Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Bookish Talk: Thinking about Reviewing, Recommending, and Consuming

Sometimes, I have something bookish to talk about, but it doesn't fit into a review or one of my regular memes. So I decided to start another series (because why not?): Bookish Talk. The beauty of Bookish Talk is that just about anything can fit into it. So here's my first entry ...

Thinking about Reviewing, Recommending, and Consuming

Earlier this year, I received a comment on one of my blog posts that was open to interpretation. The commenter either was thanking me for informing her (well, I assume it's a her) that a book she was interested in contained a sex scene, or she was calling me out for not condemning a book that contains a sex scene. (I read the comment one way; my sister read it the other way. After multiple re-reads, I think the actual intent is somewhere in the middle.)

The book in question, Unleashing Mr. Darcy, would be rated a mild PG-13 if it were a movie. (Well, technically it is a movie, but that PG-13 level content was removed for the TV movie version, and it's rated TV-G.) There are only two pieces of objectionable content: a smattering of very mild swear words and the scene in question, a two-page (or so) non-explicit but you still know what's going on scene that comes about 75% of the way into the book. I have read other "clean" romances that feel far more sensual than this book did because of the way the characters' thoughts are portrayed.

This person's comment made me stop and think about the purpose of this blog. My mission, if you will. (I'm not boiling it down to a concise mission statement because, well, when have you known me to be concise? 😉)

First and foremost, I want to share my thoughts on the books I read. I want to let you know about the books I've loved, the books I feel ambivalent about, and the books I hate. I want to have fun doing it (which is why I created the "Book or Movie" series that resulted in the aforementioned comment). I want to engage with other book lovers and spread the word about amazing books.

Even within the Christian book blogging community, we have different ideas of what's acceptable and what's not in a book. Some bloggers love "kissing books." Others think that any semi-detailed kissing is going too far. Some have no problem with characters having a drink, while others believe that alcohol should only be portrayed negatively. Some think every Christian book should have a clear presentation of the gospel, while others prefer a more subtle faith thread. And that's just in Christian fiction! When you step out into the general market world, it gets even trickier. How much profanity is too much? How much violence? How much sexual content? What about books that present a decidedly non-Christian worldview?

It's a question each reader must answer for himself/herself.

Some readers only consume explicitly Christian content. Others adopt an "anything goes" attitude. Most, including me, fall somewhere in the middle.

That's why I strive to be clear about any objectionable content in my reviews. My star ratings do reflect that content (that's why Julie Buxbaum's excellent Tell Me Three Things got 4-1/2 stars instead of 5, and it's why Finding Mr. Darcy got 4 stars instead of 4-1/2), but they're also highly subjective and highly personal. If I absolutely loved a book and find no fault with it, it gets 5 stars. If I absolutely hated it, it gets 1 star. Your reaction to a book might be wildly different than mine, but if you take a look at a handful of my reviews, you'll pretty quickly be able to tell what I like and what I don't, and I think I'm pretty consistent in my ratings.

As readers (and as consumers of all other types of entertainment), we need to be discerning. I know where my personal lines are—when content goes beyond entertainment and impacts my heart in a negative way. You know, too. I would never want you to read something that goes against your conscience because I gave it a thumbs up. But I'm also not going to give a thumbs down solely because the content may offend someone.

It's a fine line, and I may not always straddle it well, but I'm doing my best. Entertainment is one of those areas where I believe Christians have a lot of freedom. You may not agree with everything you read here, but I hope that you'll extend some grace.

I'd love to know—what do you look for in a review? Do reviews help you decide if you're going to read a book? Do you appreciate content warnings? 


  1. I thought you explained yourself beautifully! It is very difficult because reading preferences are soooo personal. I find I read both the 4-5 star rated reviews and also the 1 star. It gives me a nice balance and helps me to decide if I want to read the book if I'm on the fence. And yes, I absolutely do appreciate content warnings.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Susanne! I agree with you on the 1 star reviews--often I learn more about a book from a 1 or 2 star review than from a glowing one, and they definitely help with the "on the fence" books. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. "Even within the Christian book blogging community, we have different ideas of what's acceptable and what's not in a book."

    I totally agree. Tastes in books vary so greatly! As a book reviewer myself - I don't feel like its up to me to even warn about the content (I do if it is REALLY sexual, otherwise I don't). I figure people are smart enough to figure it out on their own. And I don't always read the cleanest books! I do try to stay clean-ish, but that is not always the case.

    If there is a book that I really really loved regardless of the sex in it I will say so. Something like - this was a bit more graphic sexually for me - but I still loved the book, just not those parts.

    I feel like I am reviewing the story - not rating it G, X, or in-between LOL.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I very rarely give content warnings when I'm reviewing Christian fiction, but I talk about sex and language for just about every general market book I review--even just to let the reader know it's squeaky clean!--because that's what I want to know. But I do think that's totally up to you and not a necessary part of a review--it's part of knowing your audience, and I think content warnings are something most readers of this blog appreciate.


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