Controversial Opinion Alert! There’s No Such Thing As A “Non-Critical” Review (So Let’s Stop Pretending There Is)!!!

Hey, mon petit chou! It’s Lila and today I’m bringing back the good ol’ Hardcover Haven discussion post! Yes, that’s right: today we’re getting down and dirty in the gritty pits of personal opinion and making a proper mess. And the topic on today’s menu is…*pulls slip of paper out of bucket and squints at it in an attempt to read my own handwriting*“Is there actually such a thing as a ‘non-critical’ book review?”

Now, I got to thinking about this topic because in the past two weeks, book Twitter (ah, that good o’l hellsite is the culprit yet again!) exploded when the popular,well known booktuber, Sam from Thoughts on Tomes, (whom I personally hold in high regard) tweeted about her distrust of people who rate everything/most of what they read five stars and how she thinks that only so-called “critical reviews” are helpful to readers.

And I thought to myself, “What a messy rabbit hole of a recycled argument to go down—sounds like a task for me!”

Now I have a lot of Thoughts™ on Sam’s thread a lot of which boil down to “I vehemently (yet respectfully) disagree with both of those statements,” but, interestingly enough, going down the path of which is more valuable—“critical” reviews or more “light” and “fluffy” reviews?—actually continually lead me back to the same basic opinion: that all reviews, by the inherent nature of being a review, technically are, in fact, “critical” reviews, and what differentiates a review as “useful” or “not useful” to you as an individual is just a matter of whether or not the reviewer supports their rating and/or overall thought/s with the type of “evidence” that you personally find valuable.

In other words: there is no such thing as a “non-critical” review.

Listen, if someone states an opinion on something as simply as saying “I like this because [x, y, and z]” or “I dislike this because [x, y, and z],” they’ve essentially given you a basic critical review, by definition of the statement. A critical review is simply a statement of opinion which you “support” with at least one form of quantitative (i.e., in a literary sense, “logical”) or qualitative (i.e., in a literary sense, “emotional”) evidence.

Now Susan may say “I like this color because it’s [ insert color name here], hex code #00000, CMYK yada yada, RGB blah blah blah…” and Stacey may say “I like this color because it makes me feel good.” but at the end of the day, both of them have, in fact, given what technically can be considered a “critical review,” the difference is that Susan gave a quantitatively based critical review and Stacey gave a qualitatively based one.

So which one has more value, then?

Ah, but that’s where you may get lost, friends, because the answer to that is that both reviews are equally critical and have equal value but it is up to the individual audience members who receive these two reviews to decide how much weight to put into each. Does it matter more to you that Susan told you this color is hex code #00000 or that Stacey told you the color makes her feel good? It’s up to you.

So then what is the argument we’re actually having in the literary community when people bring up “critical reviews”?

The truth is that we’re actually having the argument of what “matters” more: a qualitative review or a quantitative one or one which combines the two? Does it matter more when book reviewer Susan tells us, “This was a good book because of the author’s use of imagery, theme, characterization, wordplay, etc…” or when book reviewer Stacey tells us, “This book was good because it gave me all the good feelings.”? And the answer is, once again, that both reviews are equally as valid and important but how much weight we give either depends on our own individual decision making processes.

Look, allow me to make an analagy.

I’m a physics major, a “scientist-in-training,” as one might put it, and in the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics), we put an equal amount of importance on quantitative data—a.k.a. numerical/mathematics based data—and qualitative data—a.k.a. data we can observe with our five senses. When a scientist says “Plant A is taller than Plant B” and another scientist says “Plant A grew 6 centimeters overnight, while Plant B grew 4 centimeters,” both statements are given equal weight. And I think most people can recognize that, while both statements utilize different methods of observation, both also, essentially, say the same thing. And I could ask you which statement of “Plant A grew more than Plant B” is more strongly supported by evidence and do you know what any scientist worth their weight in degrees would tell you? That both statements are supported by evidence of equal weight and importance.

So what am I getting at here?

I suppose, at the end of it all, I’m saying that quantitative (a.k.a., in the literary community, “critical”) reviews and qualitative reviews (a.k.a., in the literary community, “fluffy”/”light”/”uncritical”) reviews and reviews which combine the two forms are all equally important and valid! And, also—just because someone leaves a review that’s just a bunch of “Aaaaaaa!!! *shriek*shdyjrjybgfb dghrjtmujnbdgfv sf vbdgbh!!!! I LOVE THIS BOOK IT’S SOOOOOO CUTE AND MADE ME SO HAPPY!!!!!” doesn’t mean that review isn’t “critical,” it just means that the reviewer is using a different form of “evidence” (i.e. emotional evidence) to support their claim of “This book is great.”

All in all, regardless of our opinions of different types of reviews, I think we would all benefit from not treating one style of review as “better” or as more “intellectual” and from not being suspicious of people who give out a lot of four and five star ratings (although on that last part I gotta admit my bias: I give out mostly four and five star ratings and it’s just because, at age 25, I know my reading tastes really well and, because I view reading as a hobby first, I don’t see the point in subjecting myself to a book I’m going to dislike. But that’s a totally different tangent for another time…). The truth is that “better” and “intellectual” both happen to be incredibly subjective labels and we need to stop acting like our subjective viewpoints are definitive markers of things like “good,” “bad,” “intellectual,” and “unintelligent.” We all read for different things because we’ve lived different lives shaped by many different factors and nuances which have affected us in different ways. And you know what? That’s okay! But we need to stop acting like one opinion—or even a handful of opinions—shape a mold that we all should to fit into.

Anyhow, fellow bookworms, I think that’s enough from me for today, I’ve ranted for too long already haha! I hope that I’ve helped give you some good food for thought or at least given you a good read! I am going to go make myself a good ol’ cup of chai now and then go relax. Until next time, friends!

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  • What do you think? Is there such a thing as “non-critical” reviews?
  • Do you prefer reviews that present more quantitative (technical) based evidence or qualitative (emotional) based evidence?
  • Why do you think we periodically recycle this debate in the book community? Do you think we ever reach any productive conclusions?

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Published by

Lila @ Hardcover Haven

Lila is a twenty-something college student studying physics and a lover of literature. When she's not busy reading or saving the world through science, Lila can be found singing jazz and blues and obsessing over hedgehogs (a.k.a. the cutest animals in the multiverse!)

12 thoughts on “Controversial Opinion Alert! There’s No Such Thing As A “Non-Critical” Review (So Let’s Stop Pretending There Is)!!!”

  1. I completely agree with this! (Then again, I’m a math major, so I guess that’s not too far removed from the physics way of thinking 😁). However, for me, the type of review I prefer also depends on whether I’ve already read the book or not. I love going into stories relatively blind, so I usually only like to read the in-depth “critical reviews” after I’ve already read the book myself. A surface-level “non-critical” review is much more likely to actually get me to pick up a book!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not on twitter and I miss this kind of “discussions” that often have a lot of repercussion on the community. However, I follow Sam on youtube and only watched her video, so I have no idea what has been happening on twitter. Her video was pretty good in my opinion and she explained different things, I really enjoyed watching it!

    I agree with you that in the end, it’s up to the person reading the review how useful they find it. We should not be judging others on how they review what they read because I believe it’s part of their experience. Is that easier said than done? Absolutely, because (sadly) I think that humans tend to criticize what they “don’t like” or “find useful” rather than just let people live. What I’m trying to say is, I have been on the rabbit hole of thinking “I’m not being critical enough or not giving enough information or analysis” but there is this point that I have to admit: this is the way I know or this is the way I want to express myself. Do I hope that someone might find it useful? Well, yes, of course. But that is up to them and I can’t control that.

    This is a very messy comment 😂 But, anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinion, I love reading this and try to disect and put into words my own thoughts after!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such an interesting discussion! I 100% agree with you. I rate books pretty highly most of the time (sticking with 3, 4, or 5 stars mostly) but as you said, this is because I know my reading taste and I genuinely don’t read books that I don’t think I’ll like, and this results in me giving out higher ratings. It doesn’t mean I’m not a critical reader. I really love everything you said about how people express your thoughts on books differently- I probably fall into the shrieking category more, although I do wish I could be more professional in my reviews at times, haha. I definitely value reviews no matter if the evidence is qualitative or quantitative, and I think it’s really up to the reader, as you said! Lovely post❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I totally agree that there’s no such thing as a non-critical review because “critical” doesn’t always mean negative. Someone can go deep into a book in their review while still praising it because even in a 5-star book, there are still going to be things that the reviewer didn’t like as much as everything else in the book. And besides, there are no rules to writing reviews and we have the choice to just not read someone’s reviews if we don’t like their style.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this take on reviews! I feel like I’ve definitely struggled a lot with whether to simply ramble on about how much I loved a book or provide “hard” pieces of evidence with things like character development, world building, etc., but I guess in the end, even those allegedly quantitative pieces of evidence are also subjective because you can always give the author the benefit of the doubt.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t review books that I wouldn’t give at least 4 stars on my blog anymore because I’m currently on submission and I don’t want to burn bridges. I realize that it might have culled my readership a bit, but that was a trade-off I was willing to make. I think you’re right, though, that ALL reviews are critical—I still think my reviews are valuable!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such an interesting discussion! I think I kind of knew that this was a thing, but at the same time, I didn’t know if that makes any sense? I believe all reviews are important and should be given equal weight. It’s just the method of delivery or support that is different and honestly, reviews are forever going to be subjective because they are opinions. And just because Susan uses logically composed and essay-like analysis to support her love/hate of a book (is it even possible to have a “logical” analysis?? there’s no measure (like a ruler or guide or something) to say, oh the author’s writing was excellent because they employed this tactic…it’s your opinion and how the writing made you feel. someone else might find it tedious and say that it isn’t excellent because of the same reason. so technically, it’s still not logical) doesn’t mean that Anna’s approach of gushing about the book in lowercase and improper punctuation that would make my English teacher die of horror isn’t as valid.

    I also agree that there is no such thing as a critical review. Critical literally means “expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work of literature, music, or art” but we tend to only use its first definition of “being disapproving of something” when we classify reviews as critical or not. Which isn’t right tbh. A positive review that analyzes the merits and faults of the book is still critical because it’s still analyzing the book.

    Anyways! I loved reading this so much 🙂 Amazing discussion Lila 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I believe the reason the “non-critical review” term came to be is because everyone uses “critical” when a review sometimes nitpicks the book and talks about flaws. Generally positive views are not considered “critical”, like you mentioned. We should find another term for in-depth and possibly negative reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

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