact, I think there is more value in talking about elements of books that may trouble us or trends that disturb than taking the time to write a review of a book and telling you not to buy it. But that is the topic of another post.)
So, tell us – what is your book review philosophy? How do you handle RA with a book that you don’t like?
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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