Discussion: Critical Reading: does it ruin reading?

Writing reviews about books requires me to think harder about why I like or didn’t like a book. I need to get my words out on paper and in a way have transfer my feelings to you, my readers. Often this is just really hard to do and might change my opinion on the book.

I have never been trained or teached how to read critically, except for maybe those Dutch and English literature classes in high school, but I can’t say I’ve learned much from them. So now that I’ve started writing more and more reviews, I am more required to think about why I think certain things. I need to argue why I love something, or hate something. My opinions can’t just be opinions anymore, they need to be grounded.

This is especially hard when I read books that I think are highly enjoyable, but not that good in quality. When I read a book I enjoy a whole lot, like: I could read it until 3 am and still not fall asleep, does it matter that the character development isn’t perfect? Or that the worldbuilding isn’t highly original? I rate most of the books I read mostly on enjoyment, how much I enjoyed reading the book. So when I read a book I enjoy reading so much and look back on it, I start thinking: why did I love it? When I then look back I think, it was fun, but: was there diversity? Maybe not. Was there a great tension span? Maybe not. So was it then good? Or was it not good?

This way of thinking always leads me to like the book less than I liked it while reading it. This usually happen when I am writing the review itself. I always start with thinking how much I would rate the book, then I start writing all of my reasons, and when I reach the conclusion and look back at what I wrote, my opinion has shifted. When I suddenly realize I wrote more bad things than good things about the book, I tend to lower the rating.Β 

To what extent is enjoyment important compared to the quality of a book? You would say both are important, but as someone who is reading the book, you can’t really distinguish your opinions. Should you then, when you’re writing your review, rate both separately? Or is that too much? I tend to be more on the “enjoyment” side of things, if I really enjoy a book, then I have a higher rating, partly because I think it was fun so why not give it a high rating, and partly because I hope others will read it as well.

Being critical in reading also changes my experience of reading itself, I get more critical about small things, and I enjoy some books a lot less than I might have if I weren’t so critical. And I am really wondering whether that is a bad thing or a good thing. On the one hand, IΒ did enjoy the book less, but on the other hand, it means I value books that are really good more. I am more critical about characters, development, diversity and things like that, things that are really important to me.

I am basically writing this because I don’t know the answer to this question, so maybe you do. Maybe it’s just that I need to be more critical about the books I choose to read, or maybe I should just forget about the minor things that make it less enjoyable to read. It’s a bit like pretty much everything you do, once you’ve done it so many times, you get more critical about the little things, you want the level to be higher.Β Like: the more I draw, the better I want it to be to be considered good enough.

What do you think? Is it a good thing that I am (you are?) more critical when reading, or is enjoyment more important? Do you experience that when you’re writing a review, you’re more critical about the book, then when you wouldn’t write a review?

38 thoughts on “Discussion: Critical Reading: does it ruin reading?

  1. Excellent post! I think, like most things, balance is the key. I tend to go into my reading just for the enjoyment of it, but then as I continue into the story, I start to pick out things to be critical about (using the word “critical” here in not necessarily a negative way, either). I think it’s important to be critical of what we read because it means we are thinking and not blindly accepting everything we consume. But if it starts to deter from enjoyment, that can be a problem. So I think balance is key.

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  2. I think it’s fine to rate a book highly simply for your enjoyment – after all, people read your reviews to find out what you think! Also, I think if you include a diversity rating or something similar (like you do), then that also indicates the other merits a book has to someone reading your review!

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    1. Good point! I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes, a review can definitely clarify your opinions and not everything has to be reflected in the rating.

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  3. Honestly, this for me always depends on the book, but above all I rate based on enjoyment. Although I sometimes rate more critically when I don’t like a book. I hate to go into technicalities when I love a book and I just want to shove said book in everyone’s face just so they will read it.

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  4. I think rating something for enjoyment is a lot more important that rating something based on its writing merits or other aspects, especially when you’re only writing reviews for your blog or for fun. Maybe if you or I were the reviewers for the New York Times or something I’d have a different opinion, but to me, if you’re only writing reviews because you enjoy it, why not also rate the books you’re reading on how much fun you had? I do think it’s still a good idea to mention in your review if you thought the writing or character development or diversity could have been better, because those things are important, but overall, I think rating something based on how much you liked it is probably the way to go. Otherwise, we’d all only be recommending literary masterpieces with flawless writing to each other, like Moby Dick, rather than something that’s a little less boring.

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    1. True! This is just for fun after all, and I’m not a professional. Though, I still think that if the rating represents only my enjoyment of the book, it’s not really a representation of how well the book was in its entirely. It’s hard to balance and distinguish this, but I think you made a good point, we don’t want only flawless books.

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  5. This is really interesting because I was planning to do a discussion post on this but focused more on how school teaches us to read books. I personally end up liking books more when I think about it critically if it was a pleasure book. There aren’t certain criteria I have for rating, mine is usually based on my enjoyment. So if I think a book is a 4 stars, I’ll think why is this four stars and talk about that. Since most of the books I read aren’t complex literature, I don’t usually bother myself on if it is a “good” book in an objective sense. If I enjoyed it and would recommend it to someone else, and if I learned something from it (it can be anything even if it’s small!) then I count it as a good book.

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    1. That’s good! Rating based on enjoyment seems like the way to go, but I guess it’s quite hard for me to only judge based on that. I will take other things into account as well, but enjoyment will be the major factor!

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  6. This was a great discussion! And I can totally relate to this!

    Whenever I read a book for review, I’m very critical and I tend to notice the smallest things that don’t sit right with me! But if it’s a book that I read purely for enjoyment and which I don’t plan to review, my opinion of it is automatically a lot better!

    And I guess reading critically does ruin reading books for me (at least some of them) because I just overanalyse a lot of things! I really need to find a way to change that πŸ˜€

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    1. Thank you! I get that too! I often don’t review books that are not ARCs and it always feels a bit liberating because I can simply read the book and not be bothered about the small things. Overanalyzing is not a good thing.. I hope you’ll get to change that πŸ™‚

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    1. I get more picky as well! I don’t just read any random book anymore, and am more picky with which books I pick up and which I don’t. Writing reviews has definitely changed that for me!

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  7. I totally agree! Even though I haven’t reviewed that many books, my eye has caught many little things that I feel could be stronger, or things that I feel irked by. I read most of my books for enjoyment (for now XD ) and yet I still catch little things as if I’m reviewing it. XD

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    1. With books I read for enjoyment it is less, but when I read books for review, I’m always keeping track of the things I like and not like about it. I start writing reviews in my head and it slightly bugs me because I am way more annoyed by the little things.

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  8. This post perfectly represents me while writing a review! So many times I just end up rating it three stars, but when I was reading it I loved it. My opinion shifts so easily, honestly. I try to balance both of the sides, but I think I overall try to rate it by how much I enjoyed it.

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  9. There have been times where I have found myself to be more critical of what I read, I can still read for enjoyment and be critical at the same time. I learned how to read critically all through both high school and college.

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  10. I like reviewing books too but when it comes to critical reading, I don’t think it ruins my enjoyment of reading novels because I enjoy reading the book and still critic it while ot ruining reading. It just something I notice everytime I read a book.

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  11. Enjoyment seems like a great way to rate something. I really dislike rating books based on writing style, because what I might like, another might hate or the other way around. When someone says a book is ‘well written’, I wish they’d tell me what they’re specifically talking about, otherwise it’s such a blanket statement.
    For some books, I go into them knowing that no matter how trope-y they are, I’ll enjoy reading them, and that should reflect in the rating, but it’s a real struggle when you try and hold books up to different standards ;A;
    I think this post summarises a lot of the issues with reading to review. When I didn’t have a blog, I surely wouldn’t have read certain books the way I did, and it’s mostly due to having access to other reader’s opinions that I find out if a book has bad rep or something like that. And, although it was definitely a simpler time for reading when I wasn’t a reviewer, I don’t think I’d want to go back! My reading has changed as I’ve got older, and I guess that’s something I just have to be okay with, otherwise I’ll never pick up another book again! – Maddie x

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    1. I don’t really judge based on writing style, because I agree, it’s a vague thing and I don’t even really know how I would judge a writing style. I just know when I don’t like it.
      Yes, reading before being a reviewer was also very different for me, but I wouldn’t go back either! I’ve been more critical in ways but also less..? But my change in reading habbits have overall been for the better! Thanks for commenting!

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  12. *stands and applauds* what a great discussion! I have the same problem – whether to rate books based on enjoyment or quality of the book. I usually am a little biased about enjoyment – when I enjoy a book a lot, I usually rate it a little higher even if the quality isn’t too good (eg Sarah J Maas books and Colleen Hoover books). However, while writing reviews, even though I mention that I enjoyed it a lot, I always bring up the critical points. I always mention all the problems but if I give it a higher rating, I also mention that it’s solely based on enjoyment. I think it’s important to recognize the problems of a book and acknowledge them, even if you enjoyed the overall story.

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    1. *makes a bow* thank you! Bringing up the critical points is very important, even though you enjoyed it a lot! That is one of the things that bug me sometimes, that people just neglect the bad things when they love a book. It can give such a crooked view of a book and I don’t think that’s entirely honest.

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  13. I actually just talked a bit about this in my post about how blogging has changed my reading. I noticed I’ve become so much more critical of what I am reading. I think there is a balance, I just haven’t really found that balance yet. I think it’s important for YOU to enjoy a book while reading, but if you are going to review it you kind of HAVE to be critical. Enjoyment is subjective, so you have to analyze the book more for those who are going to read your review. Being more critical, for me, has kind of hindered my love of reading, though. So, for now, I’m just trying to enjoy reading again – which will probably have an effect on my reviews for a temporary time. Hopefully I find that balance soon!

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have an answer haha but lovely discussion!

    Molly @ Molly’s Book Nook

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    1. I’m also still looking for that balance! Yes, being critical is important but it becomes a shore when it’s making you enjoy the book less. I don’t have the answer either, but thanks! And thanks for the comment!

      Like

  14. I’ve found that since I started blogging and reviewing books I’ve become a lot more critical. I used to just read a book and that would be that. Now though, I take notes when reading and try to keep my eye out for problematic issues. I do feel like this has a negative impact on my reading though. It seems to make me enjoy books less. I’m not sure it’s an entirely bad thing though, but I am trying to be less critical of books!

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  15. I am trying to be more critical! Almost every time I write a review, I find myself stuck at one point or another, trying to reflect and recall different parts of the story. I am trying to remember parts. Trying to put into words what it was I felt while reading. I think I am more focused on discussing how I felt while reading than I am in making a case for why the book was good/bad. I am trying to make a point to combine my emotional responses to different books with a more critical eye.

    Then, on the other hand, I don’t want to keep my mind too much on the critical and lose interest in the book and the act of reading, itself. Keeping everything leveled is harder task than I think most realize!

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    1. Those are great strategies for being more critical! But I can see what you mean, reading does have to stay fun and I still don’t know whether being critical is ruining that for me or not.

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