Should We Judge Books by Their Marketing Campaigns?

Marketing teams play a crucial role when the time comes to promote a book. It would be very difficult for authors, particularly lesser known ones, to advertise their books without their help. They outline a plan to get books on the radar of potential readers using various platforms. But can their efforts occasionally be counterproductive? What if the marketing campaign for a book creates unfair expectations?

Publishers tend to emphasise the characteristics of a book that they believe will lead to sell the greatest number of copies possible. In order to entice readers, marketeers may try to highlight elements of a book that are not necessarily the main focus of the story or slightly tweak the premise of the book to fit in with current trends. This is occasionally obvious from press releases, the digital marketing strategy, and the blurbs of the books.

When The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker was initially released, the marketing campaign seemed to focus on how it was a feminist Ancient Greek myth retelling. It was supposed to give a voice to the women involved in the Trojan War. At the time, many readers were disappointed to discover that the book not only focuses on Briseis point of view, but it also presents the perspectives of Achilles and Patroclus. Pat Barker’s purpose was, in my opinion, to establish a contrast between how the men and the enslaved women were allowed to grieve. Unsurprisingly, women had to do so inconspicuously, hence the title of the novel. Continue reading

Advertisement

Why I Write Negative Book Reviews

Reading a book is a subjective experience. More often than not, it’s possible for readers to interpret the personalities of the characters, the descriptions and even the overall message of the book in different ways. When we pick up a book, we also have unique expectations, which tend to mirror what we enjoy in a story. For all of these and many other reasons, it’s impossible for a book to be universally loved. Some bloggers choose to only write reviews about the books that they enjoyed. I, on the other hand, don’t have any qualms about writing negative reviews.

I’m sure that it is distressing for an author to read a negative review about a book that is the result of months, if not years, of intense work. I don’t write reviews for the authors of the books, however. I envisage the audience of my blog (that is to say, the small number of lovely people who read my musings) to consist of other readers who want to not only know more about certain books, but also share opinions on them. Thus, I don’t tag the authors of the books on my reviews. I only imagine doing so if a book is a 5-star read, as these are the only faultless books to me.

I rate the vast majority of the books that I enjoyed and think are worthy of reading with four stars, though. For that reason, in most of my reviews, I mention at least one small element that I thought was not perfectly accomplished. As long as the book is not a 5-star read, I always remark on what I liked and didn’t like about it. But other readers may not have a problem with what I didn’t like about a book. For example, books that mostly consist of snippets, save for rare exceptions, don’t tend to work for me. If this is something that other readers enjoy, they may still decide to pick up a book I didn’t like after reading my review. Continue reading

How I Review Books

Reviewing books can be a daunting experience. Deciding what to discuss is not always simple. And to make matters worse there isn’t a single way to achieve a decent review, each blogger has their own personal approach to it. I find very useful to take notes of my immediate thoughts while reading, either on a notebook or on my phone, so when the time comes to draft the review I mainly just have to put my scribbles together in a coherent and understandable manner.

I always start by mentioning the star rating. I see it as a way of condensing in a number my feelings about a book. Despite not awarding half ratings, I don’t like all the books that I give the same star rating to equally. It’s only by reading the review that you can understand my different levels of enjoyment. 4-star books, for example, could almost have been either 3-star or 5-star reads. It’s the subsequent review that fully explains my opinions on a book.

In regard to my reviews of novels, they usually respect a four-part structure. In the introductory paragraph, I mention what struck me the most about the book. That can be its overall message, a general idea about the plot, the fundamental point made by the author, my feelings about it compared to my expectations, the contrast with other books by the same author or a more specific feature (such as a character, the writing style, the structure chosen by the author, etc). Continue reading

Thoughts on Books in Translation

Which was the first book I’ve ever read in translation? In all honesty, I haven’t the faintest idea! Reading translated books is something really common in Portugal, and I have been doing so since childhood. Thus, it is always with particular interest that I follow, usually from the sidelines, the aspiration of some bloggers from English-speaking countries to read more books by authors whose first language is not English. Since I have stopped reading translations from books originally written in English in favour of reading them in the original, the number of books in translation that I read decreased considerably, though, revealing the Anglo-centric tendencies of my reading.

Reading books by authors from different countries to ours allows us to improve our understanding of the world we live in. It helps us to better comprehend other people and cultures, while being introduced to the diverse realities and problems they face. Moreover, it also gives us the opportunity to fictionally travel to locations all over the world. Obviously, authors can write stories set in countries different from the ones they live in. But, although a variety of perspectives is always welcomed, the inhabitants of a country tend to have a more in-depth perception of the place they live in.

As I know both Portuguese and English, I can read books by authors from various countries in the original. That is a fantastic alternative to read in translation! (I hugely admire people who confidently speak more than two languages.) Language and culture are closely connected in my opinion, so it’s even more enlightening to read books in the original. Currently, I read Portuguese language editions of books originally written not only in Portuguese but also in Spanish, Italian and French, since all of them are Romance languages and share similarities. All the other books I tend to read in English, also taking advantage of them being cheaper.  Continue reading

Complaints about Books that I Disagree with

The definition of a great book is not the same for every reader. In the same way, what we dislike in a book may also vary massively. And that is completely fine! Literature is not a scientific discipline after all. A variety of opinions are acceptable, since fiction leaves room for interpretation and personal judgment. Thus, there are complaints about books that I obviously don’t agree with. When I’m reading reviews, some negative opinions don’t curb my desire to read a certain book, because for me they are not a problem.

There are four main complaints that I currently disagree with.

 

Clues to the ending since the beginning

In my opinion, whenever there is a mystery to be solved, it should be presented in a way that we look back and see that the answer was there all along. Revealing something that has never been hinted at just for shock value is not that good writing. I like to reassess the story and realise that everything makes perfect sense since the beginning. Things shouldn’t happen out of nowhere. It’s fantastic when I only manage to put the pieces of the puzzle together at the very end. However, I prefer not being surprised and figuring out the mystery beforehand than not being able to understand the reason behind a revelation. Continue reading

Bookish Snobbery and Literary Fiction

I consider myself to be quite an eclectic reader when it comes to book genres. What I look for in a book is competent writing, engaging prose, remarkable characters, and an interesting plot. These elements can be found in a variety of genres. However, some authors and readers seem to put literary fiction on a pedestal and disregard genre fiction. That for me reveals a high level of snobbery. I’m not trying to say that readers should like every single book genre there is, that is virtually impossible. But there is a huge difference between not to enjoy reading a specific genre and considering that all books from that genre are worthless.

When I say that I don’t like a certain genre, it is a matter of personal taste and not of quality. For example, nowadays, I almost never read Young Adult novels, because I tend not to enjoy reading books whose main characters are teenagers, particularly when they are younger than 17 years old (Harry Potter being one of the few exceptions). Nevertheless, I recognise that they can be extremely enjoyable for a lot of people and that they can even convey critical messages.

Personally, I appreciate both literary fiction and a variety of genre fiction (fantasy, dystopian, mystery…), because, as Jessie Burton put it on Twitter, “my favourite genre is a Book with Incredible Prose That Stops You with Astonishment, Characters You Think Might Walk Through The Door and Story that Makes You Miss Your Train”. Such books can be branded as both literary fiction and genre fiction. Continue reading

Bookish Talk

Since starting my book blog, I’ve been paying more attention to the different ways in which books are published and their prices both in Portugal (where I live) and the UK, and have some random thoughts to share. Don’t expect to read a well-thought-out essay, though. This is more of a collection of musings about my personal experience as a book buyer, since I have no real inside knowledge about how the publishing industry really works in either of the countries.

When I first started buying books from online UK sellers, more or less six years ago, I didn’t immediately realise that new books are usually first released in hardback and only sometime after a paperback edition is made available. As I much prefer paperbacks, I just instantly chose those editions. From my now limited understanding, books are released in hardback first because they are sold at higher prices and generate more profit per unit. Only when hardback sales start to wane is a paperback edition released.

In Portugal, books are not published in this way. From visiting bookshops, I believe that the vast majority of books are only published in paperback, irrespective of being new releases or not (don’t quote me on this though, since I have no actual numbers to provide that confirm my perception). The dimensions and paper quality of paperback books available in Portuguese bookshops are varied, some have French flaps, others don’t. Continue reading

A Discussion on Book Ratings

Rating books can be a challenging undertaking. First, we have to decide on which rating system to use and whether to give half stars or not, for example. Then comes what it may be the most complicated part: to rate specific books, mainly ones that we may have contradictory feelings about. Although I always know when a book is a 5-star read, I sometimes struggle to decide whether to rate a book with 3 or 4 stars.

But how important is it to rate books really? In my personal opinion, I see the rating as a complement to the review. By itself the rating doesn’t say much, besides being an attempt to summarise via a number my views on a given book. One of the decisions I made when I started this blog was not to give half stars, although in my head I know when a book is on the verge of the given rating and I try to convey that sentiment in the review. So, to better understand why I decided in favour of a 3 or a 4 star, for instance, it’s important to read the review (which I always try to keep spoiler-free).

The rating system I use is loosely based on the Portuguese school grading from year 5 to year 9, when 5, 4 and 3 are pass marks and 1 and 2 are fail marks. Thus, when I rate a book with 5 stars it means that I loved it. I completely enjoyed reading it and there is nothing I would change about it. I’ve previously written a more detailed post about my views on what makes a book a 5-star read, so I won’t go into details. When I just liked a book, I rate it with 4 stars. This means I consider it a good book overall, although I would change some small things or would have liked if some elements had been more developed. A 3-star book is merely satisfactory. While reading it, I identified both good and bad elements more or less in the same measure, and I usually understand why some people may like it much more than I did. Continue reading

Rereading: Yes or No?

To reread or not to reread? That’s the question which has been on my mind lately. I don’t remember rereading a book since my childhood, when I could read a story beautifully illustrated two times in a row. As time went by, I completely lost that habit. I don’t even remember rereading any of the Harry Potter books in my youth as many people seem to have done.

One of the reasons why I don’t reread is that there are so many books on my wish list which I’ve never read that I feel that I would be ‘wasting’ my time by reading stories I already know, instead of discovering new characters and worlds. I’m also afraid to reread books I loved, since I may not like them as much as before, and that feeling we get when we discover a new gem may disappear. I just sometimes pick up some of my favourite books to only reread a few lines at random.

However, lately I’ve been thinking about rereading some books I first read a long time ago and that I remember enjoying, but that I’ve completely forgotten what the plot is about or what the characters are like. Some weeks ago, while rearranging my shelves, I stumbled upon some of those books:  The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa, City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende and The New Life by Orhan Pamuk. Continue reading

On Adaptations: Are the Books Always Better?

Whenever a new film or TV adaptation is announced, it isn’t difficult to find someone saying that the books are always better. That is a statement that I’ve never agreed with. The vast majority of the adaptations that I’ve watched, I enjoyed as much as the books. Some I even liked more than the books. Although it’s true that I believe that some adaptations may not do a book justice, this is far from the rule for me.

I really struggle to claim that a book is better than its adaptation, or vice versa, mainly because I would be comparing two completely different forms of entertainment, which require different ways of storytelling. What works fantastically on page may not work on screen. I tend to compare the enjoyment I had when reading the book or watching the film or TV adaptation instead of saying one is better than the other. The fact that I liked reading about a story more than watching it on screen doesn’t automatically make the adaptation a bad one.

However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad adaptations. If the adaptation completely misrepresents the feelings, the tone or the entire plot of the story to the point that it stops making sense, then it is not only a bad adaptation, but also a bad film or TV show. I don’t expect all the plot points to be presented on screen in the exactly same way in which they were written. I don’t mind changes in adaptations at all, as long as they make sense in the context of the story being told, or they result in a more compelling story on screen. Continue reading