Do You Try to Warn Readers Away From Books You Dislike?

March 17, 2023 Uncategorized 9


The next NY Times cultural criticism prompt that I’m writing a response to is “What Work of Art or Culture Would You Warn Others to Avoid?”. I may yet try to write a post that better answers that question, but I first wanted to chat about how hard I find it to come up with an answer. I very rarely think of myself as warning people away from a book, even one that I didn’t like. People’s tastes are so different, I can often easily imagine a reader liking a book for the same reasons I hated it.

The NY Times prompt I mentioned highlights some negative reviews that the authors clearly had fun writing. I might be doing it wrong, because I don’t often have fun writing a negative review! I don’t tend to write funny reviews. I don’t often find a book bad enough that I’d enjoy telling an exaggerated story about how bad it was. I’m also aware that authors might choose to read their reviews. Although I think of readers as my main audience, the visibility of my reviews to authors is part of why I write negative reviews with a more neutral tone.

I confess, there is one book that did come to mind when I read this question. It was a fanfic sequel to The Count of Monte Cristo and I could come up with no redeeming qualities. I threw the book out instead of donating it and subjecting someone else to it. That is how strongly I felt that other people should avoid this book. I thought it was poorly written; had an incoherent plot; and had nothing in common with The Count of Monte Cristo. In retrospect though, I can imaging someone liking it more than I did. It’s not entirely unlike books by Christopher Moore – somewhat vulgar, almost a parody of a classic work. I’ve forgotten the details of how well it was written though, so I’m not sure if my view now or right after reading is more accurate!

Looking back at a more recent read that I gave a 2 star review (The Ways We Hide), I can easily imagine someone liking the book for the same reasons I disliked it. I found the book too long and too melodramatic. But someone else might think “ooh, 500 pages of detailed historical fiction with high tension and lots of melodrama?! Sign me up”. They also might not be as bothered as I am by the fact that characters don’t talk through their problems. They might share my enjoyment of book about women with interesting careers. Both my positives and negatives could get someone to pick this up. This is something I really enjoy about sharing reviews with other readers.

Do you think of your negative reviews as an attempt to warn people away from a bad experience? Have you ever picked up a book because of a negative review?

9 Responses to “Do You Try to Warn Readers Away From Books You Dislike?”

  1. Helen Murdoch

    I don’t warn people away from books (or movies) since, as you say, we all have different tastes and expectations from all forms of art.

    • DoingDewey

      I feel the same way! I hadn’t realized it until I tried to think of the last thing I’d wanted to warn people away from, but that’s not really my goal with any of my reviews 🙂

  2. trav

    I’ll always leave 1 and 2 star reviews on the platforms (LibraryThing, GoodReads, etc.) but I only write reviews for books I want to share, discuss, or encourage others to read. There are so many wonderful books that people miss that I want to share and get people to read! It helps me stay positive with the added benefit of cutting down on the number of reviews I feel compelled to write. So that’s nice too. Now, if someone ASKS for my opinion on a read that’s worthy of only 1/2 a star… that is always a whole other (and much longer) story. Life is too short for bad books!

    • DoingDewey

      I don’t get extra fun out of writing negative reviews, but I don’t mind it either. I think that’s because almost all of my books are ones that I want to discuss! I definitely think it makes sense to write what you enjoy though and it’s nice that you will let people know you didn’t like a book if they ask about.

  3. Liz Dexter

    If I really dislike something and it’s for good reason (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) then if I read it through, which is rare, I will say why, and if I don’t, I will mention it. I will personally warn friends off things when I know they won’t like them for whatever reason, though!

    • DoingDewey

      Those are both really good points! I do think of highlighting racism, sexism, etc as warning people, so they can at least decide if they’d like to avoid something or avoid supporting the creator. And I’m also more likely to warn friends away from something, once I have an idea of what they’re likely to enjoy or not.

  4. Jen at Introverted Reader

    I write reviews for books I don’t care for but I try to be balanced and point out who might like it more than I did, as you said. I don’t know how well I succeed, but I do try.

    One book did immediately come to mind as one I would steer others away from though. I won’t name it here, but it was a young adult paranormal romance (NOT Twilight, because I know that’s what almost anyone would assume). The male romantic lead, who was a “bad boy,” had a habit of slamming the girl into walls and pinning her on mattresses. That’s abuse, not romance. I didn’t go on a rant in my review, but I did say what I thought. I might have been more vague if it had been written for adults, but I truly hated that it was marketed for impressionable teens.

    Great question!

    • DoingDewey

      Oh, that’s another good point I hadn’t thought about! Especially reading in the YA or younger range, I would probably be a little more careful about warning people about things like abusive relationships that are portrayed as romantic.

  5. Lory @ Entering the Enchanted Castle

    Interesting question. I try to be honest about my reactions when writing reviews, and back up any negative ones with evidence, but I know such reactions are often colored by my personal experiences or preferences. I don’t consider it my job to stop people from reading anything; their experience might be quite different from mine. I suppose there have been a few books I would warn people away from because they are really unpleasant, or misleading, or exploitative. But even then, I can only say what I think and let others form their own judgment. There may be reasons to read such material, if only to be aware of what is out there.

    I have discouraged my son from reading a few books until he was older. Some books have been spoiled for me or caused me discomfort because I read them too young, or I was not ready for their content. But if you are relatively mature and healthy, I think you should be able to read anything and make up your own mind.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.